Superior Chamber Orchestra garners national award for innovative programmingFor Tyler Kaiser, composing a musical work is like overseeing a construction project.
By: Thomas Vaughn, Duluth Budgeteer News
For Tyler Kaiser, composing a musical work is like overseeing a construction project.
“You could say it’s like creating a frame to build into a house; how many rooms and how big are those rooms? What color paint? Is there a fireplace?” said the Duluth-based composer and string instrumentalist who has received commissions from the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra.
Warren Friesen, the LSCO’s artistic director and conductor since its inaugural concert 26 years ago, gives that sort of framework to Kaiser and other commissioned composers, both local and nationwide. But he also allows them to experiment.
“Last year, Tyler wanted to write a concerto for tenor banjo and horn,” Friesen said. “I would never have suggested that, but that’s what he wanted to do. So, I said, ‘Well, (make it) about eight to 10 minutes.’”
Friesen’s willingness to allow for experimentation in new musical works has brought national recognition to the LSCO for the fourth time in its history. Last month, the orchestra won a national recognition award from the American Symphony Orchestra League in association with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, recognizing musical ensembles that perform works written within the last 25 years.
“Last year was a special year because it was our 25th anniversary. We commissioned five new works,” Friesen said. “In award selection, a special weight is given to works commissioned by the orchestra itself. So, having commissioned five new works, that gave us some pretty high numbers.”
Steve Highland is the LSCO’s concertmaster who sometimes must perform the new works after only three or four rehearsals. It helps, he says, when the composer is alive.
“Being able to get an authoritative answer to, ‘Did you really mean that to be an F-sharp?’ is wonderful,” he said. “It’s also neat to see how a composer will sometimes decide to change things after hearing their piece played by the orchestra for the first time.”
Kaiser’s first work for guitar and chamber orchestra premiered in 1988
with the LSCO. Last year, he contributed one of the five works celebrating the 25th anniversary.
“I feel personal concern that the music be a successful composition — not that people like it per se, though that is nice, but, that it impacts those involved in some way,” he said.
Managing the creative tension between impact and appreciation is an uncertain risk for the LSCO, part of the reason why the award contains the word “adventurous.”
“It’s hard to tell whether a new piece will have something special that makes it connect on a deeper level with both the performers and the audience. Sometimes pieces that are fun to play are not much fun for the listener, and sometimes it works exactly backwards,” Highland said.
Brad Bombardier, a Duluth music composer who has premiered 18 new works since 1987 with the LSCO, agreed.
“It’s all very well and good to write music that exists on a page, but it doesn’t really live until it’s performed,” he said. “If nobody wants to listen to it, then you’re not going to be performed.”
Friesen said that the relationship between LSCO instrumentalists and local composers has grown over the years, leading up to this fourth award.
“I think there’s always some interest in terms of ‘What are they going to write?’ especially since Tyler and Brad are members of the orchestra,” he said. “They’re friends and you do wonder what they’ll come up with.”
Learn more about the LSCO by going to its website at www.lakesuperiorchamberorchestra.org.