(SPO = Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra)
1) There have been many composers who were also conductors throughout the history of Western music – Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Leonard Bernstein come to mind as being among the most famous. How do the two roles fit together for you? Do they feed one another?
First of all, I started my career as a professional cellist playing a lot of orchestral work, and not as a conductor or composer. I believe this gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra. Performing cello with the Toronto Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra in Los Angles, touring for Columbia Artists and performing at the Grammy Awards, all gave me different, but interesting viewpoints on music. Having the opportunity to conduct and compose has given me even more varied experiences. All these musical experiences have really helped keep me enthusiastic and growing as a musician.
2) How does composing for orchestra inform or affect the way you look at and study an orchestral score?
I believe that composing gives a particular perspective on understanding the construction of music, which can’t be learned from just score study. I wanted to study composition to better understand the music of great composers (both past and present). Learning to compose a fugue in the style of J.S. Bach is the best way to really understand and appreciate Bach’s achievement. Therefore, it is common for conductors to study at least some composition. It is interesting to see how many of the top conductors have also composed or arranged music for orchestra. For example, Vancouver Symphony music director and conductor Bramwell Tovey is an excellent composer and premiered an opera this season.
3) Is there conflict – evenings when you would like to stay home and write but have to go out and lead a rehearsal?
Conductor Simon Streatfeild (who knew Benjamin Britten well) told me that “Ben” enjoyed conducting, but would get frustrated that he didn’t have enough time to compose.
I always enjoy conducting the orchestra, but there are times when I need to take care of administrative duties when I would rather be composing. Because of the time commitments required for the SPO, I have composed less, but it has been a worthwhile trade-off.
4) Has your work with the orchestra suggested or inspired compositions?
Last March, the SPO gave a remarkable performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, which ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. Being able to study this amazing composition in-depth and conduct this masterpiece for the first time taught me a lot as a conductor and a composer. Consequently, I am thinking about composing a new work for choir and orchestra.
5) You worked for ten years in Los Angeles as a studio musician. How has this influenced your programming choices with the Scarborough Phil?
I had the chance to work with many of the top film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Maurice Jarre, Henry Mancini, John Williams. This gave me such an appreciation for the art of composing music to film and for the music itself. I enjoy programming film music in part because I had the opportunity to learn first-hand how it should be performed.
6) At your concert on April 2, there were three original compositions by living composers, all of whom were present. Is the presentation of contemporary music a programming priority for you?
Yes, because there are many wonderful Canadian composers who deserve to have their music heard, and our audiences have enjoyed listening to them too! Many also enjoy the opportunity to meet and chat with these “living” composers. Traditionally, the SPO has had a composer-in-residence, who is presently the gifted emerging composer Alex Eddington.
7) Can you say something about the orchestra’s next season?
Some program highlights include Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Brahms’ Requiem (with the Toronto Choral Society), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, some engaging Canadian music and Howard Cable’s Cowboy Christmas.
8) What do you see as the Scarborough Philharmonic’s unique contribution to the Toronto and area music scene?
The SPO has a tradition of having the musicians and audience interact. We have pre-concert talks, intermissions where the audience and musicians have coffee and cookies while we mingle, and after-concert socializing. It is really a wonderful environment to share one’s love of orchestral music. As well, one of our priorities is to help support, train and promote young Canadian musicians. We have many young players in the orchestra (including university students and young professionals), we feature young soloists (there are several excellent young soloists programmed to perform with us next season), and we perform music by emerging composers. We hope to start featuring emerging conductors as well.
9) Do you have any other interesting projects on the go as a conductor and/or composer?
I will be conducting for violinist Conrad Chow and Sinfonia Toronto for a commercial recording this July, featuring music by the prominent Los Angeles film composer Bruce Broughton, myself and emerging Canadian composer Kevin Lau. I was very pleased the SPO and Conrad Chow were given the opportunity to present the world premiere of Bruce’s Triptych for Violin and Chamber Orchestra for our April 2 concert. I am also revising my Rhapsody for Violin and Chamber Orchestra (a Canada Council for the Arts commission) to go along with the Triptych.
10) Two years ago you recorded a CD, “The Hollywood Flute,” featuring Louise
DiTullio, whose flute playing has been heard on the soundtracks of over 1200 films. The CD is on the Cambria Master Recordings label and is distributed by Naxos. How did that come about?
Louise is my aunt and I was thrilled that she wanted to include me as the conductor, a composer and an arranger in this project that included music by Hollywood film composers John Barry, Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams. The recording was organized and produced by Dr. Jeannie Pool, from Paramount Studios, and was quite interesting to work on. For my arrangements of music from famous film scores, I was given access to the original scores (and sometimes sketches), which gave me interesting insights into the ways in which these different composers worked.
11) Ms. Di Tullio is the guest artist at the Scarborough Philharmonic’s next concert. Do you see this event as kind of a CD release?
The audience will be given the chance to meet Louise and have her sign copies of the Hollywood Flute CD. Since she lives on the west coast, this will be the first time that she has been in Toronto since she recorded the CD. We have received only rave reviews for the CD. If you have seen any major Hollywood movies over the last 40 years, you have heard Louise’s flute playing.
12) The concert will give the audience the opportunity to hear one of the flutes greats. Will there be music from the CD on the programme? Will Ms. Di Tullio be performing any music that is not on the CD?
Louise will be playing the Suite from Dances with Wolves by John Barry which is on the CD. As well, Louise will premiere my Duetto Amoroso for Flute, English Horn and Orchestra, along with virtuoso English Horn player Cary Ebli, who plays in the Toronto Symphony. Cary will also perform the amazing Spaghetti Western Concerto by the American composer Michael Daugherty, who just won this year’s Grammy Award for best contemporary classical composition. Included on the program will be music from popular films such as John Williams’ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toronto native Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There will be live orchestra accompaniments to some wonderful and humorous Sheridan College student cartoons and a Mary Pickford short silent film. It should be a very enjoyable concert to attend, and I am certainly looking forward to conducting it.
13) It seems to me that your association with the Scarborough Philharmonic began by your being its composer-in-residence. When was that? How did it come about?
I was invited by Jerome Summers to be the composer-in-residence, and held that position from June 2003 to June 2005. Jerry was and continues to be a strong supporter of my work as a composer. After 2005, I remained involved with the group in a less formal relationship, helping when possible.
14) When did you move from the composer-in-residence job to becoming the artistic director and conductor?
After John Barnum left as music director, the board asked me to help with a conductor search and appointed me interim artistic director and conductor for the 2008-2009 concert season. The search committee chose three excellent guest conductors who ended up being offered other career opportunities which prevented them from accepting Scarborough’s permanent music director job. For example, conductor Daniel Swift became a music officer for the Canada Council for the Arts and is doing great work there. So the board offered me the permanent position, but I asked that the orchestra have the opportunity to vote on it first. I received a strong majority of support from the players, so I decided to take the plunge and become a music director for the first time in my career.
15) Has your work as a professional cellist affected your work as a conductor or composer?
I started my career as a professional cellist doing a lot of orchestral work, and not as a conductor or composer. I believe this gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra. This cello experience has also influenced me philosophically on how I approach conducting and composing. When I program for the SPO, an important consideration is choosing music that the orchestra will play well and will enjoy playing. When I compose, I want the players to sound good performing my music and to enjoy playing it. I usually approach things from a player’s perspective, which can be a very different approach from someone who has rarely or never “sat in the trenches” as a symphony performer.
16) For longer term goals, I would like to continue working to learn and grow as a composer, and to write the best music I can. I hope to continue having my music performed, commercially recorded, and commissioned. All three are currently happening, so I hope it continues.