Last week Pedro Eustache began to describe his creative process in composing “Suite Concertante for World-Woodwinds & Orchestra,” which he planned to premier with acclaimed conductor Gustavo Dudamel in February 2009.
As promised, this week we’ll see the train threaten to go off the tracks.
Throughout the creative process, Pedro was traveling the world maintaining his busy performance schedule. When he’d return home, he’s incorporate his notes and ideas from audio recordings made on the road, and enter and orchestrate them in Logic (his sequencer of choice) using a CME Super MIDI Controller. Eventually all these tracks were saved as MIDI files and imported into Finale.
Then, six weeks before the date of the premiere, the partner he had counted on to assemble all the orchestral parts left the project. While this seemed like a huge blow at the time, Pedro and several amazing copyists and friends pitched in to complete the score and parts on time. “Finale was what we used for this – and it worked perfectly.” They forged forward, sending Finale and PDF files to Dudamel for approval, and always receiving encouragement in return.
About this same time Pedro sent an audio file of a MIDI “mock-up” of the entire score to share with the performers beforehand. His concern was that the piece included many difficult and unusual passages, including the Eastern European piece in 21/8, that would not lend themselves to sight-reading.
With that done, work was finished on the parts and score, and everything looked to be back on track.
Pedro arrived in Caracas less than two weeks before the premiere. The next morning he met with the orchestra only to discover they had not heard nor seen the piece yet. Due to some miscommunication, they would be sight-reading the piece at their first rehearsal.
Oh, and did I mention they’re a youth orchestra?
Pedro quickly clears up this misperception that those of us outside of Venezuela often have about the “National Youth & Children Symphony Orchestras System:”
“It’s not actually a youth orchestra as you might think of one. It’s a different paradigm. In the U.S. when you think of a youth orchestra, you think of a non-professional, student group. Though this particular orchestra is young, they play better than many, well-established and well-known symphony world famous orchestras, including those in Europe. They are really very, very, high-caliber professionals.”
In fact, the orchestra that Dudamel conducts (the “B” Orchestra), is one of many Venezuelan orchestras in “El Sistema,” the extraordinary program founded by Dr. José Antonio Abreu, which is also responsible for making it possible for more than 250,000 children to attend music schools in the impoverished country. This is clearly a topic worthy of several blog posts on its own. Check out an awesome 60 Minutes piece on El Sistema here.
Nevertheless, this great orchestra still hasn’t heard or played though Pedro’s challenging, 48-minute piece, and the performance was less than two weeks away. We’re back to the nightmare end of the scale, right? “I almost pulled the plug,” Pedro admitted.
However, Dudamel encouraged Pedro to forge ahead, and to see certain aspects of the piece from a different perspective:
“For example, at one point, I still thought that the fugue wasn’t going to work. I was thinking in black and white, and from that perspective it was not going to work. He said: ‘It’s not going to fly at that speed, but what if we tried it a little slower?’ We did and it was amazing. It seems obvious now, but in context I didn’t see that as an option.
Plus, I could feel that the orchestra wanted to prove that it could be done – it became a point of honor.”
So how did it turn out? Check out the video links below to hear for yourself. One of the few sections not currently on YouTube is the finale, but Pedro describes his reaction at the completion of the piece:
“I was jumping up and down. We went out and we KILLED the piece. It tells you how great these performers are and how ‘from Mars’ Gustavo Dudamel is. This guy is the real McCoy. He is a genius!”
Pedro, always quick to credit others, also includes Finale in his praise:
“The reality of it – Finale saved my skin. If I didn’t have Finale I don’t know what I would have done. You know it’s like three guys against three thousand. Without Finale we would not have made it!”
In addition to the video link to movements 1 and 2 above, several sections can be viewed on YouTube, including movements three, four, six and seven, eight and nine, and ten, and here’s a photo album of the concert.
I’d like to thank Pedro for his time and enthusiasm, and I’d like to encourage you all to check out the concert as well as learn more about El Sistema.
As always, please let us know what you think by clicking on “Comments” below.