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Three Questions Before the First Night, by Carson Cooman

Joshua Feltman -- 'The Ties that Bind'

Composer Joshua Feltman, born in Oakland, California, is currently a resident of New York City where he is active as a freelance musician and composer. He studied at New England Conservatory and SUNY Stony Brook, and his teachers have included Lee Hyla, Sheila Silver, Peter Winkler, Augusta Read Thomas, Steven Mackey, and Michael Gandolfi. He has also been active as a teacher, pianist, violist, and jazz musician. Drawing on these backgrounds in classical, jazz, and educational music, Feltman's work combines accessible and fresh musical ideas with a kaleidoscopic sense of development. His music is instantly engaging to both ear and mind, and many of his recent compositions are receiving ongoing performances from a variety of artists and ensembles.

In 2004, he was selected as ASCAP Foundation Leonard Bernstein fellow for the Tanglewood Music Festival summer season, where his wind ensemble work Furbo was premièred by Frank Battisti and the BUTI Honors Wind Ensemble.

While at Tanglewood, Feltman also wrote music for a collaborative experimental film project which was described as employing an 'elegant crossover style' by the Boston Globe. Feltman's orchestral work Commute was acclaimed as a work of 'real emotional power' by San Francisco Classical Voice, after its première by Oakland East-Bay Symphony who commissioned it.

Most recently, Feltman was the winner of the Robert Black Memorial Competition, sponsored by the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra. As a result of this competition, Feltman's new orchestra work The Ties that Bind will be premièred by the NASO at Symphony Space in New York City, New York on 16 February 2006. The program will be conducted by a rising star in the world of classical music, young Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra and also includes Saint-Saëns's Cello Concerto No 1 (Alon Bisk, cello) and Beethoven's Symphony No 3, Eroica.

OneCarson Cooman: Your last orchestral piece was called Commute and subtitled 'an orchestral traffic report' -- cleverly structured around the experience of a drive amidst traffic. Does your new orchestral work, The Ties that Bind, have a visual image as its inspiration, and do you find these helpful when thinking about a new piece?

Joshua Feltman: Earlier in my compositional life, I found them very inspiring. I have written programmatic pieces based on things like films (Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo), poems (Coleridge's Kubla Khan) and even an auditory phenomenon ('tinnitus').

In recent years I have steered away from this, however. I actually conceived Commute several years before writing it, and now I must confess that most of my ideas are purely musical. I came to a point where my control over formal structures replaced a lot of the long-term dramatic gestures that were previously inspired by extra-musical ideas. On the other hand, I think The Ties that Bind has a dramatic arch that is unmistakably my own. People often comment that my music tells a story, and this piece is no exception. I leave it up to the audience to infer what they will from the title and use their visual imagination freely.

TwoCC: You have an extensive background in jazz performance, direction, and improvisation. How does this background and experience influence your compositional process?

JF: I do a lot of improvisation at the piano, but the resultant sketching rarely ends up in my piece directly. On the other hand, I think my love for improvisation gives my music a sense of phrasing and contour, an overall lyrical character. Before I ever played a note on the piano I was singing as a child; and although I don't claim to be a vocalist, most of my musical ideas come from humming out loud.

Actually, jazz influences the sound of my work somewhat more than the compositional process. My writing is rhythmically driven, heavily syncopated and often polyrhythmic. I sometimes have to be careful when writing for classical musicians so that I don't overload them with all sorts of jazz-derived accent patterns, especially when writing for strings. Jazz also influences my harmonic language when I'm thinking about chords, but The Ties that Bind is full of counterpoint and this influence is heard less often because of the interlocking lines that make up the material for the work.

ThreeCC: This new work is written for the New Amsterdam Symphony, a group in which you also play as a violist. Did writing for a group which you know so well 'from the inside' shape your experience and musical choices in the writing of The Ties that Bind?

JF: I thought of it in the beginning of the compositional process and also a good deal while completing the orchestration. At first, I thought about what kind of piece the orchestra would like to play and ended up writing the lyrical ending of the work before completing the fast middle section. However, once I understood the form and character the piece was taking, purely musical ideas took over. The whole middle section of the piece became a lot more difficult to play than I intended, but the momentum that I had built to that point was too great -- at a certain point, the piece began to write itself.

New Amsterdam is a community orchestra, so I often thought about who the stronger players were, of course, and also about the doublings when it came to intonation and articulation. I had to do a lot of work to make the string parts more easily playable since the difference in level between the back and the front of the section is significant. It's very difficult to write music that's easy to play, and I must admit that I've learned this the hard way!

Copyright © 19 January 2006 Carson P Cooman, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA





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