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Q&A With Pasadena Symphony's Composer in Residence

Peter Boyer, an Altadena resident who is the Pasadena Symphony's new Composer in Residence, will write a symphony.

The Pasadena Symphony and POPS recently named Grammy nominee Peter Boyer as the Symphony's newest Composer in Residence for the 2012-13 season.

In this role, Boyer will compose his first symphony and lead intimate "salons" with the Pasadena Symphony Association’s Fresh Ink Society. His turn as Composer in Residence will end with the April 27, 2013 premiere of his "Symphony No. 1" at the Ambassador Auditorium.

The Altadena resident and Claremont Graduate University music professor wrote "Ellis Island: The Dream of America," which has been performed over 125 times by nearly sixty orchestras. Prestigious organizations around the country have commissioned Boyer's work, including the Boston POPS, Pacific Symphony and the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

Boyer has also contributed orchestrations to 20 feature film scores.

The Pasadena Symphony and POPS is an ensemble that counts some of Southern California's most accomplished musicians amongst its ranks.

Four years ago, the Pasadena Symphony incorporated the Pasadena POPS into its Association under the new name Pasadena Symphony and POPS. In June, the Association will r to the .

What inspires your music?

Boyer: That’s a big question. The inspiration for a particular composition may manifest itself in a variety of ways. I’ve composed works which took their inspiration from Greek mythology, such as the Trojan War and the gods of Mount Olympus; and I’ve composed works which were inspired by historical events or people, such as immigration through Ellis Island, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Kennedy brothers. A work which sets a text would certainly draw inspiration from that text. With a work of “absolute music,” such as the one on which I’m about to embark, the goal is more about creating a work which succeeds purely as music, and which communicates with audiences.

Have you started working on the symphony you are composing?

Boyer: I’ve only just begun the initial stage of the process, which for me involves sketching musical themes, which will become the building blocks for the work—sort of musical DNA. Building the musical structures from there takes a long time and a great deal of effort. I’ll be working on this over the next year.

What do you hope to gain from your experience with the Pasadena Symphony?

Boyer: As with other orchestras with whom I’ve been fortunate to collaborate, the goal is to share in the joy of making music together, and to communicate that joy to audiences. Having worked with many orchestras around the United States and abroad, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to work with my closest local orchestra, which happens to be an excellent one. The Pasadena Symphony includes musical colleagues, neighbors, and friends of mine, so that brings a welcome personal element to the collaboration.

What drew you to the genre of orchestral music?

Boyer: I’ve been fortunate to have had continuous opportunities to compose orchestral music since I was in my early twenties, and to receive and fulfill numerous commissions for orchestral music, so by and large I’d probably be considered “an orchestral composer.” The orchestra is an immensely powerful vehicle of expression for a composer, and the beauty and variety of sounds of which an orchestra is capable are inexhaustible. For all my experience with the orchestra, in a dozen or more orchestral commissions, I’ve never had the opportunity to compose a formal symphony. The masterworks in the genre of the symphony, going back more than 200 years, provide both a daunting tradition and an irresistible challenge for an orchestral composer. It seemed to me that it was time to try my hand at the symphony, and to see if I could meet the challenge of creating something in that form. Of course, in the early 21st-century, there is no one fixed meaning for what constitutes a symphony, so composers may bring their own personal approaches to the genre, while being cognizant of its long tradition.

What’s on your iPod playlist?

Boyer: Another big question! My iTunes library has almost 10,000 tracks, which range pretty widely: from Beethoven symphonies to Billy Joel albums; from Mahler song cycles to John Williams soundtracks; from orchestral works by Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev, and Sibelius to albums by Boz Scaggs and the Eagles; and so on. Many playlists!

What do you hope to accomplish as Composer in Residence for the Pasadena Symphony?

Boyer: The largest goal of the residency, of course, will be the composition of the new work, which will extend over the next year, and up through its premiere on April 27, 2013. I’m also delighted that the Pasadena Symphony is inviting me to conduct its premiere, which will be a welcome additional element to the collaboration.

Another aspect of the residency will be “salons” or small gatherings of what’s been dubbed the “Fresh Ink Society,” a small group of music lovers and donors who will support the recording of the new work, and other works of mine, by the Pasadena Symphony for the Naxos record label. I look forward to meeting and interacting with the folks who decide to join that group, and to share the creative process over the next year.

Finally, I hope to meet and interact with many members of the Pasadena Symphony’s audiences, who may only rarely have the opportunity to speak with a living composer. I think it’s important for audiences to realize that, though orchestras may perform many works by 19th-century European composers, there are indeed living 21st-century composers creating new work for the orchestra, and the art form is a living and vital one.

Anything you want people to know about you?

Boyer: If folks are interested, they can visit my website at www.PropulsiveMusic.com, where they can learn more about and listen to my music.

Natalie Ragus January 27, 2012 at 02:17 PM
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