Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor of Arapahoe Philharmonic interviews Edgar Girtain, composer in residence.
Devin Patrick Hughes: Edgar Girtain is an American composer whose works range across folk, sacred and popular styles in the concert hall. Hailed as immediately captivating by The New York Times, Edgar has sharpened his craft at prestigious schools like Ithaca College, Princeton and Rutgers. In addition to composition, Edgar has had careers as a church organist, arranges, directs a school for the arts in Chile, conducts choruses and was the inaugural composer in residence for the Arapahoe Philharmonic’s Composition Competition, holding the post of Composer in Residence. Welcome, Edgar. So great to be speaking with you today.
Edgar: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invitation. And I have to say, out of that whole list, that one of the things that really sticks out for me is that time with the Arapahoe Philharmonic was a very special experience, a very valuable one for me. And I want to begin by saying, you know, Devin, how are you? Because we haven’t talked in quite a while. And I regret that when I was in Denver, I never made the time or I don’t know or what, but we never really got together and had a kind of a one on one I think like this. So I’m glad we’re able to do it now.
Well, we got to eat some steak. I thought we ate some steak together.
We did, but I think there was like there were other people around, other people from the orchestra. So those kinds of situations are not the same as this. Although we technically have a public, they’re not here with us.
Let’s talk about then what is the relationship that a composer expects from a conductor?
You know, to be honest with you, at this stage of the game, I’m not really into professional relationships. You know, like this idea of like a conductor, composer, musician, we all have our things that we do. Right? But what interests me much more is like actually just knowing a person, having a relationship with someone, and getting to collaborate with them. For me, the richest collaborations always come from a place where there is a mutual understanding of what the other person is trying to do and the relationship feels much more natural and friendly, than just conductor, composer.
I guess the right answer is, what is the best conductor? It’s one that does my music. And I think any composer would say that.
Well, your music and you as a person was a very formative relationship for me because you opened my career almost a decade ago as conductor of the Arapahoe Philharmonic. One of the first things we did was create a Composition Competition. And I think we got at least 60 or 70 applicants and your piece Isolation Day, 253, correct?
That’s the number.
The work is scored for Soprano and Orchestra. That jumped out as a clear winner, simply for the majesty, beauty, and mystical atmosphere you created. It was just so unique. So maybe we can talk a little bit about that piece.
Well, that piece, I mean, it’s a song. So songs in general for me are intuitive because you have one line that you can connect to the vocal line. You have a really clear line that can take you from left to right on the page. The text was brilliant. The guy who wrote it is Will Goldberg. The text definitely facilitated a kind of easy writing because the lines were short enough to keep it going. I don’t get too crazy or abstract when writing a song because I’m not interested in showing the timbre qualities of the syllables. I want to set a mood and deliver the text in a way that imbues a kind of emotion, that highlights it in some kind of artistic way.
I was looking for the score. I couldn’t find the score. So I was hoping you would remind me a little bit of what it looked like.
The full score was a massive thing. It’s got all the colorful winds and the harp and all that stuff, but it didn’t start out like that. At the beginning, it just starts off as a line, a single line on a staff and then a bass line and some chords. Sometimes I even do it just on one staff and I write the chords on top.
Isn’t all music a song?
Or a dance?
I mean, because you said it was a song as opposed to a symphony.
A song or a dance. I guess I would be one way
Song and dance. Yeah, that’s everything. If you can encapsulate all of life: song and dance.
Yeah. That’s one way to look at it. I mean that could be a very long conversation if you want to talk about that.
One of the things I notice, you’re kind of like a romantic composer out of place and out of time, living in the year 2021. Because there’s Mahler and Wagner in a lot of your music, there’s also some Brahmsian qualities.
I remember once you made a comment to me that it seemed like I was still finding my voice. And I think that that’s continued, that path. Like, I really don’t think much about if I’m romantic or tried to place myself in any kind of way. If I write music that sounds out of place, it’s because in a lot of ways my life is not so different from those historical composers. I work in a church. I’m like a little kapellmeister down here, you know? That’s my job. And what is the music that we play? Every week I play a Brahms Sonata or songs, and it’s mostly that kind of music. And I love that music so it comes through when I write. But I would say more than romantic, I’d say that I have a polyglot language because really I listen to all kinds of music. I love contemporary music as well. I take what I can and it’s just tools that go into the tool bag and as I go, I just take them out as I need them.
Would you say you listen to more music than you play or compose, or is it an equal balance?
When I was younger, I would definitely listen to a lot of music. The Library at Rutgers had a huge music collection. I was listening to five, ten CDs a day. These CDs were all classical art music, contemporary music. There’s a very strong current of experimental contemporary music at Rutgers when I was there, because Charles Warning had taught there for a number of years. So there was that kind of element in the air. But as time goes on, I would say now I listen mostly to contemporary music, you know, new stuff. I’m very interested in what my colleagues are doing, especially people that I know, people that I have some kind of connection with, I really like to support them and listen to them.
You mentioned a Kapellmeister, which is kind of cool because in Europe, that’s the training. And a lot of times the composer, conductor, and accompanist, it’s all kind of interwoven. And in the 20th century, a lot of European musicians went down to South America to start schools and orchestras and just experience some nicer weather. How did you end up in Chile?
Oh, well, I originally came down as a poor kid that just finished school and I wanted to travel. I actually lived on a farm as a volunteer for like two months. And so I came down just to travel. And I stayed here for two months, living out of my backpack. And then I went back, I started my master’s degree. Then I came back again to Chile to work for the Department of the Ministry of Education. They had a program to teach English. So I came for the second time to teach English. I lived in a school in a small village up in the mountains for about six months. And then after that, now I’ve been here full time, pretty much, except for, you know, going to Buffalo every once in a while since the end of 2016.
What is the music you first remember hearing?
Church Music man! Definitely, definitely. We went to a Baptist church, a really conservative place, New Jersey, on the Pines, and it was mostly older people. There were some younger people, too, I guess. I mean, I was young. I was really young. But you know, it made a very powerful impression on me. Everybody singing hymns, congregational singing.
And you have a little bit of that in your second symphony here.
Yeah. Why not? It’s got everything else in it.
There’s a lot of music in hymns. There’s a lot of music in carols. I mean, the foundation of Western music comes from these Riemenschneider Bach chorales.
Yeah. Hymns have a rich history. We have more than a thousand years worth of hymn tunes and hymn melodies. They’re practical for a pedagogical means, for organ, for organists. That’s what you start doing. You know, you play chorales. Now I feel kind of distant, I guess, a little bit. I would hesitate to write a chorale in, like a literal chorale in a piece now. For different reasons, but it’s a form of music like any other are either songs or dances.
And some of the chorales that come to mind for me are chorales that have been in symphonies like the Mendelssohn Reformation Symphony. Even the Stravinsky Soldier’s Tale, that Petite Chorale and the grand chorale at the end. You know, when there’s all this reflection going on, when these seven disparate chamber musicians play a full fortissimo chorale before the final triumph of the devil.
I mean, what do you make of it? I mean, what do you as a conductor do when you come across a choral piece of orchestral music?
Well, you balance it. And in many ways, like in the Stravinsky, the less voices in a chorale, the harder it is to make work.
You mean the less voices like unison doubling or…
The less mass of musicians in a chorale, the more spread out things are and transparent. For some reason that chorale is really hard to make work after all this Stravinsky multi-metric, complex and tricky stuff to play. You get to this chorale and you think it’s going to be a walk in the park but you have to spend some time rehearsing it.
The instrumentation in Stravinsky is usually searching for an effect that’s exactly opposite of the standard what works? You know, it’s Stravinsky. You know how many times you have a C major chord space like this, you know?
Yes, a nice naked chord.
And it’s interesting because you listen to different recordings and different conductors can get wildly different sounds out of those things. I mean, what’s your approach to dealing with those kinds of textures?
Well, my approach for Stravinsky is a lot of prayer, a lot of study, a lot of sweat, a lot of blood pressure medication.
What does study mean for a conductor. How does a conductor study a score? What do you do to prepare a score?
Well, so, for example, on the Stravinsky Rite of Spring, I’ve conducted that whole piece twice in concert and I feel incredibly inadequate and unprepared. If I had to do that again. I think that, you know, the conductors who are maybe 60, 70, 80, 90, they’ve conducted these pieces maybe 30 or more times. I think probably when you get to about 10 to 15 times, you start to feel like you kind of know the piece, but it takes a lot of time. You can negate that somewhat by, as you said, studying, and that’s singing the lines, whether it be solfege or just with your natural voice on a syllable or a vowel. It’s playing it at the piano. It’s checking out different recordings. Learning about the piece. Learning about the history, knowing that there was a riot at the Rite of Spring and you want to try and recreate that effect. You don’t want audiences clawing each other’s eyes out, but you want to create that effect of how radical this thing is to play.
Do you think it’s still radical today?
Definitely. Most certainly. I think that’s why artists are who they are, like Beethoven or Bach, because they’re incredibly radical and they still sound radical. I mean, take this just Gesualdo guy, Carlos Gesualdo. You’ve heard of this composer?
Yeah, of course.
So he’s the only composer murderer in the history of I mean, as far as we know. I don’t know what the skeletons in your closet are
I didn’t tell you the real reason why I’ve been in Chile.
So this guy, OK, he’s a prince, in the late 1500s and they run the police, they run everything if they’re the aristocracy of their little community. He knew that his wife was having an affair, so he told her he was going to go on a hunting trip for the weekend. And he really didn’t. He waited until her lover came in and he stabbed them dozens of times. And then the police arrived. They start investigating the crime and Gesualdo runs back in the room with the police there and stabs them again just to make sure they’re dead!
But the cool thing about this is you can hear this in the music. You can hear the the demented nature of this guy’s mind. It’s not just standard Renaissance music we hear. It’s really quite twisted music.
Yeah, it’s very experimental. It’s very expressive. It’s really haunting. I love Gesualdo’s music. Those are violent times, though. I think we take it for granted, like how peaceful things are today between people. I’m reading the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, who was a Renaissance man. It’s wild. The story will just be like, I was walking down the street. Bandits came out, tried to jump me, but I had my scabbard and my buddy was with me and we took them all down and we left their bodies in the street. They talk about violence, like, it’s just such a common thing. There is a chapter where he says he got into a fight with people who had arquebuses. They didn’t have guns. So, they shoot them, but then they have to like, reload them and do the whole thing and they were never really inaccurate.
We both went to Ithaca College. Can you tell me the most important thing you learned in school and the thing that you wish you would have learned in school.
Ithaca College was an amazing place. Absolutely amazing place. And I was only there for one year. I wish I could have been there for longer. I arrived completely unprepared to go to college. I think, you know, like just the whole concept.
I know the feeling.
I was the first in my family to go to college.
I shouldn’t have been there in the first place because it was so expensive. We really had no idea what we were getting into financially.
The compositions basically pay for themselves right?
Hey, that’s what you think because when you go into it, it’s like, oh, yeah, you know, this composer got commissioned for ten thousand dollars. I have the working class ethic idea of like money, time, labor, the things go together. You work. Someone pays you and you have this whole thing. It’s only like probably in the past five years that it’s finally started to click with me that that model does not apply to the arts at all. I mean, to answer your question, there are so many things. I mean, every day was a learning experience there. One of the memories that stands out to me or one of the opportunities that was really good was work study or something, some kind of program that there was. And I had a job as a stagehand. That was an awesome job. That was so cool. Turning pages for all the guest recitals when the guest artist came in.
Yeah. Obviously there were many things that I wish I could have done differently, but, you live and you learn. What about you? I mean, what was your take away from your undergrad there?
I was in Ithaca College as a masters student. I loved Ithaca College, just like you, and I really wanted to go there. So, I did two years there. So I got three years of a masters, which was pretty, pretty cool because as a conductor, you want as much podium time as you can possibly get. And I was just lucky in all of my degrees whether they be at Ball State or Ithaca College or later University of Denver to have teachers and orchestras that just wanted you to get in front of the orchestra.
Kind of like composition, I think you can only really learn on the job. You can’t stand in front of a teacher and wave your arms in the air. You need to be with musicians and ideally larger ensembles.
Yeah, if you want to write that kind of music. There’s a lot of composers that just write chamber music. But even for them, obviously, it’s very important to hear their music and to work with players. You know, of course, though, for a composer, the best thing a composer can do is go pick up an instrument and, like, actually play it. I mean, how does a conductor make the transition from school to now? I don’t know about you. I mean, I feel like there is a point where I stopped caring about making the transition from being a young composer to being a real composer.
We’re both old and real right now.
I guess. I feel like I never crossed a threshold or the threshold was when I stopped caring and I realized oh, this is actually kind of a shit show and we’re just just going to try and do the best that I can. And it seems that, oh, that’s what everybody else is doing. It seems like this idea that I had of one day I’m going to make it, you know, one day I’m going to be a composer and commissions will arrive and I will live from those commissions and I will write music that is artistically compelling, whatever. That never happened. And I don’t think that it ever will happen. Well, anyway, so I’m curious, like do conductors have that? Do they tell you you’re going to get a job?
I can say that I am still waiting for my great symphony to materialize too because I think every conductor, whether they will admit it or not, we’re closeted composers. We really want to create this music. And we get to create it, which is the most amazing thing in the world. I would say probably even better. I mean, you read about the lives of many composers and they’re not great lives. I mean, maybe many conductors, too. But that’s always been in my mind, from when I discovered in college that I wanted to do music professionally, I was composing and I was trying to figure out how Beethoven wrote his symphonues and I want to write a symphony like it. But then as a conductor, maybe the luckier ones, you just get inundated with scores that you have to conduct. And pretty soon that originality just kind of leaves your brain little by little. And you realize it’s hard to find an original melody in there.
Well, I think of this idea of originality and progress and like all these kinds of things. They’re very 20th century ideas. There’s more to composing, there’s more to creating than just being original. The mere act of creation has a value in itself, and I would argue perhaps that even more important than the art itself or what the art says is the links that it creates between the artist and their community. You know, like Bach’s cantatas, they’re not all that original. Mozart, another one. They have plenty of music that’s, you know, pretty pedestrian, actually. But because the music serves another purpose other than being original. The idea of the genius composer that does these things., it’s flawed. I don’t know. I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Not that you’re beating yourself up about it.
I’m not. That was just a deep, dark secret that I had to share. Probably like you, I’m in contact with a lot of composers and I hear a lot of the sentiment: I’m going to write smaller works because you’re just not going to get orchestra pieces played. One of the things that you’re continuously doing is writing these grand orchestral pieces. You have recently written a first sonata. I was just kind of thumbing through the score which, like your Symphony that we did and like your End of Humanism and of course, your Isolation Day. Just fantastic music, beautiful music, challenging music. I think you need a few rehearsals if you want to get a good recording out of it. Have you gotten this piece played, or what has been your experiences recently with your orchestral works?
So, I’m going to say that I’ve never written an orchestral piece that I didn’t think was going to get performed or that wasn’t for performance. And in that, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, extraordinarily fortunate as a composer. And those opportunities came to me because I was a trombonist, because I think I was all right. You know, I was able to play in the orchestras that I was able to then write music for. So that was like a real luxury, a real privilege. But, it also kind of limits you a little bit as a composer. There’s a lot of composers who don’t write orchestral music because their personal voice or their approach to music making doesn’t really fit well into the orchestral model. I think orchestral music has to be a certain kind of music. You can’t do things that are too far outside the box in a certain sense. You can’t do things that are going to take too much rehearsal time. It’s expensive. You get everyone up there on the stage, especially for new music, you don’t have proofreaders all the time. You don’t have people to go through the scores.
So there’s certain risks that you can’t take. That automatically creates a certain kind of, I guess, certain kind of composer, a certain kind of music, written for orchestra. But this piece that you mentioned, that First Sonata, that is the first piece in my life that I wrote without thinking about a performance. I just actually just sat down and was like, you know what, I’m going to write an orchestra piece because I knew that wasn’t a guaranteed performance. I knew I had to make a score that’s just flawless and perfect then. And that’s what I did.
It’s funny you say that because as I was looking at this, it’s like passion project. You can feel the love pouring out. That’s what I feel. So that’s really cool.
And it’s going to get performed.
You already have a performance lined up?
Yes. The great orchestra of Porto Alegre, Brazil. The State Orchestra. The thing is that the piece is kind of a special situation because it’s getting played at that orchestra, not because I sent it, you know, like that because I’m a composer of note. I think it’s the piece called First Sonata because it is the music of my first violin sonata. It’s the same music. It’s just orchestrated. And that violin sonata I wrote for a good friend of mine, his name is Emmanuel Baldini, who I met here. He was directing the orchestra at the chamber orchestra at the university where I work at another campus. But he’s also the principal violinist of the São Paulo Orchestra. And so he also conducts. Aside from being an amazing violinist and he liked my music. We got to talking. So I wrote him that first sonata and, you know, he then played it and he really likes the piece. He’s very enthusiastic about it, which is always very rewarding for me. So anyway, he is constantly going and doing guest conducting engagements. So I knew if I sent it to him, obviously he’s going to want to do it, you know, so he programmed it.
Is that the first time you’ve kind of adapted a larger scale orchestral work out of a smaller chamber work?
No, I do it all the time. Sometimes piano pieces for band or organ works or things. I’m not shy about re-orchestrating music because I always think orchestrally. I think in those kinds of terms. But I will say that the translation, like some pieces, like the piano pieces that I’ve orchestrated, don’t usually turn out very well. But a piece for violin and piano translates very well to orchestra because the problem is with writing for the piano, you don’t get that. You miss the string sound. You miss the voice of the strings in the sustain. And because it’s a violin sonata, you have that one principal line of the strings. So, you get the representation and the score very minimally. But the violin in a violin sonata can represent a string section. And so because the material of that sonata is kind of extroverted, it’s not like fast chamber music. It’s a big kind of music. It just laid very well into the orchestra. Once I started orchestrating it.
So that dyad of the strings and the single string on the piano translates very well to orchestra in this case. So I think probably the next time I write an orchestra piece, I’ll start off doing it like I’m not going to do a single piano sketch like I’ve done before. I think the next time I do, I’ll write it first for solo violin and piano and then orchestrate it.
Yeah, and that’s kind of a common compositional practice. Tchaikovsky, wrote for the piano then orchestrated it out. Schumann, Sibelius were the same way. Sibelius was a violinist and he got rejected from the Vienna Philharmonic, lucky for us, so he devoted his life to composition. But he supposedly hated the piano because it just didn’t sing and sustain. And you hear that with Sibelius, there’s the most beautiful lush tutti string episodes that one could ever imagine.
So I think that’s necessary in some way to make that translation. I mean, how many people open up a full manuscript and just start, you know, flute, oboe, you know, just start writing down. And have that organized in their head.
Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be organized. A lot of composers like contemporary composers that I know who write for orchestra actually do that. They just start with the full orchestral score and just jump right in. You set one line down, you see how it works, then you add other things to it. You know, I mean, there’s as many ways to do it as there are people.
What is the difference for you between improvisation and composition?
Now, that is a sexy musicological question. Ask a musicologist that question.
We’re looking for sex appeal. We’re trying to put butts in the seats here.
What is the difference between composition and improvisation? They’re both a kind of singing. They’re both a kind of inner voice. One has more detail than the other. Although you can improvise over the same structure many different times, I’d say my improvisations are definitely more wild than the written music because with the piano, there’s certain things that feel good to play. There’s certain things that feel great. They just play nice on the hands. You get wild sounds, but then you sit down and you actually try to write them. It’s really hard. Like writing for the piano, notation is a constant struggle.
So no piano concerto from you anytime soon, probably?
Well, if you want to fly me out to Colorado, this is something we could do.
You want to play it too?
That would be awesome.
Then you don’t have to write out the solo part. You can just try and remember it or make it up.
Yeah, like Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto. I think the page turner had
He was terrified. Who needs music? Contemporary Piano Concertos are interesting.
I think that’s a hard nut to crack. What do you write? How do you write it? Who do you get to play it? You just don’t see that many new piano concertos. Violin concertos. I see more of those, but piano concertos not so much, and I wonder why.
I mean a lot of composers are specialist composers nowadays, many who don’t play the piano. And piano is one of those instruments that if you don’t play it, it’s really hard to make an effect, to write effectively for it. I think the same thing about guitar, accordion. Now, those instruments, if you don’t play them, there’s a reason why most great guitar music is written by guitarists. Most accordion music is written by accordionists and most piano music is written by pianists. Harp another one. Most harp music is written by harpists.
So especially if you’re going to write a concerto, I mean, jeez, it’s tough. A composer, any time you write a concerto or anything with an orchestra, there’s a huge amount of anxiety. I think that is possible for a composer to feel. Not every composer has this anxiety. When you think about being compared to anything or how am I going to contribute, those kinds of things. If you’re going to write a piano concerto, it’s back to orchestral composers, a certain kind of music. There’s a lot of music for piano and orchestra that could sound awesome, but it would be so experimental. It would probably be tough to get it programmed.
What are some of your favorite piano works? Other than yours of course!
My piano works are awful. I really struggle to write for the piano….No, no, no. I mean, no, I’m sorry. I write awesome piano music. We should do a piano concerto.
I’m looking at my piano scores here. I mean, I play Bach every day.
I’ve gone through phases in my life where I do that. But I should do that every day as long as I’m living and breathing.
What I was doing with the twenty four preludes and fugues, the Well Tempered Clavier, was playing one every day. Just sit down and play. I did that for a year. They’re hard. They’re really hard. So you can’t actually sit down and play them, most of them.
Do you play the English or the French suites or the Goldberg Variations? I always love to ask about those.
You know I actually don’t have the Goldberg Variations nor do I have a lot of variations. I have the French Suites, the inventions, the partitas, and don’t forget the chorales. The chorales are also really great. But, you know, Bach, that’s like foundational. I mean, it’s like abc’s. And what’s amazing because it’s so difficult to play Bach well on the piano, to do something that’s musically convincing. There are so many problems with playing Bach on the piano between the way that the piano sounds, the action of the piano, being heavy and uneven. Or you play Bach on the organ or the harpsichord, no note sticks out more than any other note. Like it all just works. And the thing is the positions Bach requires you to get your hands into, sometimes it’s really hard to not to have notes jump out like a sore thumb. But then that’s the thing. That’s even if you want to play it as it’s written.
But the thing is, the more I play Bach, I can play the same piece for years and years and keep getting deeper and deeper into it. Next month I’m doing a recital and I’m playing the second partita and I’ve started recomposing a bit, I don’t know if it’s right or not. But I play some notes down an octave. In the slow movements, I’ll play in double octaves with the hands. But anyway, I mean, so of course, you get me started on Bach.
You can tell from a person, walking down the street, if they play Bach every day or not, and you definitely have that look about you.
The Mendelssohn Songs Without Words. Yeah, that’s a great one. They’re a little sentimental sometimes. They’re not masterpieces. But as far as piano writing goes, it’s so rewarding, so good to play.
Schumann’s wonderful too.
Schumann. Same thing. These are ones that I’ll put up and read through. I mean I’ve got all of them here, you know, I have contemporaries too. I’ve got Stravinsky. I mean I love to just pick them out and put them on and read through them.
You have more piano scores than orchestral scores, I presume?
Yes, because there are no orchestras in Chile.
There are no orchestras in your school or town?
I took it for granted in the States. How much infrastructure is needed for there to be an orchestra. Just the fact that an orchestra exists, it’s like an ecosystem. It has to have so many different parts to have the apex predator. That kind of beautiful jewel that sits on the top of a musical pyramid.
What is your own favorite piece of yours, or has it yet to be composed, or do you not have one?
I would say the trios, the flute, violin, cello trios. Those are pretty close to my heart.
That’s beautiful stuff. How did those come about? Can you talk about those?
I wrote the first trio when I came back from Chile for the first time, because while I was in Chile, I noticed that folk music played a central role in the musical life and the musical environment. When I got back to the States, I started thinking, well, what is my folk music? What’s your folk music Devin?
Songs and Dances.. And sometimes hymns.
So that was the first trio. What is the music that comes naturally and easy to me? A distillation of the songs that my mother would sing to me. And so that was the first one. But then the real surprise was that people liked it and started playing it because then it’s like, maybe I did something that resonated with people. And then there was the idea that got bounced around to write a second one. Writing a second piece is always a challenge, right? It’s one thing to write one string quartet or one piano sonata, to write a second one is a challenge because the first one can just be tricks. You can just do things that come easily, that sound good. You can be more spontaneous. But with the second one, it’s OK, well, now I’ve used all my tricks, so what am I going to do?
It’s like Hot Shots part deux. The sequels are always tough.
They are. And thank God now I’m at a point that it’s now that I’m starting to think about thirds of things.
That’s great. And then has the pandemic necessitated more interest from these smaller works of yours?
I’d say that there have been fewer performances overall, but other opportunities have come up. It’s been very clear in the pandemic who the real champions are because the people who were doing a performance but really wanted to do it because they really like the piece and went through with it anyway, which means so much. That means so much to me. And so I’m thankful to have relationships with people like that. You know, the pandemic, it’s a mixed bag.
You know, sometimes, a lot of the music from Bach, Baroque and stuff is not specified what instrument should play. How do you feel about people taking your music and say, hey, on this trio, I’d rather do it with an oboe instead of a flute or hey, I’d rather add a couple of violins or a couple cellos to make it a section kind of thing. What are your thoughts on that?
People do it all the time and I’m always flattered by it. I’m just glad that people are interested. In my mind, once I write the piece, it goes off on its own. It’s no longer mine. You know, as soon as I put it up and put it out there, it goes off and does its own thing. And that’s one of the most rewarding things about this, is that this whole composition game is the longer you go with it, you see how each piece goes off and makes its own path in the world and creates its own relationships and how they evolve over time.
And sometimes they come back, you know, like there’s people who play the trio and then there’s the people who play, I don’t know, like some of the orchestra pieces or other things. And they’re not always the same people. And it’s very cool. It’s really cool being able to sit back and just kind of watch. That’s the beauty of living outside of yourself. When you write, you know, you create art that’s exterior. It’s not temporal. It could be a composition or a painting, whatever it is it leaves you and it’s gone. Then you’re just you’re just watching it like everyone else. That’s wonderful. Wonderful.
That’s cool. Well, thank you, Edgar. It’s been such a great time just reconnecting with you. And I look forward to more of your music coming around the bend. And when the coronavirus is mostly gone, it’ll be nice to do some of your big, exciting romantic orchestral works again.
And I hope to hear from you again as well. We’re talking now, but I would like to hear from you more. You know, like send me a message, send me, stay in touch. I enjoy our relationship.
You can check out Edgar’s music online at Edgargirtainiv.com. Edgar Girtain is the inaugural composer in residence with the Arapahoe Philharmonic Orchestra.
The mission of conductor and music director Devin Patrick Hughes is to uplift the human spirit through the orchestra, and share the relevance of symphonic music in our modern lives. Devin resides in Colorado, where he conducts the Boulder Symphony and Arapahoe Philharmonic and hosts the podcast One Symphony.
Photo: Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor, Edgar Girtain, composer, Arapahoe Philharmonic