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What's A Composer To Do?

October 23, 2013

We told you in our last post how Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner is practicing “furiously,” preparing for the premiere of Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto next week. But what does a composer do in the waning days before a world premiere? Is he furiously writing, racing to put the finishing touches on that final movement?

“I think we’re done. I hope!” laughs Philadelphia composer David Ludwig, whose new bassoon concerto, Pictures from the Floating World, written for Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa, also premieres next week as part of the Philadelphia Commissions Micro-Festival. The festival also includes Tan Dun’s Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Symphony for Microfilms, Harp, and Orchestra with Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen. All three works were written specifically for the musicians they feature.

“You’ve got to finish things, as best as you can, well in advance of the deadline,” says Ludwig, who says he essentially finished writing the concerto last spring. “Right now I’m working on another piece, and teaching my students at Curtis, and going about my life. But for a couple of months there, I was spending day and night working on this piece.” He adds, “It is, in a way, like a play. You’ve written a play and now it’s up to the actors to make it happen.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s finished tweaking. “Sometimes a playwright will say, ‘You know what? I like the way you read that line—more than what I had. So let’s make it that way.’ And that happens all the time—a certain amount of give and take,” says Ludwig, continuing the theater analogy. “Other times there’s something you know needs to stay that way—and needs to be. When you work with a soloist, you want a concerto to fit kind of like a glove—really tailored for them,” he says. “Some of that happens right up until the rehearsal.”

So what’s the likelihood that Ludwig will make changes after hearing the piece rehearsed (which, incidentally, won’t happen with the full orchestra until next week—two days before the premiere performance)? “There’s a good chance,” he says. “There could be changes still, actually. Small things, but the point is to make the piece as good as it can be. Those tweaks can make a good piece great,” he adds.

“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen,” says Ludwig. “No matter what the piece is, there are always some unknowns. … This is all part of what’s really exciting about being a composer. You’re collaborating with these fabulous musicians—especially in The Philadelphia Orchestra—and having the opportunity to see this piece be born into the world together.”

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Daniel Matsukawa give the world premiere of Ludwig’s Pictures from the Floating World on Friday, November 1, at 2 PM in Verizon Hall with a repeat performance on Saturday, November 2, at 8 PM. The Philadelphia Commissions Micro-Festival runs from October 31-November 2 with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting. For tickets and program information, click HERE.