Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interview with Nathan Heidelberger, Tanglewood Composition Fellow, Summer 2013


Congratulations on having been a Tanglewood Music Center composition fellow this past summer! What drew you to Tanglewood, do you have personal history with it?

I had participated in Tanglewood's high-school composition program through the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) during the summer before my senior year (2004). My memories are of a really inspirational summer – surrounded by musicians, with access to world-class concerts pretty much ever day, and able to focus in on my composing. So I guess it's been a goal to be a TMC fellow for quite some time. And it was a really amazing experience.

How many composition fellows were there this summer? Did you get a chance to hang out with any of them, make friends?

I was one of six composition fellows. We all got along really well and were more or less inseparable as a group. We went to classes and concerts together, ate together, hung out together, etc. What was really remarkable and exciting about the group was that we were musically very diverse. Our writing styles were all quite different, but we still got along and were very engaged with each other's music. For example, in one project, each of us had to conduct a piece by one of the other fellows.

I'm sure there are places where this wouldn't be the case, so it's definitely to Tanglewood's credit that they're interested in cultivating this kind of diversity rather than asserting one particular stylistic or aesthetic viewpoint. This is also something, by the way, that I value very much about the composition studio at UB.

Were you satisfied with the premiere of been a cold long time? Rehearsals, performers, audience, the actual performance?

Rehearsing been cold a long time was one of the highlights of my experience at Tanglewood. I was working with a group of incredible performers: Tammy Coil (mezzo-soprano), Cho-Eun Lee (piano), and Henrik Heide (alto flute). They all were very committed to the piece, and really threw themselves into the process. The rehearsals were coached by John Harbison and Dawn Upshaw, and I was really floored by their innate sense of musicality, and their ability to see exactly what I was going for in the music – without my having to say anything about it – and then help the performers bring that out. (I'll confess I was pretty star struck to be working with Dawn Upshaw.) Because we had ample rehearsal time, I also had the opportunity to make some revisions to the piece, which was very helpful.

In the end, the performance was a big success – not just my piece, but the whole concert, which featured a world premiere of a song from each of the composition fellows. The other fun aspect of this project was that we were responsible for pairing each of our pieces with a pre-existing song from the repertoire. Tammy suggested our pairing – Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai, the first song from Schumann's Dichterliebe. The initial idea was that the "spring-ness" of the Schumann would be a nice contrast with the "winter-ness" of my piece. But in the end the dark, understated character of the Schumann actually matched my piece quite well.

What are your plans for the next year or two?

I have a very busy year ahead of me. At the moment I'm studying for my comprehensive exams, which will bring me one step closer to my doctorate. I also have two big writing projects on the horizon: a string quartet for the Arditti Quartet to play when they appear at UB in March, and a new large-scale work for voice and chamber ensemble which will be premiered by Oerknal, an ensemble in the Netherlands, in the late spring. I'm also teaching a class at UB for non-music majors on the music of Luciano Berio. 

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