• Jonathan Shaw

"Open Rehearsals" - BIMCC #8 (17-19th July 2018)

This blog series details my experiences as a composer-fellow for the "2018 Banaue International Music Composition Competition" ("BIMCC")dedicated to the efforts of the "Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project".

For the full blog series, click here.

The schedule for the orchestra over the next 3 days was packed. They had to learn, rehearse and perform 20 new symphonic compositions all between 10 - 15 minutes... oof! But they did a fantastic job regardless of the strain!

The Open Rehearsal Schedule

I observed and filmed all of them, but for now the only one I can share is that of my own; the 14th piece from Wednesday 18th July at 16:00.

After Rehearsing

What a phenomenal experience it was - to finally work with a live orchestra for the first time! As if my nervous and arbitrary comments in between takes didn't make that obvious enough! During the first performance, my mind was overly exerted on noting every tiny little error so that I may comment on correcting it in time for the second performance.

Only during later rehearsals did I realize how pointless it was to note such errors. It should be the direction of the piece - the balance, the technique, the energy - rather than the notes themselves that I should have commented on, but I fear that the anxiety of speaking to 80+ performers on a composition I had spent months writing had flustered my mind, and the nonsensical comments I spouted were the unfortunate result!

I will note that hearing one of my works performed by a live orchestra did bring about a rude awakening to how poor the dynamic balance of my orchestral writing was. After spending years relying on sampled mockups, where the balance is purely decided by your skill at mastering, it was a shock to hear how the natural balance of the orchestra would completely overwhelm certain passages that had been scored too thin. The woodwind instruments in particular - to which I scored many melodies - I had overestimated their volume, and thus they were easily drowned out by the full assortment of brass!

Other factors such as the importance of precise cues in each part became incredibly valuable, and I confess I could have provided the performers with far more information in that regard, lest they become lost.

But nevertheless, after the mental exhaustion of witnessing my first orchestral piece, I needed a quick break.

Refreshed

After all 20 pieces were finished, there was a mighty roar of victory from the orchestra, and well deserved after the intensity of these 3 days!


The TOFARM Festival Orchestra with conductor Chino Toledo (front center)

And what an excellent 3 days they were! Observing and following the scores for all 20 compositions proved to be absolutely invaluable for furthering one's orchestral writing, and I certainly learned an incredible amount from it. Not only that, but talking individually to performers about what they found difficult, as well as asking for their recommendations on making the score easier to read was also essential!

But now, like the orchestra, we had a brief moment to relax and await the results of the judging which had taken place during the open rehearsals. However, the relaxation was quickly interrupted. We were then informed that the judging process would not only be undertaken by members of the competition team, but also by us - the composer-fellows. We now had the gruelling and burdensome task of choosing the 10 compositions that were to make it into the finals!

Next blog post - "Return to Manila" (20th July 2018)

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