Jaron Lanier's Symphony for Amelia a Resounding Success

October 29, 2010

“When there’s momentum around a premier, much like this one, things just fall into place and it’s really inextricable,” said Winter Park Institute Scholar in Residence Jaron Lanier to members of the Rollins Community following the world premier of his composition, Symphony for Amelia.  Presented by the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park in collaboration with Winter Park Institute, Lanier’s piece was debuted in a series of performances on October 22, 23, and 24 in the Knowles Memorial Chapel.  Following each concert, audience members were invited to stay for a talk-back with the composer. 

The talk-back allowed Lanier to give those in attendance a glimpse into the artistic process that gave birth to Symphony for Amelia, from conception to completion.  Accompanying Lanier in the discussion was Bach Festival Artistic Director and Conductor John Sinclair, Rollins professor of composition Daniel Crozier, and student-collaborator Ted Henderson '11, all of whom were instrumental in bringing the piece to life. 

“The process went extraordinarily smoothly due to the expertise of Ted Henderson and Dan Crozier, who collaborated with Jaron Lanier,” said Elizabeth Gwinn, Executive Director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park. 

“I had a lot more work to do than I initially expected,” commented Henderson, whose role in the collaboration was to arrange and digitally notate Lanier’s compositional ideas.  “It was tedious due to technical computer and software issues.  We had to communicate daily via e-mail because I did not want to take any liberties with the piece.” 

In addition to developing the composition remotely from opposite coasts, Henderson was invited to spend a week during the summer at the composer’s personal studio in Berkeley, California helping Lanier with orchestral arrangement.  Henderson returned from his stay with printed scores for the choir and orchestra to begin dedicated rehearsals. 

“The challenge for me was that I hadn’t written for chorus before,” said Lanier.  “Every composer speculates what he can get away with when writing a piece.  I knew The Bach Festival of Winter Park has a really talented chorus and conductor, so I seized opportunity to really push them.  I knew from the start that they could handle it.”  Lanier also admitted that when he writes such difficult music and attends the rehearsals, he feels pangs of guilt.

“From a rhythmic standpoint, the piece was pretty scary,” confessed choir member Sarah Hartman '11.  “However, it looked more frightening on the page than it actually was to sing.  The choir appreciated the challenge.  I thought it was really cool.” 

The audience thought so, too.  Uproarious applause echoed throughout the Chapel hall as the Symphony’s final note faded.  “It was very exciting to see the Bach Festival take on a new challenge,” commented Matt Tonner '10 '11MBA, who attended the Friday night preview.  “Symphony for Amelia was not unlike anything I’ve ever heard before; it was definitely unique.  I’m glad I was there to experience it.”

The basis for Lanier’s Symphony is a lyrical text by 17th Century poet Amelia Lanier (no relation).  Coming from a family of traveling musicians, she became the first published female poet in England.  Also considered the first feminist, she was a contemporary of Shakespeare who is believed to have written texts for composer William Byrd.

“She would have been an unbelievably liberal, radical, strange and dangerous figure in Shakespearian time.  She was saying and doing things that no one had ever done before, especially for a woman,” Lanier said.

The composer also mused about music composition in general.  “Music is the most central and connecting activity in which human beings can participate,” explained Lanier during the talk back.  “The core of music always has to start with a little cry of emotion from inside.  All composers can do is create the most sincere music they can and take a huge leap of faith in the hope that it will mean something to someone else.”

The Bach Festival also performed the Florida premier of Fairy Tale, composed by Crozier, along with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  “It wasn’t by accident that these pieces were placed on the program together,” said Sinclair.  “Beethoven’s Ninth was revolutionary for his time and I believe that Jaron’s Symphony for Amelia is revolutionary for our time.  That’s why they were juxtaposed.”

When asked what his favorite part was of his residency at Rollins was, Lanier replied, “just listening.”

Listen to Lanier play a wind instrument from Laos and one from Hungary.

For more information, visit the Bach Festival and Winter Park Institute.

By Justin Braun '10 '11MBA

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