Several years ago, I wrote a blog series documenting the compositional process for my first concerto - a piece for double bass and chamber ensemble that was commissioned by Matthew Gibson, a then-current doctoral student at Michigan State University. This helped me be able to better articulate the ideas I had for the piece during this process, along with documenting how some of the decisions made during that process ultimately helped shape the work into what it eventually became. Furthermore, it was the first time I opened up more about my own compositional process for creating new music.
This blog series for Four Ethereal Planes will mostly follow a similar path to the one written for the double bass concerto. There will also be another similar blog series for my other concerto to be written this summer, a work for soprano saxophone and wind ensemble. With both of these series, I intend to delve further into the compositional process for these works and, in a way, discover how much this process has changed in the few years that passed since my last blog series. With every new commission and project, one of the most important goals I always strive to accomplish is to go a different direction in my compositional process from the last piece I've written. Both of these series will explore these approaches as well.
So, this first post serves as an introduction to the piece and some of my initial inspirations -
One night, during my first Midwest Clinic conference experience last year, I saw one of my colleagues jamming with a group of musicians who happened to be playing at the local bar I was visiting. This colleague happened to be Kevin Day, a brilliantly gifted composer who, as it turns out, is also an equally gifted jazz pianist. That blew me away the first time I saw him play. I knew at that moment I needed to write a new piece for him - something that could exemplify this amazing side of his artistry in a new way.
So I talked to Kevin about some of the ideas that I had for this new piece - a piano concerto with ensemble in which the solo part would become more like a jazz chart; something more improvisatory in nature as opposed to having an explicitly fully-written solo part. The entire conceptual idea for the piece would still fit under what I believe to be the purest definition of a concerto - a piece of music that demonstrates the full artistic capabilities of its soloist in the most collaborative effort possible with its accompanying ensemble. But, in the end, my goal would also be to hopefully take the concept in a different direction from other concerti that I was familiar with at the time, especially the abundance of piano concerti that exist.
I'm extremely thankful that not only was Kevin fully onboard with the idea, but that he also wanted to premiere the final piece as well when it's completed. And so, work on the concerto has begun. Similar to the soprano saxophone concerto I'm writing this summer, the conceptual idea for this piece came before any other musical ideas.
This concerto almost strikes another first for me. Part of my current professional work has involved using the Dorico notation software for various projects. Typically, my compositions are fully engraved with Sibelius, but for this piece, I am fully switching to Dorico for the engraving process. Dorico has impressed me on so many levels and I find it extremely intuitive to use for its wide-ranging functionality and other opportunities it provides to experiment with new ways of expressing musical intent. With this piece, I want to fully break every single boundary I've ever come across or set in all of my compositional experiences in order to turn this work into the best possible form it can become.
(A quick note - the soprano saxophone concerto I'm writing this summer will still be engraved with Sibelius since I'm the most comfortable with using that program. To have both of these large works engraved with Dorico would be an impossible task because I need to learn a few more things about the program, and there's simply not enough time to be able to do that with these two pieces).
Four Ethereal Planes will be premiered this fall. The date is not set as of yet, but Kevin Day will be guest artist on this concert with Dr. Jordan VanHemert and the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra. The premiere is part of a joint collaborative between Jordan's group and the Millennium Composers Initiative, featuring the world premieres of music written by several of the initiative's members. In the meantime, I will continue to post further updates on the work, and hopefully excerpts of the piece as it fully comes together (audio and visual, but most likely just visual).
I'm excited to start putting together the musical details for this piece soon. I'm excited to see where this concerto goes. This summer is going to be very, very busy, but it's going to be a ton of fun too.