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VOX 2007: Showcasing American Composers
Opera has an enormous capacity to convey the human experience. The energy of this possibility to express emotions was incredibly palpable at VOX, the annual new works showcase produced by New York City Opera (NYCO) and presented at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, New York University, on May 12 and 13, 2007. Each piece performed at VOX was preceded with a short video introduction consisting of interviews with the artists about their inspirations and creative processes. The weekend also included panel discussions and other presentations. More information, including 2008 application forms, can be found at nycopera.com/about/vox.
Below are some impressions from the VOX 2007 participants:
Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein, Elmer Gantry
VOX 2007 was an important milestone in the development of our opera, Elmer Gantry. We are in the very fortunate position of heading for a production in November 2007 with Nashville Opera; VOX gave us a last valuable opportunity for reassessment before our work process becomes entirely about realizing what's on the page. Based on what we heard, we're making subtle but significant changes throughout the opera. In a word, we're doing less — less in both libretto and score — because now we realize that the orchestra can do so much.
A word to next year's composers: have your orchestral parts in great shape. Proofread until you're on the verge of insanity. All the VOX conductors this year were absolutely first-rate, and the orchestra was excellent, but one is given two orchestra rehearsals and they have to be basically "real-time." You do not want to throw away any of that precious time on mistakes in the parts.
Brian Current, Airline Icarus
The simplest way that I can describe the festival is that VOX gives new operas a presence. I can't tell you how helpful it was to hear my piece come to life and placed in the context of a number of new works. Hearing it like this, you are able to live inside the piece in a way that you really can't do in your studio. Everything is vivid and thrust out into space. Moreover, after observing a number of operas in a row, I was filled with ideas and immediately wanted to go home and tinker not only with the Icarus score, but also start new pieces. Most of all, VOX was able to give the opera a toehold in the public imagination, which I hope will lead to a full production.
The video introductions added a slick, non-museum-like feeling to the proceedings and kept the afternoons moving swiftly. Many composers have difficulty speaking cohesively in public and the editing of the videos made the explanations clear, and dare I say eloquent! The video introductions make for a presentation that was very contemporary and appealing.
Don Davis, Rio de Sangre
In addition to representatives from numerous opera companies, the festival was attended by representatives of all of the major publishing houses, as well as publicists, managers, and agents.
It was particularly insightful to observe the interaction between the orchestra players, the conductor, and the singers. In addition to some extremely constructive and collaborative workshops with rehearsal pianist/coaches and singers, it was very useful to check and refine the balances between the orchestra and the soloists.
Kate Gale, Rio de Sangre
I came back from VOX 2006 and VOX 2007 and immediately started telling composers that they have to come to VOX next year, whether as a participant or as an audience member. It is a great way to meet other people involved in making diverse operas. You get a sense of living inside music as it emerges into the world: hot and raw and incredibly alive. You get the feeling that music history is happening and you are there helping to make it happen. Each piece made me rethink why I write, why I play with music, why I dream and live outside corporate dread and inside no rent money dread, but at the same time, made me very glad to be part of this creative essence.
Jenny Johnson, The Endings
This was my second experience having an opera excerpt showcased at VOX, and I must say that it was even better the second time around. The singers, conductor, and orchestra were equally excellent both times, but the crowd was even larger this year, and the advent of Greg Emataz's video introductions made the whole production of VOX come together in an extremely powerful way. I would highly recommend this festival to any composer who dreams of mounting their work on the operatic stage — whether it's for opulent houses like those of Lincoln Center or Broadway, or for such alternative spaces as the DIY artist lofts in Tribeca or Bushwick.
Elisabeth Esris and Sergio Cervetti, Elegy for a Prince
Acceptance into VOX is just the beginning of a process that encourages composers and librettists to look at their work more closely. Being part of VOX became an opportunity to look at our work in a new light--first as an opera that was about to have excerpts performed and later as the performance itself. These are two very different things. When you look at your words and music as they are about to be sent to orchestra and singers, you review every little detail for things that may have escaped your eye before. There is no room for error. This is a challenge and a blessing. Fresh attention to work brings with it the chance to edit and revise, both of which we did prior to getting work copied.
Once at VOX in rehearsal with the orchestra, in our case sensitively conducted by Brian Garman, there is the opportunity to hear work that until that point has been heard only as a piano vocal or a midi-realization. This is an awesome moment when imagination forges into reality and the ultimate waters are tested. In our experience with Elegy for a Prince we felt that the power of the piece to captivate an audience was validated when we heard it in rehearsal and finally at the Skirball Center performance. But the process of working with the conductor and musicians revealed a couple of places where the score could be tweaked.
Access to information and advice from inside the opera house was valuable to all of us as we looked beyond VOX. In addition, the panel discussions that began each performance day of the festival gave insight into the process of creating an opera from different perspectives. Meeting other composers and librettist, knowing their work, hearing different voices and being able to connect with them in the future is certainly a crucial part of the VOX experience.
(To learn more about Elegy for a Prince, visit elegyforaprince.com.)
Chris Lastovicka, Crossing the Horizon
My overall experience as a composer at VOX 2007 was excellent. It is difficult to convey how much I was able to learn from hearing members of NYCO perform my excerpt. One of the things that VOX touts is how they give composers an opportunity to hear their pieces with a full orchestra, and I would agree that this was a highlight for me. The musicians at NYCO gave me an education which will not only advance my work on this
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