The sound of the orchestra

I have been busy for a couple of concert events.  After returning from the Israel premiere of the concerto “Hovering in the Air” 2 weeks ago,  I am about to have the U.S. premiere of “Ice Crackle Glaze” for mixed ensemble on November 10.  In a week, I am flying back to Taiwan to join the rehearsals of the orchestra work “Intermezzo: SHANG” and a twelve-year old work “Zang” (meaning  funeral) for mixed ensemble.
Today there was something exceptionally special to me.  I received an e-mail from Kung-Ling Liang, the director of the ensemble Counterpoint.  Her string players have just performed my another 12-year old work on October 20th.  The letter was full of excitement and joy. I began to wonder who was the composer twelve years ago.

I began to listen to my recording from the playlist.  There were some wonderful moments that I knew I began to recognize myself as someone able to make the ensemble sounding.  During the years at the high school, I was the only one major in composition.  One kind of assignment I received from the office is to write something for those who were less-star students in the class for the annual concert.  It usually turned out to be a chamber ensemble of strange numbers of instrumentation for me to use.  I arranged “The Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, or occasionally my compositions.  This was later expanded to a chamber orchestra when enrolled in the senior high school.  Our class adviser was also a choral conductor, playing many songs from the American musicals.  Sitting at his class was probably a benefit to both us, he got me to write the orchestral accompaniment for his female choir, I was lucky to experiment with the musicians around me.  The end of my years at the school, I wrote a 16-minute long full score of “Les Miserable” .
Without formal training in orchestration , I orchestrated by ears, transcribing the orchestration from the recording or from my own imagination.  Being as a bassist standing at the corner of the orchestra also helped,  I loved to be easy and watched everybody play.   After experimenting with the ensemble and orchestra with the school kids, my orchestration during the high school finally came out with ordinary doubling.  Although nothing fancy, it was the only way I learn what make the ensemble sound “right” (or say, balanced).  I also love the moment especially when the harmony is able to structure the orchestra, or, vise versa.

The “Les Miserable” was really a hit of my high school year.   I finished the score in two to three weeks when waiting for the result of my college entrance exam (which I eventually entered Taipei National University of the Arts).  The concert was full of enthusiastic young musicians and loving parents.  “Les Miserable” was sung and played with the great passion – it meant a lot to play together with many of the graduate at that age.   After two or three years later, the recording of “Les Miserable” and many other arrangements for my advisor were put together in an album.  This has been one of the many precious recordings I have ever had.  When the musicians sing and play by heart, that was the best orchestra in the world to me.

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