Posts tagged #composer

Into the Universe with Composer Anthony Barfield

By Alyssa Pry

Composer Anthony Barfield has his head in the stars.

“We all come from the same place, we’re all one - the question is, where do we come from?” he mused about his piece Red Sky, one of two pieces the MMC will be performing at Modern Wind Symphony on Sunday, March 19th.

Both Red Sky and North Star draw from Barfield’s fascination with what exists both around and above us.

“When I got into music and started traveling, I started seeing there were different religions and everyone believed that was their truth. I sort of had a big question mark in my life for, what is spiritualism to me? Where do we come from?” Barfield said. “That big question mark put me on a quest to find what the best meaning was for me. So by studying that, I became fascinated by the creation of us.”  

Aside from this deep exploration and introspection, Barfield finds himself firmly planted in this world as both an accomplished musician and talented composer. As a child growing up in Mississippi, it was a music teacher who pulled him aside after recognizing his talents.

“I always knew I could hear things a certain way. It was just sort of a gift,” he said. “So one day they called me in and said, Anthony, what is this note right here? And I told them, and they said, ‘Well you have what’s called perfect pitch.’ So that was cool to define.”  

His fascination and talent for music lead him to Juilliard, where he began studying trombone performance. But once he was there, he decided to focus on composition instead, a change he says happened organically.

“When you’re in a place like Juilliard, I never thought about it as, ‘Ok, it’s a really difficult school, I’m going to get through it and then quit [playing],’” he said. “It was a situation of being in the moment, living in the moment, soaking up as much as I could, regardless if it was trombone or composition, just as much art as I could, and running with it.”

For Barfield, this attitude has seeped into the way he approaches composition.

“I consider myself to be a creator,” he said. “I consider myself to be an emotional composer. So the organic part of it is that I try to make sure I’m attached to the piece emotionally.”

Grand Street Community Band will be performing Red Sky with trombone soloist Jon Whitaker, Professor of Trombone at the University of Alabama. The piece is based on the concept of the Big Bang Theory, and Barfield explained his process for how he wrapped his head around such a vast idea.

“I tried to get into the true feelings - the piece is about the creation of life as we know it,” he said. “So to get into it, I did a lot of meditation to steal the sense of creation. And then from there, I write down aural notes - [for example] the word ‘bang’ - something that will spark an idea. Then I come up with the chord structures and the melody comes from the chords.”

“That’s the most important thing for me - making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield drew on similar inspiration when composing North Star, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing with soloists Joe Alessi, the principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic, and Chris Coletti, the principal trumpeter with Canadian Brass.  The piece is based on the journey through the Underground Railroad and the way African Americans used the night sky to guide them to freedom.

“African Americans, because they could not read, would learn the patterns of the North Star and use those patterns in the sky from the Big Dipper as a way to follow the path,” he said. “They travelled at night and they basically used nature and the universe to help them escape.”

Barfield said North Star holds another, more current, political message, and says it was the first piece where he made a conscious choice to make a political statement with his music.

“It’s a time where there is a lot of police brutality going on, and we need a modern underground railroad for people who are being shot by police. I felt a strong connection with that,” he said.

For Barfield, the message and the music need to ring true to who he is.

“That’s the most important thing for me--making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield says he’s been lucky to work with collaborators who respect his vision and give him the freedom to explore his ideas without restriction.

“Every piece, I just want to make sure I stay true to myself. I do appreciate that people give me flexibility, because that’s the only way that I will make a voice for myself.”

A Look Inside "Tetelestai" – Talking to Andrew Boss

By Alyssa Pry

These are classic music questions: How should a piece of music be interpreted? What should the listener feel? And who is responsible for shaping that experience? Composer Andrew Boss is purposefully leaving those questions unanswered with his symphony Tetelestai, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing at MMC’s March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony.

“I take an interpretive approach [to composing],” Boss said. “I’m very fascinated by interpretation and the cognitive experience behind music.”

The 27-year-old composer burst on the wind-band scene with the premiere of his 2014 symphony Tetelestai, which was performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, where he is also pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition.

The symphony is framed around the biblical account of the death, fall and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But instead of retelling the story, Boss wanted to interpret the images and emotions he felt through music.

Boss also looked to the meaning behind the word “Tetelestai,” which is Greek for “It is finished” and is supposedly the last word spoken by Jesus before his death.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by religion, and I would call myself religious, with a few reservations,” he said. “But what was more fascinating to me was the story line, and the word “Teleo,” which implies that something has been done that can’t be reversed." 

Boss had already completed the first movement of the symphony and planned to have it performed as a stand-alone piece. But it was his collaboration with renowned conductor Jerry Junkin that introduced the idea of expanding it into something larger. 

“I knew if there was anyone I wanted to perform this, whatever it would become, it would be Jerry Junkin,” Boss said. “And the piece was read and it was great, and I thought, well this is going to be a bigger piece.”

Junkin then commissioned Boss to create a new work for him, after listening to some of Boss's other work. 

“That was certainly a huge impetus in my desire to make this a bigger piece,” Boss said. “And after the first movement and before I completed the next two, I decided to bring in the religious component.”

"Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it."

Boss turned to the biblical tale to frame the three movements of his symphony. 

“I tried to clarify the three movements as the crucifixion, the battle [of life and death] and the resurrection,” Boss said.

Regardless of religious beliefs or a person’s understanding of religion, Boss wanted the listener to go on a journey--their experience with the piece shaped by their own personal connections to the music.

“Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it,” he said. “[And] how they experience it will impact what they feel about it and the images they see or feel,” Boss said. 

Boss portrayed the death of Jesus for the first movement, Homage, and was moved by feelings of betrayal, despair, suffering and death. The symphony begins with a clanging of percussion, and then introduces a distant and melancholy horn solo. The movement ebbs and flows—full bursts of sound giving way to exposed solo lines; an ominous low brass line building to a bombastic climax; before returning again to the haunting and lingering notes of the french horn. 

“[In the first movement] I portrayed the death [of Jesus] — which really gives a powerful set of feelings,” Boss said. “If you’re not religious, it’s symbolizing hardship or suffering—things that are very real in society today.”

The second movement, Tocatta, is Boss’s interpretation of the war between heaven and sin, during the three days between the death and resurrection. For Boss, it’s a conflict between two opposing forces—the rhythmic introduction to the 2nd movement swells to a frantic flurry of instrumentation, a thrilling battle cry. The movement is a constant push and pull between moments of intensity and relief.

“The second movement was about war in those three days between death and resurrection,” Boss explained. “It could symbolize an obstacle that you’re trying to overcome.” 

The symphony’s final movement, Interlude and Finale, is Boss’s portrayal of the resurrection, and he looked towards feelings related to victory and rebirth. The reflective interlude at the beginning of the movement transitions to the symphony’s soaring finale, a powerful and unrelenting crescendo leading to the final ringing notes.

“For the final movement, obviously I felt I needed to portray the resurrection. And whether that was a personal rebirth or a depiction of the resurrection—it eventually brings its way to a catharsis,” Boss said.

“[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion...and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

The 25-minute symphony caught the ear of Brooklyn Wind Symphony conductor Jeff Ball, who was immediately drawn to the originality of the work.

“It’s a piece that has such a unique voice to it—there are parts that really don’t sound like anything else for the genre,” Ball said. “I really respect someone that can make the wind band sound different.”

Ball said the experience of listening to Boss’s piece epitomizes the beauty of wind band music, and for musicians, captures the joy of playing within an ensemble.

“The goal of music and the reason why we’re all here in these community ensembles is that we all at some point in our life became addicted to that feeling,” Ball said. “[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion and it becomes power and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

For Boss, working with the wind band community has allowed him the freedom to explore and challenge himself as a composer. 

“Because of the friendliness and support of the wind ensemble medium, that was a huge boost to my career,” Boss said. “They’re very open to doing different things.”

Boss will be sitting in the audience at Sunday’s concert; an experience Ball says is a unique and thrilling part of the wind band community.

“It’s been amazing working with him because he’s been extremely accessible. A lot of these [composers] in the wind band world are, [which is] something we’re fortunate to have,” Ball said. “It’s really amazing; that our composers are living and they’re excited we’re doing their work. We’re literally contributing to the future of classical music.” 

Michael Markowski Meets Brooklyn--The Composer on his Newest Project

By Alyssa Pry

Michael Markowski is a newly-christened Brooklynnite. “I’ve gotta relearn how to live here,” he joked in a recent phone interview. But while he may be a newcomer to the neighborhood, Brooklyn is already playing a big part in his newest project—recording his wind band music with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. The group will also be performing his work at their November 1st concert, A Night with Michael Markowski.

“It kind of all comes back to Brooklyn in a way,” Markowski said about the recording project, a one-day session that will be recorded at the Grand Street High School Campus. “The project is just my music; collaborating with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. It’s sort of as simple as that.”

He may have the borough and the band, but those are just two parts of the ambitious project Markowski is taking on. Currently on hiatus from composing original music, Markowski is finding himself knee-deep in the logistics of recording ten years’ worth of his work.  

“It’s actually quite overwhelming to put this whole thing together,” he said. “There’s so much more to think about.”

From the process of choosing which pieces to record; to working with a sound engineer on the audio production; to the most minute details of schedules and ordering lunch, Markowski is leaving his mark on every piece of the puzzle. But one piece that has always fit is his collaboration with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, a group he feels a close connection to.

 “I can’t imagine a better ensemble to collaborate with,” he said. “Some of these people were my first friends when I moved to New York, so I feel very intimately connected to the group.”

This is not the first time Markowski has had his music recorded, but this time he’s doing it completely on his terms, producing and funding the project himself.  

“I’ve had college ensembles record my music and they’re always fantastic recordings, but I’m never really part of the process,” Markowski said. “By the time I get a final recording, I don’t really have input into the interpretation. And this collaboration [with BKWS], I have that.”  

Markowski has been attending weekly rehearsals and working closely with conductors Jeff Ball and Brian Worsdale, who will both be conducting on the recording.

 “I have two amazing collaborators to be the eyes and ears,” Markowski said of Ball and Worsdale. “It’s such a big project; if I was the only ears, it would just be overwhelming. So I’m depending on them to do most of the work for me,” he said with a laugh.

Looking over a decade’s worth of work meant choosing pieces Markowski hoped would highlight his range of composing styles.

“I think what you’ll hear in my music is that every piece is so completely different, stylistically, it’s kind of hard to wrap it up in a nice bow with some kind of theme,” he said.

He’s including pieces that struck him as “no-brainers,” like City Trees, the first piece he composed after moving to New York City from Arizona.

“It’s a very New York Piece,” Markowski said. “It’s the first piece that I wrote [after moving] here so it’s particularly special to me.” 

He’ll also be recording joyRIDE, his first published piece. Markowski composed it in high school, and based it on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. For him, it’s a reminder of the originality that comes from a young composer.

“I wish I had as good of ideas now as I did back then,” Markowski laughed.

Markowski acknowledged the pressure of creating original ideas; his hiatus and this project have been a welcome respite from a process he says can be “lonely.”

“There is a lot of pressure to come up with a decent idea for a piece,” he said. “It’s important to try to say something new and surprise yourself, and that’s a very difficult thing to keep doing day after day.”

The recording project has been an opportunity for Markowski to focus on other aspects of his career, a process he’s found to be a refreshing change.  

“It’s been really fun and challenging to focus on music in a different way, that’s separate from the actual writing process,” he said. “[And] the part where you’re working with an ensemble, that’s the fun part. The human interaction portion of it all, that’s what makes you keep going and keep doing.”

In the end, he wants the project to highlight both his music and the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, with the character of the new borough he’s calling home.

“It’s going to be raw, it’s going to be Brooklyn, and I think it’s going to be one of the more intimately shaped recordings of my music out there.”


Read more about Michael Markowski on the MMC blog here and here

Posted on October 14, 2015 .