Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sending a Score Part Two

So you sent a score to a Canadian orchestra...

Part Two:  Mechanics

It is a simple fact that very few scores sent to orchestras ever get seen by the Music Director.  There are many reasons for this.  For one thing, as I said in Part One, most larger orchestras get many unsolicited submissions per week.  In addition to this, Music Directors are very busy.  Most maintain a schedule of meetings, rehearsals, and travel which would probably kill me.  And there is also the fact that, sadly, there are many people out there who are convinced they are composers who really are not.  I cannot tell you how many submissions I have seen from people who bought Finale or Sibelius and so are now composers, or from people who somehow patched together 16 bars of a waltz for piano in C major who want the TSO to play it, or from people who have retired with large pensions who have decided to play at being composers, or from people who are just plain disturbed.  There is a vetting process at every orchestra which is designed to keep the MD's time from being wasted.

However, someone looks at every score that comes in.  In orchestras with a Composer In Residence, it is the CIR who does this.  My situation is unique in that I am not actually a CIR, I am the Composer Advisor, which means I do the administrative things like vetting scores without getting a commission every year.  TSO is a unique situation, as is the National Arts Centre Orchestra, where the Awards Composers are not actually engaged in any administrative work.  But someone in each orchestra sees submissions, either a composer or an artistic administrator.

The presence of a CIR can be positive or negative, depending on the person involved.  I will at a later time post my thoughts about the upside and downside of the CIR programme.  For now, I will just say that some composers are capable of being very objective and some are not.  I pride myself on having adapted to various MDs, recognizing that they are all different and will have different tastes and perspectives.  This has meant that I have brought forward music of every type at one time or another.  I know that there have been situations in which the prejudices of a CIR have prevented this.  There is nothing we can do about this.  If you recognize that you have a conflict with a particular CIR who is not going to be objective, it may be a waste of time to send a score to that orchestra.  On the other hand, as I pointed out in Part One, you are probably very paranoid about rejection.  Don't assume that a certain CIR will not be totally objective because a) you don't like their music and b) you've heard bad things about them.  If you don't know for sure, assume that you are dealing with a professional.

Certainly the artistic administrators are professionals.  They generally have a strong musical background, and understand what their MD is likely to be looking for in a piece of music.

Not all orchestras will return your scores, so be sure to indicate whether or not you want it back.  Don't send it in without saying so, and then phone 6 months later and ask for the stuff back.  It may be gone by then, and it won't be the orchestra's fault.

Send professional work.  Do not send badly copied scores.  The visual impact of the score is important.  A poorly copied and/or poorly photocopied score says "I'm an amateur."

If possible, send a good recording.  Yes, of course CIRs and MDs and most AAs can read scores, but the MD does not have a lot of time to review things once they have gotten that far in the process.  In my experience, the MD will want to listen to excerpts.  If something catches his or her ear, they will ask for a score.  Make sure the recording is well done.  Sometimes, a bad recording can be prejudicial.

A word about MIDI:  it's terrible.  I have actually seen MIDI recordings destroy a work's possibilities for performance.  Of course the music is absolutely clear in your head, and of course you know the MIDI doesn't represent the actual orchestral sound, but think about this:  you hear a new work for the very first time, it's unfamiliar to start with, and you are hearing it with cheesy fake sounds and artificial "interpretation."  What is your impression of the piece likely to be?  MIDI can be useful if you deliver a new work to a conductor and he needs to learn it.  But it is not a good idea to send MIDI.  Some of the more clever composers I have seen send a score with a note that a MIDI recording is available if requested.

Be realistic about what you submit.  See Part One on general rules.

Don't try stratagems.  The American composer David Del Tredici once sent a score to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  Across the cover was scrawled:  "Jukka Pekka!  Great to see you last week!  Here's that score you wanted!"  This seemed very suspicious to me, as I couldn't imagine music more inimical to Jukka Pekka Saraste, so I asked him if he even knew who David Del Tredici was, and of course, he didn't.  Not a good way to start a relationship with an orchestra.

A general word about the internal dynamics of the orchestra:  if there is a CIR or equivalent, odds are that everything that has to do with new work will end up on his or her desk.  Notwithstanding the personality conflicts which might exist, do not try to do an end run.  I cannot tell you how many times composers have written letters to complain about me which have ended up on my desk.  It doesn't matter if you send them to the MD, the CEO, the board chairman, the AA, if it's new music, it ends up on my desk.  Ironically, once or twice, composers whose music I fully support and intend to take to the MD have written snide letters directly to the MD intimating that I am not to be trusted.  These letters all end up in my hands.  The same is true in most situations where there is a CIR.  Sometimes, you may have direct access to a MD, in which case you have the option of pitching a work directly.  Sometimes this works, as there is no substitute for a personal relationship.  But it is professional courtesy to then let the CIR know.  Remember that the MD liking a work is a good start, but it does not guarantee a performance.  There are many other factors at play, and the CIR is one of them.  The best CIRs are objective professionals who understand the complexities of getting music played, and take offense only at being blindsided.

It is okay to follow up, but don't be a pest.  At the TSO, for example, we do score review two or three times a year at most.  It's an all-day job.  We are as prompt as is possible.  Don't send a score and call two days later to find out when it's being programmed.  Two months is a quick turnaround time.  Remember, all major orchestras programme at least two years in advance.

Remember that not all rejection is rejection.  There are many, many works which the MD believes in for which we cannot find a suitable home.  These remain on a shelf and in our minds, but may never get programmed, despite their merit.

Final advice:  stay in the game.  A Canadian composer submitting music to a Canadian orchestra will be taken seriously.  Your work will enter a whirlpool of programming possibilities, and if a suitable arena opens up, it might be programmed.  Most of the Canadian content on the TSO's current and coming seasons has been in our minds for several years.  Make yourself known without being a pest.  Recognize the needs of the orchestra.  Be realistic, be patient, and be confident of your vision.  

Or turn away from orchestra music and embrace the world of the new music ensemble.

More to come.

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