Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
ACF-Philadelphia’s Steven R. Gerber Composer Residency with The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia (COP) has been unique in that it has been in such close collaboration with the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts. It is the best sort of experience—the pieces that I’ve written for COP over the last year have been directly shaped by my involvement in the residency. Working in isolation on a commissioned piece, I never would have reached quite this same outcome. I love these types of opportunities, because for me, social and creative interaction is what draws me to music. While I greatly enjoy performing solo, it is making music with others that has always been my passion. I think this is why I have also always been so drawn to improvisation, as a performer and as a composer. It gives performers more room to make decisions. It allows for greater surprise and responsiveness between people making music together.
Since improvisation has always been an important part of my music, the theme of the Chamber Orchestra’s season, entitled “Improvisionaries”, has been a great fit for my artistic practice. I have particularly loved working with students from the Clef Club and the Primavera Fund throughout the year. These students come from jazz and classical training, respectively. They are so open and courageous when improvising—even when I take them way outside their comfort zone. It was a great pleasure performing with COP musicians at the Morgan Library and Annenberg Center to premiere my chamber piece, Murmurations, but working with the students and performing with them at the Clef Club might be my favorite part of all the events so far. The final concerts of the season include the premiere of my concerto grosso, Open Spaces, later this May, and finally, a chamber work for COP musicians, organ, and the Joybells of Melmark in June, both at the Kimmel Center. The Joybells are, well—a joy to work with! They are a handbell choir for adult musicians with developmental disabilities in the Philadelphia area. I have learned so much working with them. I hadn’t had experience writing music for an ensemble with their unique abilities before, and it has been exciting to learn more about their rehearsal and performance practices. Being with them at rehearsal while preparing to compose their piece was a blast!
Open Spaces is, of course, the largest work of the residency, both in scope and forces. It will feature fantastic musicians from the Clef Club as the soloists: Bobby Zankel and Louis Taylor on alto saxophones, Dan Blacksburg on trombone, Diane Monroe on violin, Farid Barron on piano, Lee Smith on Bass, and Craig McIver on drums. What a dream team! I’ve worked with a number of them before, and I am excited that they are all on this project. I am incredibly fortunate to have such phenomenal performers involved as the soloists. Having such a close relationship to COP and the Clef Club over the past year has allowed me to take risks with this piece that I would have been uncomfortable doing otherwise. Orchestral music has some practical restraints, like incredibly short preparation and rehearsal time, that can encourage conservative programming. Often composers feel they must work within that conservative framework—or avoid writing for orchestra at all. Through the many collaborations throughout the season with COP, Clef Club, and myself, we have gotten to know each other. Something new, and hopefully, exciting can be formed when this level of trust is built over the course of continued interaction. Open Spaces is definitely different than what it would have been if I wrote it outside of a residency of this nature.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about freedom, responsibility, individuality, and community. These are concepts that often seem to come into conflict with each other in our society today. We are being transformed at an ever-increasing rate by technological advances in communication that radically change how we interact with each other. Artificial intelligences, while still relatively limited in their abilities, mediate the news we see, who we meet, and many aspects of our digital and physical lives. This technology that connects us easily to people all around the world simultaneously allows us to avoid interacting with people who see that world differently than ourselves. Musicians deal with many of these same concerns every time they come together to play in an ensemble–never more so than in a group as large and complex as an orchestra. Performing music teaches us to find common ground, to respect individual choices, and join as a community towards a common goal. This is why I am most excited that this piece joins musicians from the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia—two essential musical institutions in the city. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from a collaboration of this sort. Musicians of different backgrounds, training, styles, and performance practices coming together to share their talents is a beautiful thing.
In composing the work, I have tried my best to respect the deep traditions of orchestral performance, while creating an opportunity for all the musicians—both the soloists and the orchestral musicians—to explore the boundary where their tastes, styles, and training coincide. This is not a piece about jazz or classical music; it is open to what the performers themselves bring to it. Each performance will be molded in a fundamental way to the individuals who perform it together.
Open Spaces requires the performers to take risks that are unusual for an orchestra, but which achieve fantastic results. Musicians must not only respond to the music I’ve written, they also need to listen and react to everything they hear around them. Of course, this is necessary for all good musical performance, but what is required from the musicians here is even more expansive because they cannot be sure what path the music will take. They are presented with various options for how to proceed during the piece, so they must be nimble thinkers. The performers have greater freedom to act and interact, and so the responsibility on each musician is greater as well. For centuries, concerti grossi have featured the physical virtuosity of performers at the peak of their art. This work continues in that tradition, and also asks the musicians to demonstrate their proficiency while thinking on their feet. Performing Open Spaces is an act of mental virtuosity for all the musicians on stage. In an age of increasingly intelligent machines, this act of improvising turns out to be something profoundly human. And our humanity is what connects us.
I am grateful to the American Composers Forum-Philadelphia, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, and the Steven R. Gerber Fund for making this residency possible.
Adam Vidiksis is a composer, conductor, percussionist, improviser, and technologist based in Philadelphia whose music often explores social structures, science, and the intersection of humankind with the machines we build. Critics have called his music “mesmerizing,” “dramatic,” “striking” (Philadelphia Weekly), “notable” and “catchy” (WQHS), “magical” (Local Arts Live), and “special” (Percussive Notes), and have noted that Vidiksis provides “an electronically produced frame giving each sound such a deep-colored radiance you could miss the piece’s shape for being caught up in each moment” (Philadelphia Inquirer). His work is frequently commissioned and performed throughout North America, Europe, and China in recitals, festivals, and major academic conferences. Vidiksis’s music has won numerous awards, including recognition from the Society of Composers, Incorporated, the American Composers Forum, and ASCAP. His works are available through HoneyRock Publishing, EMPiRE, New Focus, PARMA, and SEAMUS Records. Vidiksis currently serves as composer-in-residence for The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia for its 2017-2018 season. Vidiksis is Assistant Professor of music technology and composition at Temple University, a performance and composition faculty at the SPLICE Institute, and a founding member of the Impermanent Society of Philadelphia, a group dedicated to promoting improvisation in the performing arts. He is the percussionist in SPLICE Ensemble, conductor of the Temple Composers Orchestra and Ensemble N_JP, and director of the Boyer Electroacoustic Ensemble Project (BEEP). [www.vidiksis.com]