Meet the Cone Institute composers: Sam Lipman
Sam Lipman, one of the four composers of the 2017 NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute, chats about his career and Song of the Bhagavan, which the NJSO performs on July 15 at 8 pm at the Richardson Auditorium in Princeton.
How did your musical career begin?
I grew up in Sidney, Australia, as a jazz musician. I moved to New York with no money, just pure 21-year-old hope, and dove into jazz scene as a saxophonist. I grew up listening to and loving classical music, but the idea of composing seemed out of reach … One snowy day [when I was 23], I was sitting in my little apartment in Williamsburg and just started writing a string quartet, just for the heck of it. A couple of hours in, I found myself so engaged and happy, and the time had gone by so quickly. I felt so in my element and realized this was what I wanted to do.
What experiences have shaped your path as a composer?
A friend I played jazz with started his own orchestra; I wrote my first full piece for that group and conducted [the premiere]. It was an amazing experience. Then, I moved to Austin, got really involved in rock music and started touring for a while. I made a rock record with my own band, and the producer liked the horn parts I arranged for it, so he asked me to do some TV commercials, [including] a Walmart Super Bowl ad. I went back to school for composing when I was 28, after my wife and I had our first child, and I just finished my master’s.
What is your approach to orchestral writing?
When I started writing for orchestra, I was going for a simple Hollywood-influenced/European-informed style. Prokofiev and Bernstein are some of my favorite composers. [My approach is] to summon their language in a way that can reach the average person of my age. I’ve played a lot of rock shows and seen how people respond to music; that’s in my ears all the time.
What inspired your Cone Institute work, Song of the Bhagavan?
One of my best friends had given me the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text, to read. The whole point of the book is to let go of attachments, so while I was writing this piece I was really focused on letting go of expectations and disappointments in my own life. The piece brings up the struggle that I was going for, trying to let go of control and just relax. Song of the Bhagavan draws influences from Bernstein’s First Symphony, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Enemies of Energy, Mark Turner’s Jacky’s Place, Wagner’s Parsifal and Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack to Bodysong.
What do you hope to gain from your Cone Institute experience?
The invaluable experience of working with a professional orchestra for the first time is really exciting. To really see the relationship between the conductor and the orchestra, to hear what works and what doesn’t in my writing so I can streamline the process in the future. I’m so excited to work with JoAnn Falletta and Steven Mackey, both heroes of mine.
JoAnn Falletta conducts the NJSO premieres of dynamic works by the composers of the NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute, a multi-faceted program that promotes new music and emerging composers. The Institute composers will briefly share the inspiration behind their pieces in an evening that will show the vibrant future of orchestral music.
JOANN FALLETTA conductor
STEVEN MACKEY Institute director, host and electric guitar
ERIC WYRICK violin
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Program to include:
SAAD HADDAD Takht
NOAH KAPLAN Forest Through Forest
SAM LIPMAN Song of the Bhagavan
ALYSSA WEINBERG Tereza Slumbers
STEVEN MACKEY Four Iconoclastic Episodes