Importance of orchestral music for a young composer

October 29, 2008

I was chatting with a student about the notion of becoming “famous” as a composer. I occurs to me that most “famous” classical composers gain fame in the late 20th early 21st century through writing orchestral music. Chamber music can have regional impact but orchestral music is more crucial. Who am I thinking about? John Adams of course. Philip Glass and Steve Reich to some extent. Elliott Carter who is the godfather of American composers, has lots of orchestral music, but it’s not as attractive to general audiences as John’s is.

In the universities, we have our students write a lots of chamber music. It is pedagogically a good idea and costs less. But we should never undervalue the importance of having young composers HEAR their orchestra compositions, whether through readings, and ideally through performances. Books can only teach you so much. Hearing what works and what doesn’t is vital.

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