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On love and melodies with composer Adam Schoenberg

Father, husband, professor, composer, arranger – all are just a few of the nouns that can be used to describe Adam Schoenberg. Particularly, the first words he used – “family man” – sum up his main priority, despite his recent Grammy nomination for contemporary composition. It’s this Grammy nomination and commissioned compositions that brought him to the attention of the San Diego Symphony.

The San Diego Symphony is set to premiere Schoenberg’s Orchard in Fog with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers on February 10 at the Jacobs Music Center. This is the Symphony’s first world-premiere since December 2014.

This particular concerto was commissioned by Akiko Meyers. Two years ago, Akiko Meyers reached out to Schoenberg to commission an arrangement for “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a project collaborated on with his father. From there, a collaborative relationship began.

 “Anne is the one who commissioned this piece, which is unusual (for a musician) and part of her legacy,” Schoenberg said.

While she requested a violin concerto, the direction of the piece was left to Schoenberg. The piece was inspired by a photograph, titled Orchard in Fog, which hangs in his bedroom.

“The photo is from my hometown of New Salem, MA, which is also where my wife and I got married,” Schoenberg said. “This photograph by Adam Laipson was taken in the orchard where my wife and I got married – yet in winter, which paints a different perspective of the orchard. It’s a haunting, beautiful image.”

From there, the story began to take shape.

“While this isn’t necessarily my love story, in a lot of ways, this is my love story to my wife,” Schoenberg said.

The composition follows the story of an aging man reflecting back on the time spent with his wife and the love they shared. The first movement (Frail) reflects the present day, where the man is filled with melancholy and nostalgia. In the second movement (Dancing), the man is reliving the beautiful moments he shared with his wife and by the third movement (Farewell Song), we are gradually brought back to the present in the orchard, where the man is saying his farewell to his love and the life he has known.

 “I think this is the most beautiful piece of music I’ve written,” he said.

The piece is written in 360 measures. “It’s as if you’re coming full circle,” he said. This was thoroughly intentional – Schoenberg described this composition as pre-meditated. Even the ‘f’ in Fog became a motif throughout the composition.

The first movement requires the F string for the first fifteen measures, and throughout the first movement Schoenberg requested the lower resonance of the F string. The third and final movement is conducted entirely in the F string.

Schoenberg described being a composer as similar to being an architect. “We are building blocks and filling them in with notes.”

Like many living composers, Schoenberg doesn’t write in the classical idiom, yet he describes his work as “tonal and accessible.”

“It’s always a struggle to describe your own work, but a friend once described my work as ‘Radiohead meets Aaron Copland’ and that’s the greatest compliment I’ve received,” he said. “To me, that says I write the music of our time. I think I have a very American sound.”

 “We are living in a fabulous time for new music,” he said.

For those skeptical of hearing a new piece of music, Schoenberg promises the piece will “absolutely have an emotional impact.”

“I guarantee there will be moments of beauty people will resonate with.”

Orchard in Fog’s world premiere with the San Diego Symphony and violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is on February 10 and 11 in the Jacobs Music Center. Click here to listen to Schoenberg’s work in preparation for his concert.

This post was written by Kelly Hillock, marketing assistant for the San Diego Symphony.

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