Composer Miguel Kertsman is nothing if not prolific. With an eclectic oeuvre and a genre-defying take on the music world, Kertsman has turned his talents to everything from composing to producing, creating work across the music spectrum from Orchestral, Operatic, and Chamber Music, to Experimental, and Jazz. This week, O Saci, His children’s show about the power of friendship has its US premiere right here in Chicago. Our Town spoke with Kertsman about his methods and what to expect from the family friendly show.
Our Town How does music come to you?
Miguel Kertsman Music is out there, in here and everywhere in our environment, our lives, our routines, in our world, in the universe and the cosmos. I feel composers are very fortunate to have the urge, desire, and ability to tap into all those sources and channel some of that fantastic energy -- sharing it with others, telling stories, conveying feelings and emotions through sound. Music can come in a dream, in the shower, during a walk, while implementing a totally unrelated task, in the city or in the country. Sometimes there may be a "reason" to write a piece: A person, an event, a commission, a theme. Sometimes the music simply comes to be because it needs to.
OT What’s your method for composing?
MK I write what I hear internally at any given moment and what I feel -- it could be a rather tender, tonal melody today, or a very textural, experimental, chaotic work tomorrow. Sometimes I allow myself to get more cerebral about the writing process; however, most of the time I write what I hear and what I feel -- genres or styles are irrelevant. Concerning methodologies, I still prefer to write by hand, with pencil and paper. Naturally, computer programs can be helpful, especially for mechanical work such as generating engraved, publishing-quality printed scores and parts for the musicians. However, I personally am not a fan of having a computer between the music and me during the creative process, unless the computer's resources would in fact support the aesthetics of the work at hand. I feel we spend far much too much time in front of a computer or other electronic device as it is.
OT Do you write or hear a single line at a time or multiple lines?
MK Either, depending on the piece. When writing orchestral music I write multiple parts on the fly and as I go along since the final product is often already playing internally in full sound -- as if you would be listening to your own internal radio station. It often becomes a matter of writing down and transcribing what you hear. If the orchestral score has, let's say, 32 individual parts (various winds, brass, percussion, strings, choir, special instruments, etc.) I will often write down the most important parts, and make decisions on other lines later -- for example, I may decide to have the third trumpet doubling the first violins at a certain passage, or add another percussion part or effect -- those are often important details, the icing on the cake. When writing pieces with lyrics or Jazz pieces, one can often hear / write a melodic line, and subsequently harmonize it. In such an instance, that represents a more vertical way of composing music.
OT How does improvising impact your compositions or are you more formal about your work?
MK J.S. Bach was an incredible improviser, as were many of the other great Masters -- would that make their music less formal? Improvisation can be a fantastic tool for composition.
OT What would a non-musician be most surprised to find out about a composer’s creative process?
MK I often notice expressions of amazement from people when talking about hearing full or finished symphonic pieces internally that yet do not physically exist. Well, I am just as much in awe when an architect, painter or graphic artist sees a finished work in her /his mind's eye which also does not yet physically exist.
OT What attracted you to the O Saci legend?
MK As a young child I was fascinated by many legends and tales from the Brazilian folklore. O Saci can be perceived as naughty and scary by some, endearing, and helpful by others. I suppose that abstract ambiguity is part of the legend's appeal. In our story, O Saci does what he does; he hides things and plays tricks. And he also helps people. I enjoyed the idea of a child prankster becoming invisible, scaring away those harming or destroying the forests, playing around full of humor, and in his own way helping others with just causes.
OT How did your show come to be performed in Chicago?
MK While spending a few years in Chicago I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting some fantastic musicians, many of whom have become dear friends. We started to collaborate and it became clear that this group should first perform O Saci in the US. Flutist Julie Koidin plays the flute "as if she were in Brazil,” singer / producer Victoria Holland and Ondas Ensemble pianist, Rick Ferguson run a local music school in Evanston called The Musical Offering. As such, the community outreach and educational aspects of O Saci (bringing music, dance, and theater performed by established professionals to school children right there in their own classrooms) were quickly put in motion. Prior to the upcoming US premiere, the work was performed at two Evanston Elementary schools, [with] the children actively participating by narrating the story or creating the scenic design. That's fantastic, and the main reason for writing this work.
OT What style of music can audiences expect?
MK I am not sure I can accord a style. The music is definitely within the Chamber Music format. I wrote the piece for children and adults alike, but mainly for children. It is often tender and serenading; it evokes some adventure and mystery as well. I wrote it to be accessible, simple, and most of all, fun.
For reservations call (773) 764-0338. Learn more about Kertsman here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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