Today I conducted the first movement of Pines of Rome with the New York Youth Symphony. It was an exhilarating experience to direct such a fine group of players. There was something incredibly emotional and spiritual, and, of course, fun, about how we were making Respighi’s dots on the page come to life. Even as a student conductor who only had a moment on the podium, to hear the massive sound come together so perfectly, even for just an instant, it was music in all its glory, the way it should be, the way it ought to be.
Afterward, the orchestra rehearsed a new commissioned work that was in stark contrast to the Respighi, though only in aesthetics, not sound mass. It was a big loud “in your face” piece while still having the subtleties of color and moderation, much like Pines of Rome. It got me thinking “Where is the orchestra going now?” We all know its history: from Bach’s Suites, to Haydn’s and Mozart’s Symphonies, to Beethoven’s Symphonies, to Schubert, Brahms, Tcahikovsky, Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Respighi, Shostakovich, Barber, Adams, us. What do us, as composers, have to contribute to the rich history of the orchestra in the present day?
Unlike some people who think the orchestra is long and dead, i.e. a “fossil”, I believe the orchestra is very much alive and well. Many new and exciting technologies are being created, such as electronics and synthesizers, where orchestras can be expanded. New pieces are being written every day and sometimes there’s a shortage of orchestras to play them! Indeed, it’s a shame that the NYYS can only play three new works a year because of time constraints. But for a youth orchestra of its caliber, easily on par with many American professional orchestras, they should be a leader in the path towards new works for the ensemble.
What do you as composers think? Is the orchestra still alive or should be not bother? If you believe the orchestra is dead, what’s your justification for this? If you believe the orchestra is alive and well, what could you contribute to the repertoire as a composer?