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5 Minutes with Composer Joe Chindamo

14 Apr 2022
  • Meet the Artists
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
5 Minutes with Composer Joe Chindamo

Composer Joe Chindamo will unveil his new work and ASO commission, Ligeia Concerto for Trombone & Orchestra, written for ASO Principal Trombone Colin Prichard, at Symphony Series 2 – Affirmation, 13 & 14 May.

Tell us about Ligeia? What inspired you to write the new work for trombone and orchestra and what can audiences expect to hear?
Ligeia Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, channels the world of Edgar Allen Poe – hence the title – and deals with the nature of duality, or the double, a recurring theme in the writer’s Gothic tales of mystery and the macabre. It also ties in with Carl Jung’s idea that one wears a mask to convince themselves and others that they are not an altogether bad person, which is the central theme in Poe’s “The tell-tale heart”.  As Jung explained, one cannot go beyond the persona – or the mask – until they have incorporated into their character those darker traits which belong to what he called the “shadow self”. The work itself, in three movements, is highly energetic, – even quite wild at times – and virtuosic, for the orchestra and soloist alike. But then all of a sudden – in the midst of the frenetic and majestic ride, we find ourselves alone in a dark alley – confronted by our shivering shadow selves. Throughout, there are quasi-operatic passages, full of drama, tempered by an eerie tender lyricism – as exemplified in the recurring Ligeia waltz (which first appears in the 2nd movement). The trombone is the perfect narrator for such themes. It was a long standing Austrian/ German/ Catholic tradition to use the instrument in settings of Requiem mass and composers such as Mozart invoked it as a portent of death. In this work however, the trombone’s bandwidth extends well beyond the funereal. Here it represents the hero, the court jester, the satirist, the sage, the wizard, the prince, the pauper, the poet, the wit, the lover, the romantic: one by one, entangled in a symbiotic waltz with “the shadow”. 

How have you collaborated with ASO Principal Trombone Colin Prichard, who will take on the responsibility of bringing Ligeia to life?
I’ve had many conversations with Colin, who taught me so much about his instrument. With someone of his ability, you soon realise that standard references are not very useful, since he can play well beyond the standard range and can accomplish feats that would frighten most trombonists. As a composer, I needed to discover what his parameters were, rather than those of the instrument. Our initial talks were essentially about finding a common ground, so I could create a piece that was as much his as mine. Our common ground turned out to be incredibly fertile and I was delighted to discover that we shared many musical values. In addition to our meetings, I studied his playing by way of YouTube clips that feature him and tried to capture his personality and character.

Tell us about the composition process?
The work took me just over three months to compose. That’s 3 1/2 months of obsessive writing with nothing else in my life getting in the way – almost – I had to take a week off to complete another commission. But day and night, I thought of nothing else. I had to establish the narrative, which is where Edgar Allen Poe came in. As I always do, I endeavoured to enter a state of mind where it feels as though the work could write itself. The practicalities of writing are not so different to the procedures of other composers. Sitting at the piano, improvising, dreaming up melodies, scribbling notes on sheets of paper, using music notation, recording ideas with sampled instruments, throwing away a whole day’s writing and resetting, having meetings with the soloist and listening to a ton of orchestral music. Most of all, whenever I’m writing my antenna is switched on and someone would say something to me that seems flippant and unrelated, but it might have such a profound effect that it will affect the course of the piece. I must say, I hit the ground running on this one because I had just completed a Concerto for Orchestra for TSO, so my compositional nerve endings were already heightened. When I started working on this piece, I didn’t have to muster any adrenaline, which is my composing ally. Then once the basic structure was established, I orchestrated and re-orchestrated and re-orchestrated as the deadline – always my friend – loomed. 

Will we find you in the audience for the World Premiere performance?
Yes absolutely!

And if so what are your expectations?
To smile a lot, be moved, be impressed, be emotional, be excited, and generally have a wonderful time.

Are there any plans for Ligeia to be performed elsewhere?
No specific plans because it’s still early days, of course, it’s my hope that Ligeia will be welcomed into the trombone & orchestra repertoire and have a life beyond the premiere. 

Dont miss Symphony Series 2 – Affirmation, Fri 13 & Sat 14 Apr at Adelaide Town Hall

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