Myrrha in the Making
Composer Kristin Kuster discusses the impact of her participation in ACO's 2004 New Music Readings and the upcoming premiere of Myrrha at Carnegie Hall on May 3, 2006, with her mentor and colleague Michael Daugherty.
Michael Daugherty: It has been a few years since you were awarded the Underwood Emerging Composer Commission as a result of ACOs Whitaker New Music Reading Session. Since then, how has your writing benefited from your participation in the ACO readings?
Kristin Kuster: I had written a few pieces for orchestra by the time of the readings, yet until then I didnt have solid confidence in my approach to writing for large ensembles. Having a great recording of The Narrows from the reading session meant that I could hear which of my orchestrational ideas worked well, and which worked less well. For example, I was commissioned by the Plymouth Symphony, conducted by Nan Washburn, to write Iron Diamond for their 60th Anniversary concert this past October. While I wrote the piece, I often referred to the recording and score of The Narrows, as well as the written feedback I received from the ACO players, and my fellow composers at the readings sessions.
MD: How did the idea for your new piece Myrrha¸ written for the Underwood commission, come about?
KK: Last May, Michael Geller of the ACO contacted me about when they would like to program the new piece, and asked me to give them an idea for a piece I might like to write for a love-and-erotica-themed concert. I submitted the idea for Myrrha originally as a standard orchestra piece inspired by the myth of Myrrha from Ovids Metamorphosis. Michael then asked if I would be interested in using a small choir for the piece, and I positively loved the idea.
MD: I know you have a larger piece, The Wind Will Gather, for choir and orchestra. Did you approach writing Myrrha in the same way? How do the pieces differ?
KK: I have written a substantial number of vocal and choral pieces, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to compose one for ACO. The Wind Will Gather was written for sixteen mixed solo voices and orchestra. The singers most often act as soloists and are embedded like instruments within the overall texture. The text was written in collaboration with the poet, and my dear friend, Manu Samriti Chander.
For Myrrha, I decided to use three sopranos and male choir, with a reduced orchestra. The three sopranos are different manifestations of the same voice: Myrrha. They are soloists, yet often weave together texturally. Overall, the vocal techniques in the piece are pretty standard stuff, so my goal was to create interest in the ways the voices interact with one another and the orchestra. The text for Myrrha is comprised of excerpts from Ovids Metamorphosis. The excerpts do not present a narrative. Rather, fragments of the text move in and out of the music as though in a dream, or perhaps Myrrhas memory of the events that shaped her fate.
MD: Overall, how would you rate your experience with ACO, from the Whitaker Readings Session to the premiere of a new piece in Carnegie Hall?
KK: I was very fortunate to have been accepted to the Whitaker Readings back in 2004it was just a delightful two days of hearing new music for orchestra. The events were run beautifully, and the orchestra played the daylights out of all of our pieces. The practical outcome from the experiencethe elements I mentioned that have aided in the development of my writinghas been invaluable for me. Really, I wish I could participate in the readings every Spring! And writing the new piece, Myrrha, for the May 3 concert has been a lot of fun. Throughout the writing of the piece I was in discussion with Judith Clurman, who is preparing the singers, and she has been a wonderful resource and great support. I am always looking for excuses to get to NYC, and I must say that having a piece premiered by ACO in Carnegie Hall is the best one Ive found yet.
- Michael Daugherty is an award-winning composer who teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. ACO performed Daugherty's Fire and Blood at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall last season.