Diary of an Orchestrator, April 5: Rescuing the End of the Concerto

6:00 p.m. Today’s meeting with the conductor and soloist is canceled, mainly because I’m apprehensive about driving to a West L.A. address by 5 p.m. in an expensive borrowed car. Especially after driving on the other side for over a decade. I still feel the instinct to left turn into the oncoming lane, and I don’t want to retrain it in Friday rush-hour traffic.

Had a great meeting today with a young protegé of mine, a student I taught from about age 7, whose gone on to study concert bass at a university down here. After having her studies interrupted by a mystery illness which turned out to be pancreatitis, she’s back on her feet, and already considering graduate studies in conducting. What a fantastic thing it is to chat off-handly with a future professional musician in the most casual way, and yet give them the most advice you can fit into a 3-hour conversation.

Despite the conductor/soloist/composer meeting being called off, I still had to do a bit of patch-up work on the last couple bars of solo part for the last movement of the harp concerto. The problem is of my own making. First I scored a bustling tremolo descending in octaves – when that didn’t work, I just had the harpist descend the left hand. But then in rehearsal, the problem of acoustics kicked in: even though the orchestra was stopping to leave a gap, the reverbration of their ff chord was filling the space, making it hard to hear those tremolandi (which, by the way, are really not very loud at all on harp, no matter how you push them).

So I took a few minutes to go through the structure of the harp part and look for more convincing ways to fill that solo gap. I finally decided on a choice of five different flourishes, which I quickly notated and e-mailed to the soloist. In a few minutes, I’ll Skype her and see which one works the best – and if none of those suit, then I’ll sketch a few more.

Later – Well, none of those solutions worked. Some would require too much work to learn before the concert, while others had speed issues (since the conductor is pushing the tempo at the end). So what we did was go back to the beginning. A.) The main problem was audibility in the sonic wake of the tutti chord, so what were the loudest things one could score for a harp? Answer, in this order: glissandos, rolled ascending chords, then chords, octave, patterns, etc. Glissando is out, as there already is a big sweep a few bars before, so ascending chords it is. Now, B.) what chord, what voicing, and so on? Answer: something in keeping with the unsettled yet joyous feeling of the movement. We settle on a suspended chord – but the fingering for moving through the inversions of a suspension are irregular for harp. Therefore, C.) we retune the harp to *play* in through the shape of a regular G-flat chord, but with the B-flat string tuned to B-natural (essentially C-flat) to give us our sus4 chord. Problem solved – that’s about as easy a solution as one could possibly imagine.

Tomorrow – notes sans musique for the conductor…

Thomas Goss is a professional composer and orchestrator with an international roster of clients. He has worked with such talents as Billy Ocean, Melanie C, Sharon Corr, and Nikki Yanofsky. His compositions, orchestrations, and crossover arrangements have been performed by such ensembles as Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony Chamber Ensemble.

Thomas lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife Erica and son Charlie, and one very unappreciative cat.

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