I sat down with Kevin Lau to talk about a special concert piece which will debut at SPO’s upcoming performance, less than a week away. Victor Cheng, whose interview I will post in a couple of days, joined us with some great input.
The piece was born when the SPO team came up with the idea of calling audiences back into the concert hall after intermission by playing a specific theme. With repeat renditions at different concerts people could eventually begin to associate the theme with SPO–kind of like the musical equivalent of a logo. Victor and Kevin both believed the theme would serve its purpose best if it was composed as a Fanfare, one grand enough (and loud enough!) to attract the attention of a bustling audience at intermission. The Fanfare would then be incorporated into a longer, overture-style piece that would form the full version of the SPO theme.
The task of creating this theme naturally fell to Kevin, SPO’s composer in residence. He wanted the theme to sound celebratory and uplifting, to acknowledge the accomplishments and further aspirations of the SPO. With these feelings in mind, he came up with the theme one day while reclining on a bench in Banff. I asked a little more about that: did he compose by writing down arrays of notes that should theoretically inspire “uplifting” feelings? No. Though many composers work from a strict, theoretical model, for Kevin, creating music is an almost entirely intuitive process. It’s hard to program a piece to make it evoke specific feelings, he explained, because that reduces the composition to only the aspects being consciously aimed for. And that prevents any musical insight he might gain from trusting his feelings. The technical details, the orchestration, the structure, come after, and help develop the theme into an organic whole.
The Fanfare is played by the full orchestra and encompasses the last 15 seconds of the entire 2-minute piece. Kevin initially wanted have the orchestra open “with a bang” but then decided the piece should start off quietly, then gradually build in intensity, as if about to embark on a long journey. This was an interesting analogy which led me to discover that Kevin has an avid interest in storytelling and that much of his music is influenced by mythological ideas. The SPO theme is then like a musical Hero’s journey–starting from a quiet town, experiencing wonders and perils on the road, then finally coming home a little wiser to a grand celebration… And, for the SPO at least, preparing to embark on ever more adventures.
The theme evokes a feeling of pride for Victor, who was visibly enthused about the launch of SPO’s sixth year. Both he and Kevin want the theme to convey that pride and to encourage the orchestra to further accomplishments. “We want a theme that celebrates the fact that we’re making music and having a good time of it,” Victor emphasized.
With their dedication and infectious enthusiasm I think we can look forward to a great show next Friday. I for one can’t wait.