Longmont Symphony to Perform a Whimsical Family Concert to Inspire a New Generation

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Each year the Longmont Symphony does an annual concert that focuses on the family as its primary audience. The Family Concert will be held on Jan. 19, 2019 at the Vance Brand Auditorium from 4-5 p.m.

This year’s concert will the second for Conductor/Music Director Elliot Moore and a world premiere for Composer Michael Close’s A Child’s Book of Animals. Both Moore and Close agreed to sit down with the Longmont Observer for an interview about the Longmont Symphony’s annual Family Concert.

Elliot Moore (Photo courtesy of Longmont Symphony)

Interview with Elliot Moore:

What is the inspiration for the music of this concert?

There are always a couple of things I like to keep in mind when doing a family concert. The first is that one never knows, a musician or a conductor, never knows how often you are going to have these people come to a live symphonic concert. So I always want to make sure that the music that we are presenting at these kinds of performances will speak to a younger audience and will really engage them, will interest them so that at the very least they say to themselves, ‘We had a great time at the Longmont Symphony.’ Anything above that could mean that they decide to take up an instrument in their school or if they become more passionate about music or if they come to other performances, those are all icing on the cake, so to speak. I just want to make sure that we are always giving the families that are coming a wonderful experience.

With this concert in particular, the main sort of featured work is called The Child’s Book of Animals. What I think is so wonderful about this composition, which by the way we are doing the world premiere of, is that it really utilizes humor and music and I think that is something that children of all ages will find really engaging. When I rehearsed this the very first time with the Longmont Symphony, we had musicians who were laughing out-loud because they thought it was so funny.

I think that the music that was selected this time certainly is. The Child’s Book of Animals is brilliantly composed and it includes a lot of humor in it, including the orchestra sounding like a frog, other times the orchestra is soaring like a bird, and my favorite is the elegant, stately swan that is set to rap music.

Can you describe how you chose these pieces to go together?

There are some other things about this concert that I think are very interesting that include the programming, which is that we are going to have the Longmont Youth Symphony sitting side-by-side with the musicians of the Longmont Symphony. I think there are a couple of things really amazing about that. One is that, for the kids who are in the Longmont Youth Symphony, they’re getting a new and different and exciting and hopefully inspirational experience from doing this. However, I also think it’s such a great thing to do for our audience, because any young players or people who are interested in music can see, through hard work and dedication, the kind of fun you can have through playing your instruments and that is something I think is really critical. For a young audience member to see and to experience people who are essentially your age or maybe a little bit older, having these kinds of really interesting and inspiring and engaging experiences.

Bethany Parker (Photo courtesy of the Longmont Symphony)

Another is that we have an annual young artist competition and that’s the Longmont Symphony’s young artist competition and our winner this year, her name is Bethany Parker. Bethany will be playing a Mozart piano concerto with the Longmont Symphony as our featured soloist. I believe that she is a freshman in high school this year. This is where younger audience members can look up to somebody and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Here’s somebody who is just a little bit older than I am who’s doing these really interesting things.’ I think that that can be a real inspiration to audience members and can be very engaging to them so that they foster that love for music early on.

We are doing a second world premiere, which is actually quite rare, for an orchestra to do two world premieres in one performance. It is quite rare in today’s context to do that, it used to be quite normal. How this came about was that the piece is called Elegy by William Limón. William is an older gentleman who is from the region, in fact, his brother plays horn in the Longmont Symphony. This piece was dedicated to their mother who passed away at the age of 97 and I think she passed away in 2015. But the point of me telling you all this is that it was their mother who inspired all of her children to have music in their lives. This is a piece that is essentially an homage to their mother to say thank you for all the music that she brought into their lives.

That is a beautiful story that encapsulates all that this performance is about. It’s getting music into people’s lives and, I hope it impacts their lives in some positive way.

So, I think with the young artist competition winner, with the youth symphony, with the humorous music in A Child’s Book of Animals, I think that all of this is all going toward that concept which is giving a child the chance to fall in love with music and have music be a life-long passion in their lives.

The piece we are performing with the Longmont Youth Symphony is Tchaikovsky’s finale from the Fifth Symphony. That is such an energetic, powerful, attention grabbing sort of music. So, my thought of beginning with that is that I want to make sure that I am grabbing these young people’s attention because I don’t want them to sit there for an hour and not be grabbed by something. So I thought the Tchaikovsky’s finale from the Fifth Symphony worked, to begin with.

What do you hope the audience gets from this performance?

I hope that the audience is inspired by the music and falls in love with live symphonic music.

Do you have a favorite piece? Why

I am a sucker for the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Maybe it’s because we are talking about a family concert, but I played Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony when I was in youth orchestra. This is a piece that I’ve known for years and years and it spoke to me as a 13-year-old cellist performing with my youth orchestra. It is certainly one of those pieces that I fell in love with as a child and I’ve carried it with me ever since.

What has it been like working with Longmont Youth Symphony?

What I found about our performance last year was that they [the youth orchestra] brought a lot of energy to our musicians, they brought a lot of spirit and that spirit and the excitement for music that they have was a treat for us and I think that the experience for them of getting to play with more seasoned artists and more experienced artists was something they got a lot from as well. There was a give and take where it was a lot of fun, I think, for our musicians to have these younger players there with them and being a little bit more in a mentor role.

What else should we know about this concert?

The concert will be one hour total in duration. There is no intermission. Last year, the concert seemed to be too long so we adjusted it to run only an hour.

Michael Close (Photo courtesy of Longmont Symphony)

Interview with Michael Close

What was your inspiration for composing A Child’s Book of Animals?

I like to have something to depict in my music. It makes it all less abstract for the composer and audience alike. I would someday like to write music for film. In fact, at some point, I plan to have this work performed with live projected illustrations using an iPad and projector. I was thinking of doing it for this performance but with a premiere like this and traveling to Colorado, I figured that there is enough that could go wrong and I’d play it safe this time.

Another piece that I’ve written for voice and instruments is a work called Songs About Cheese. It’s six different songs about six types of cheese and I had so much fun with that. What does Limburger sound like? These are the kinds of things I love playing with.

Also, in the midst of bringing up two young daughters, I’m reading a lot of books about animals, so it’s been on my mind.

Why did you choose the frog, seagull, octopus, sloth and swan?

I chose the animals I think are the most musically evocative and would compliment each other with contrasting musical styles. I really wanted to include the swan because there’s Saint-Saëns’s famous The Carnival of the Animals, one of the most famous pieces from that is the swan. And that explored one side of the animal, the graceful, stately and beautiful side of the animal that most people would think, “OK,” but there’s also the side that is aggressive and territorial and loud and kind of nasty and I would think maybe a little bit full of himself, boastful. And so I thought, well that’s sort of the polar opposite of Saint-Saëns’s take on it and what better way to do it than with rap.

With the frog, I had this idea of slides or glissandi and timpani and strings that would evoke a frog jumping.

I like them all. I think I have a particular fondness for the sloth because, along with the swan, it defies people’s expectations that it is the fastest of all the movements. It moves along at break-neck speed while the singer is very languorous and sustained so it is almost like the world rushing by the face of the sloth and I just love the chord progression in it. That’s my favorite this week anyway.

Do you have a favorite? Why?

It is five songs and they are meant to be performed in a set order frog, seagull, octopus, sloth, and swan. I think swan would be pretty hard to follow because it’s the most bombastic and probably the most laugh-out-loud funny of the group. They flow from one to the next, going from musical style to musical style ranging from blues to flowing lyricism to jazz to rap.

Tell me about the piece itself?

It is the composer’s job to evoke an emotional response from the audience, be it joy, melancholy or excitement and I think that hilarity is a neglected emotion in concert music. I enjoy making people laugh. People don’t expect humor in the world of modern classical concert music. I like delivering that surprise.

Elliot Moore had a few questions for Composer Michael Close: I know he has children, and I wonder if he is thinking about his own children and what their likes would be, what their interests would be when composing this? What degree do his kids influence what he thinks would be music that they would like?

My daughters are five and three and it’s surprising where inspiration can come from. My five-year-old daughter and I sometimes jam on violin and I play the cello, just making noise. We play a game called Guess That Animal. I’ll try to make an animal sound on my cello and she’ll guess what it is and then she’ll make an animal sound on her violin or play a light motif or a theme song for the animal she’s imagining. Young children are so very musically intuitive that some good ideas are generated that way. I think I did take a couple of her ideas and used it for the orchestra.

My three-year-old daughter’s favorite song right now is Baby Shark Doo Doo Doo. My five-year-old doesn’t like dark templates of music yet anyway. These animal songs, they do run the gamut of emotion the octopus song is really quite dark. It is written for children in general but not for them specifically. I think that the things kids like are things that I would like as well. Some of the sound effects I use for example. The opening of the first movement starts with a slide on the kettle drum, a sound like booiiinnng, which is straight out of Loony Tunes. I think that our likes overlap quite a bit and I try to write music that’s enjoyable.

Second question from Moore: This is the world premiere, I know that he wrote a couple of the songs before, and I wonder how long he has been waiting for this piece to come to life, how long he has been thinking about this composition?  

For over a year. I first wrote it out as a trio for cello and piano and voice but I always intended it for a larger group, thinking of a small orchestra. That Longmont Symphony is able to do this is really thrilling because it is a large orchestra. I’m writing 30 parts going across the staff at once, and it’s like going from the eight-crayon box to the 64 crayon box. I’ve got all of these musical colors to draw on and it’s very exciting though it is time-consuming to write it out. I have spent the last several months just writing out the individual parts and editing. Although time-consuming, it is very exciting to have all these sounds to draw on. I think I started writing this over a year ago.

What else should we know about this composition?

I would say that if you listen to it and if you’re moved to laughter in the performance, please do so. I would take it as a compliment. These songs are meant to be funny and if people are laughing, it means that I’ve done my job.


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