My name is Tonia Ko, and I will be writing about the 2017 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute as it happens. I’m looking forward to seeing the other six composers on Sunday after my short flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis. (No winter weather joke here, because it is only a little bit colder). Starting Monday, I anticipate many mind- and ear-opening sessions with Kevin Puts, Osmo Vänskä, and the orchestra.
It’s remarkable how this program brings together young composers from all over the world, yet we are all still part of the same small community. Judy Bozone is coming from Bangkok, Thailand, where she teaches, and I will finally (finally!) meet Michael-Thomas Foumai from my hometown of Honolulu. The rest of us are spread out over the continental US–in New York City, Colorado, and me in my new home of Lawrence, Kansas. I am sure that after taking into account hometowns and birthplaces, this becomes even more complicated.
That is all to say that composers tend to be quite nomadic. This lifestyle of traveling for school, workshops, and performances probably explains why I already know all but one of the participants this year. I can’t wait to reconnect with these folks—and make a new friend! Moreover, it will be so fun to get to know everyone through their music since we are stylistically quite different from each other.
One thing that we will all be grappling with this week is our personal distance from the pieces. I tend to be extremely attached to my work and will obsess over square centimeter of a score if not reeled back in time. So working on a piece with performers, much less 85 of them, is always a sensitive process.
And yet, we might have composed these pieces up to several years ago and have already moved onto other aesthetic and technical concerns. With orchestral music, the turn-around time is much longer than for solo or small chamber pieces (which is more my recent area of focus). The pieces take longer to write, more time to rehearse, and opportunities for such performances are certainly hard to come by. So what happens when I’m confronted with a stupid mistake that I made back in 2015, but definitely would not have in 2017? I shall defer to my colleagues with more experience working with large ensembles for wisdom and advice.
I’m very excited about this upcoming week, but honestly I have a lot weighing on my mind due to the current political events. An event like this institute reminds me of our responsibility as musicians to unite diverse communities and to inspire hope. Even though we might be working on musical details for much of the time, I’m sure the coming days will give me many ideas on how to be a better—politically engaged—artist.