Orchestrating Clara Schumann
September 13, 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Wieck Schumann, whose influence in the mid-to-late-19th century as a performer, trend-setter, and composer deserves at least as much discussion as her husband Robert and lifelong friend Johannes Brahms. I found it disappointing that we in the orchestral world had so little of hers with which to celebrate her life and music — to my knowledge, there’s just the Piano Concerto, Op. 7 and a lost Scherzo for Orchestra. Of course, in her lifetime she would have had little to no opportunity to compose for larger forces; yet I found her piano writing all but bursting with orchestral color and character. And so I thought, what if…
Thus began an experiment to adapt a few particularly “orchestral” selections in a period-appropriate style, using instrumentation and techniques of orchestration common to the mid-19th century German-speaking world. Of course, at some level this is an impossible task: on the one hand, we cannot know if Schumann would have wanted this for her work, and if so, how she would have approached it; on the other hand, we cannot help but view these pieces through a 21st-century lens, with the luxury of a much wider stock of orchestral timbres in our imaginations. As an arranger I have a responsibility to attempt to get inside the mind of the composer I’m adapting, to understand the thought process behind a musical choice — so on some level, I’m used to this kind of paradox.
I’ve begun with the Op. 5 Pièces Caractéristiques, four charming, semi-programmatic miniatures. The fourth, “Le Ballet des Revenants” (“Dance of the Ghosts”), lent itself especially well to this treatment, and seemed particularly àpropos of the approaching Halloween holiday. In fact, I’ll have the privilege of conducting it with the National Symphony Orchestra for their annual Halloween Spook-tacular! concert this October.
I’ll continue my work on the remaining Op. 5 Pièces to publish all four as a complete set for orchestra. I have also identified several lieder I’ll approach next, arranging for voice and chamber orchestra; these I’ll also likely group into a set of “Orchester-lieder” (I know, perhaps this is a bit of an anachronism more akin to Mahler than Schumann…however, I find it telling that they both set songs by the same writers, such as Rückert and Heine).
Once complete, I’ll make each Schumann arrangement accessible for free — updates to follow. For now, if you’re interested in score and parts for the “Ballet des Revenants,” let me know. And feel free to drop a line if you have any other comments/suggestions/questions!
Last updated: 13 September 2019
All Together: A Global Ode to Joy
2020 will be a big year for Beethoven, celebrating his 250th birthday. I’ve been working with Marin Alsop and Carnegie Hall to help develop unique performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with orchestras around the world. Most will involve interstitial musical selections between movements, and in some cases, new adaptations and mash-ups with the original Beethoven, which I will arrange as needed.
Above all, each orchestra has commissioned new translations of the Ode to Joy for their local language, so I have developed a new, clean edition of the choral score for the fourth movement without any printed text, so that anyone may easily set new text to the timeless music. This will be completely open source, and I will provide PDF and music editor file formats (.xml, .sib) to anyone who requests them. Contact me for more information!
Last updated: 1 August 2019
In 2015, I partnered with administrator Toby Blumenthal and the Baltimore Symphony to develop a new concert series aimed at developing new audiences and experimenting with pairing seemingly disparate musical genres. The concept was this:
Invite an Indie band/artist to the concert hall to perform.
Perform a (usually 20th- or 21st-century) piece for a small orchestra that pairs meaningfully with the featured artists’ style
End the concert with a collaborative set with all the musicians onstage
Update the look and feel of the hall itself and engage with community businesses/artists, with each concert beginning with a happy hour in the lobby featuring food stations from local restaurants and performances by local musicians.
With the help of a grant from the Wallace Foundation and local radio station WTMD, we developed a series of four concerts per season, each curated especially for the featured guest artist. In my role, I would curate the music selections, arrange the music for the collaborative set, conduct the orchestral portions of the concert, and speak to the audience about the music they hear. Four seasons later, the series has become a popular addition to the BSO’s lineup, earning the distinction of 2019’s Best Concert Series in the Baltimore Sun. Some of our most memorable collaborations have included:
Last updated: 1 June 2019
In 2013, as a grad student at Indiana University, I needed an encore for an “ad hoc” student orchestra concert. It needed to be for viola and orchestra, as the concert ended with Walton’s Viola Concerto. For whatever reason, the idea of arranging Queen’s famous “Bohemian Rhapsody” popped into my head, and so I sat down to do so. The video of that first performance was posted to YouTube, where it started gaining some traction.
A few weeks and a few hundred thousand hits later, the IU School of Music approached me about recording my arrangement professionally, with my friend Sarah Harball remaining the viola soloist. I used the opportunity to rework the instrumentation and tweak some things, yielding:
I’ve been blown away by the popularity (7.5m views and counting!) of this little arrangement that I expected to be played only once and never see the light of day again.
Currently, the arrangement is unavailable for purchase or rental due to copyright issues. I am working to resolve this and hope to make it legally available for public performance ASAP! Stay tuned for updates.
Last updated: 1 July 2019