The Conductor Mind (for Composers)
By Patrick Dupre Quigley
This article first appeared on The Cajun Conductor blog and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Dear Composer Friends,
So, I get asked this a lot: “How do I get [ENSEMBLE] to commission me / perform my music?” While I can’t answer for everyone, I will say that for me, it boils down to three steps.
STEP I: QUALITY, or You Write Great Music
Yes, this is totally subjective; HOWEVER, there is a certain combination of factors that are always attention-grabbing (and usually evident from the first few pages of music):
1) The music fits easily (with some practice) on the instrument for which it was written;
2) The music is playable/singable (basically same as Point 1, but you have no idea . . . );
3) The music exhibits process, craft and form;
4) The music is unquestionably YOURS (i.e., not a rip-off of someone else’s sound).
STEP II: CONNECTION, or You Start with Your Network and Move Outward
In general, I (and many of the conductors that I know) become acquainted with new composers either through a recommendation from a colleague who has a personal connection, or I hear it performed by an ensemble. If the people near you are willing to perform your music, I’m interested in hearing it; and if those people are also willing to recommend that others perform your music, I’m even more interested. There’s no way that you’ve come to this through a vacuum—those close connections and recommendations are where you spin straw into gold.
And, honestly, that’s where usually I will contact that composer directly and ask for either a sampling of work, or work for a specific program. Something fits? We perform it.
When we commission, however, there is usually one more step:
STEP III: PERSONALITY, or Can We Spend an Entire Year Emailing and Calling Back and Forth and Not Want To Kill Each Other
Commissioning is a stressful process at the outset. An ensemble has to commit both performance and financial resources toward something intangible that will be tangible by a delivery date. Instant anxiety.
When I commission someone, we’ve always gone through steps 1 and 2, and, in that process, I figure out that we can work together on an upcoming work. I’m not terribly demanding—I tend to be pretty open to texts, styles, etc.—but I do want to be able to offer constructive criticism (this is too high, this is too low, there’s no way we can accomplish this measure) without someone else taking it personally. I LIKE to talk to the composers we commission; I feel that that’s the way we end up getting good pieces. So, you know, be nice, and we’re in it to win it.
About the author:
Patrick Dupre Quigley is a two-time GRAMMY-nominated conductor, founder of the professional vocal chamber ensemble Seraphic Fire, and a frequent guest conductor across the United States. He has conducted the New World Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony’s Community of Music Makers series, the San Antonio Symphony, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Naples Philharmonic, and will make his Carnegie Hall and Mobile Symphony debuts later this season.
Quigley is the recipient of the 2004 Robert Shaw Conducting Fellowship, given annually by the National Endowment for the Arts and Chorus America to one conductor between the ages of 25 and 40 who demonstrates the potential for a significant professional career. At 26, Quigley was the youngest person to receive this award. Most recently, Quigley was awarded Chorus America’s Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, recognizing his artistic and institution-building achievements with Seraphic Fire.
Read his full biography here. Follow Patrick Quigley on Twitter (@pdquigley) and Facebook.
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