The first classical concert of our 2015-16 season features the world premiere of John Corigliano’s STOMP. One of America’s most important composers, John continues to add to one of the richest, most unusual and most widely celebrated bodies of work any composer has created over the last 40 years. His numerous scores—including three symphonies and eight concerti among more than 100 chamber, vocal, choral and orchestral works—have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists and chamber musicians in the world. Houston Symphony Magazine recently spoke with John about STOMP for orchestra.
Houston Symphony Magazine: How did the idea to translate STOMP from a solo work for violin to an orchestral arrangement originate?
John Corigliano: Well, it was a combination of two things. First, the Houston Symphony asked me to write a piece. Because I am working on completing an opera right now—as I have been for the last two years—I knew I couldn’t write a big piece. I suggested that I might be able to take something and adapt it, or something of that nature. Second, I had heard a wonderful transcription of Bach’s Chaconne (for unaccompanied violin) for full orchestra, so I said this could be done. And I said why don’t I do that? Why not adapt STOMP for solo violin into STOMP for orchestra? It’s a lot of fun, this piece, and it’ll make a wonderful seven-minute opener.
HSM: Were there any particular challenges or opportunities in the translation of STOMP for orchestra?
JC: There were a tremendous number of challenges because STOMP for solo violin is a very unusual piece. Because I wanted to write a bluegrass fiddle piece, I used a technique called scordatura, which means “mistuned” in Italian. Composers have been mistuning strings for special purposes all the way back to the Baroque period. In the case of STOMP for solo violin, the mistuning gave me a really punchy, jazzy feeling. Among other things, I lowered the E of the violin tuning because I wanted to have open strings; a lot of bluegrass violins play open strings. And also, it has a wonderful ring in that register. It makes the violin sound like a viola. However, when I transcribed that for orchestra, I had to abandon those ideas. You do not mistune the orchestra. It’s very difficult for players to learn to finger a note in a different position. Nor is there rehearsal time to do that. And, there’s no need to do that anyway because I have my violas, with their E, if I want to use it in the music.
The other element that made this piece unusual and fun to play for solo violin was foot stomping, which fiddle music has in it. Performers tap the melody in off-beats or they stomp the on-beats. I incorporated this into the orchestral version as well. So in STOMP for orchestra, when the sections of the orchestra—the strings, the winds and the brass—are playing, they’re also stomping. It’s supposed to be fun for the musicians, but it’s a new technique. They must coordinate stomps and playing. So it’s a little tricky, but not terribly. And the audience, I think, will have a lot of fun hearing its orchestra playing as a giant country fiddle.
HSM: We’ve talked a little bit about the composition from your perspective and from the musicians’ perspective. Are there any other particular elements you’d like Houston Symphony audience members to be attentive to?
JC: I actually want the audience to sit back and have a good time. It’s a fun piece. It’s a piece that’s high-spirited and has a lyrical melody in the middle, and then it gets back to the high spirits and really goes wild. I want the audience to enjoy that and not to worry about analyzing the piece.
Don’t miss STOMP for orchestra this weekend! Get tickets and more info here.