Interview with Gabriella Smith
Continuing the introductions of our 2017 Call for Scores winners, composer Gabriella Smith will have her music premiered not once, but on two programs during our 2017-2018 season! Described as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative” (Philadelphia Inquirer), as well as “bold, original and suggests exciting new directions for American music” (Giancarlo Guerrero), her music has been performed throughout the U.S. and internationally by Eighth Blackbird, Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, and ymusic, among others. On October 28th and 29th, Kaleidoscope will perform the west coast premiere of her piece, Brandenburg Interstices. Generously donating her time, I was able to sit down with Ms. Smith to learn more about her and her compositional process for Brandenburg Interstices. It became apparent to me that Ms. Smith truly is as described, for her boldness, ingenuity, and originality certainly shines through both in her music and her as a person.
Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?
Gabriella Smith: I grew up playing violin and piano, and started writing music when I was 8. To me, composing just felt like a natural extension of playing an instrument. I wanted to figure out how the music I was playing had come into existence, so I tried writing some. The problem was that the first piece I wrote didn’t turn out anything like I had imagined it in my head. So I tried again. And again. And again. And I’m still trying with each new piece.
CR: Wonderful! What sorts of things do you try with each new piece? Would you say you have a specific compositional style?
GS: I often think of my compositional style as a collage of all the diverse genres of music I love: Renaissance vocal music, Bach, Ravel, Bartok, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Björk, Radiohead, Bobby McFerrin, Ligeti, Aphex Twin, Georgian folk music, Scottish and Irish and Appalachian fiddle music, and the music of Capoeira. I love layering, juxtaposing, and cross fading material inspired by these wildly different types of music in ways that bring out the similarities I hear in them.
CR: Wow, that’s a very eclectic array of musical genres! Is that what you love the most about being a composer, being able to highlight similarities across genres?
GS: Yes, but I love that feeling of being completely absorbed in the act of creation, the feeling that I’m not even coming up with the music but simply following its flow.
CR: Definitely. Bach’s Brandenburgs have a connection to each piece on the concert—what is the connection to your piece, Brandenburg Interstices? Can you talk about the circumstances surrounding its creation?
GS: Brandenburg Interstices was commissioned by the 2012 Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival as a companion piece for Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. As a way of paying homage, I tried to incorporate Bach as naturally as possible into my wide range of other musical influences (from minimalism to blues, American folk music, Ligeti, and Xenakis, among others). I envisioned a piece that would celebrate the way in which Bach has inspired me as well as demonstrate the connections I see between Bach and my other influences by creating a music that morphs fluidly through the centuries and genres, suddenly emerging into spaces of Bach in the form of Bach-inspired textures and passages as well as direct quotes before again submerging back into the patchwork. The form mirrors Bach’s three-movement fast-slow-very fast structure, however I combined this three-part structure into a single movement. I organized each of my three parts around one quote from each of Bach’s movements.
CR: Aside from your many musical influences, what, if any, are some of the non-musical influences in your compositions?
GS: I love backpacking and spending time in the natural world. Many of my pieces are inspired by those experiences: the gradual change of landscape as it shifts from alpine to jungle that can only be fully experienced at foot speed, the slightly off kilter rhythm of hiking over talus slopes, the icy mountain air, the creaking of trees, the crackling of underwater crustaceans, the keening gulls and pounding of the Pacific surf. I also love that being a composer allows me to travel the world for performances, festivals, and residencies, and meet so many fantastic musicians and people.
CR: You make it sound so serene! Speaking about meeting new people, will you have the chance to hear your work performed by Kaleidoscope this upcoming week?
GS: Unfortunately, no. I’m unable to come to the concert, but I hope to be able to come hear the orchestra and visit Los Angeles soon!
CR: We hope so too! What initially interested you in applying for the Kaleidoscope Call for Scores?
GS: My friend Alyssa Weinberg was selected through the Call for Scores to have one of her pieces performed by KCO during the 2015-2016 season. She came back from LA raving to me about what a fantastic experience she had had working with Kaleidoscope, and encouraged me to apply.
CR: Thank you, Alyssa! Had you previously worked with a conductorless orchestra?
GS: No, I have not had the opportunity until now, but I love conductorless orchestras. Growing up I always preferred playing chamber music because of the intimacy you feel with the other musicians and the communication within the group that I’ve always felt is a much more important part of music than what is written on the page. I think conductorless orchestras have the capability of bringing this same type of intimacy and communication to a larger ensemble.
CR: Speaking more to you as a person, what are some of your other passions outside of music?
GS: I love backpacking, hiking, birding--
GS: --yes, as a teenager I spent five years volunteering on a songbird monitoring and research project on Point Reyes. I also enjoy baking, and playing capoeira.
CR: Great! Thank you so much! We look forward to also to hearing more of your music for our November Concert series!
GS: Thank you!
Carrie Rexroat is a freelance writer for Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s blog, but is also the founder of the storytelling blog and podcast, A’tudes & Brews. To read other artist stories, go to www.atudesandbrews.org
Kaleidoscope will give the west coast premiere of Brandenburg Interstices on:
Saturday October 28th @ 10pm
Zipper Hall, Colburn School
200 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Sunday October 29th @ 2pm
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Kaleidoscope will give the world premiere of Carrot Revolution on:
Saturday November 18th @ 10pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
Sunday November 19th @ 2pm
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401