Our upcoming concerts (The Muse Project) feature the world premiere of a new composition by Colorado composer Conor Abbott Brown. I’m very excited to play this new 10-minute work composed especially for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado!
I asked Conor what it’s like to compose new music for a Baroque ensemble. Here is an excerpt from our interview.
Frank Nowell: What do you find “Baroque” in this new composition?
Conor Abbott Brown: There is a propulsive and cyclical feel to a lot of my favorite Baroque music that I drew on for inspiration while writing this piece. I also rhythmically reference the Baroque dance form known as the Siciliana. And I’m always excited by the ornamentation of Baroque music – as a listener, I am aesthetically aligned with the asymmetry and “mystery” of this ornamentation practice (which, sadly, much of which was lost of “straight-jacketed” later in Western music.)
What do you find very different from “Baroque?”
I use scales/modes in this piece that are quite removed from what Baroque composers used.
Is this the first time you have composed for Baroque period instruments? What was it like?
This is the second time – last year I wrote a piece for solo viola d’amore. I approach writing for period instruments just as I would writing for “modern” ones, which is to try to align what is idiomatic on an instrument with what is exciting for me as a composer during the composition process.
What would you like audiences to know about your piece? What should they listen for?
I really had fun with unequal temperament while writing this piece. Temperament describes how instruments are tuned. In the Baroque era, unlike today, there was no standardized temperament, and the distance between intervals was not the same in every key. The implications of this as a composer are that the ratios between scale degrees… can vary dramatically depending on what key you are in. I take advantage of this in Down from the Verge of Heaven by rotating the piece through a sequence that takes it into some very distant keys. In the equal temperament that most contemporary Western musicians play in, this wouldn’t really be a big deal… But in an unequal temperament, as the pattern rotates, we start to hear some strange and mind-bending new intervals!