I am so excited about the performance I have Tuesday night.
Chicago’s Fulcrum Point New Music Project is presenting a screening of Ken Russell’s 1980 film Altered States, with a 75-piece orchestra performing John Corigliano’s Oscar-nominated score. The music is amazing. Trippy. Difficult. And I get to be involved!
I’ve done these kinds of gigs before – accompanying a film in real time – and it’s always challenging, both musically and technically. The material we are playing is often demanding, and the constraints of the format means that the tempo markings are non-negotiable. We have to start right on time, and play as fast as we have to play, and if things get off we have to make immediate and sometimes unnatural-feeling adjustments. The job of the conductor, of course, is even more complex than usual. The more technology is involved, the more he has to be on top of, and the less he controls, if that makes sense. There is little room for human flexibility and interpretation, and the least error can confuse the whole orchestra, or worse, the audience.
Adding to the difficulty this week is the constrained freedom in the score. There are many places where we have to play a set of patterns in an improvisational way. The technically challenging figures are written out for us but we need to place and repeat them in a way that sounds random. We have to react to other people so that we don’t line up with them, and have to listen to the effect we are creating and keep the material going. Meanwhile, the measures are still ticking by – fast – in real time, and we have to know exactly where we are so we can stop and move on appropriately. It’s not the hardest thing I’ve done, but it’s definitely tricky. I have students who struggle to count beats while trilling – when their fingers get unmetered they have no idea how to keep track of time. This feels like the same problem, raised to an uncomfortable level.
All that said, I’m proud and delighted to be doing this work. The composer was present for our winds-only rehearsal yesterday and will attend the performance. My own part is not prominent and you won’t hear me, but you should catch this event.