Daniel Goode, co-director of the DownTown Ensemble (it was started in 1983) explains how he got the idea to reform the traditional symphony orchestra.
The Flexible Orchestra, an idea and a name both hit me like a bolt of lightening in 2003: The instrumentation of the traditional orchestra is inflexible (with some toying around the edges: adding an exotic instrument or so, or electronics), the system feeds on itself, excluding new blood, its economics impossible, and it has terrible trouble relating both to contemporary developments and needs of its own community. Since I love the orchestral sound, think it is the big invention of Western culture, have loved so much of the traditional orchestral literature since a child, I have tried to re-conceive the orchestra, or if you will, reform it. With some very small sums of money I started the Flexible Orchestra in 2004, now with three years, one-concert per year, we are launched. The basic idea is that we can get the effect of a large orchestral sound with strategic instrumentation. And we change the configuration every year or two, not every 200 or so. Thus in an ensemble of 15 (determined by budget), we had 12 cellos, flute, clarinet, trombone for two years. Then: 11 trombones, 2 clarinets (all doublings), viola, percussion, and this year, 10 trombones, 2 clarinets again, 2 double basses, piano. I plan to rotate the instrumentation through most of the choirs of the orchestra, always having a majority of one timbre, and a few complementing other instruments. Of course all repertory for these combinations must be commissioned. A somewhat utopian idea is for flexible orchestras to spring up in other communities, allowing for co-commissioning and repeat performances of repertory if we co-ordinate our instrumentations. I'm working on this with other interested musicians in Vancouver and Amsterdam, though funding is very, very difficult. Another spin off, however, is easy as it is wonderful. With a choir of cellos, we can revive significant multi-cello pieces (we did with Hellermann and Lois Vierk works), with a choir of trombones we revived a 1969 work by Fred Rzewski for 10 trombones, and this becomes, in general, possible and useful, since pieces like these of artistic merit for specialized combos and numbers have a hard time finding revivals, and are easy to do at our concerts. So, in one sense we can pick up on the neglected recent past, while giving some timbral variety to our orchestral programming. I have been very lucky in our conductor, who has continued to be a David Gilbert protégé, Tara Simoncic. And for my own creative development there has been a huge stimulus. I have written a new piece for each year of the Flexible Orchestra. In 2007 I revised and expanded the one from 2006, Annbling, which will be for the orchestration listed above with some large gamelan gongs in the mix. I wrote a significant essay about the relationship between gamelan and the founding of the Flexible Orchestra for the AMC's NewMusicBox. http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=4652
The FLEXIBLE ORCHESTRA in a new orchestration of ten Clarinets, electric guitar, double bass, and harp, will premiere four composers' works on Thursday, October 25th,
8:30 PM at the Ukrainian Restaurant, 140 2nd Ave. at 9th Street. Come early and eat: 212-614-3283
$15/10 for students and seniors
2010's concert of the Flexible Orchestra concert at the restaurant's concert space was packed!
The Flexible Orchestra, begun in 2004 by Daniel Goode to bring a new idea of orchestral sound into existence, is having its 9th season, and introducing its new format of ten clarinets and three strings (including harp). Guest conductor, Jeannine Wager, will premiere works by New Yorkers, Daniel Goode, Will Holshouser, Lisa Karrer, and Israeli composer, Ma'ayan Tsadka. The concert will also feature a revival of Mary Jane Leach's "4BC" for four bass clarinets, composed in 1984, premiered at the New Music America 1987 concert in Philadelphia.
Daniel Goode will solo in orchestral versions from his set of Clarinet Songs (for unaccompanied clarinet, 1979-93, X I Records). Said the critic for i / e in 1994:
"As difficult to perform as these unending virtuoso acrobatics get, the listener is always rewarded by soothing harmonies and deeply felt poetry. This is beautiful music."
Will Holshouser, part of the Flexible Orchestra's Accordions-Plus array of 2010/11, will solo in his "Four Places in Summer," short pieces based on American folk forms of waltz, blues, shape-note hymn for accordion, ten clarinets, harp, mandolin/guitar, and bass. His music draws on his experience with many jazz, folk, avant-garde, and pop artists; his own trio music has been released on the Portuguese label Clean Feed. www.willholshouser.com
Lisa Karrer, composer, vocalist and multimedia performance artist, will premier "The Language of Life" for voice and orchestra. She's done large scale multimedia work on Darwin, new and arranged music for Gamelan Son of Lion, and and frequently collaborates with individual artists and performing ensembles who practice music, dance, theatre, literature and the visual arts.. This new work is a musical study of how living organisms function, transmit and receive information, from the writings of research scientist Brian J. Ford and evolutionary biologist W.D.Hamilton.
Ma'ayan Tsadka's "Hydorophony" for the Flexible Orchestra is "...what happens between the air and ear when we listen." The audience will be conducted filtering their ears with their hands. She was born and raised in the state of Israel, currently exploring the gorgeous wildlife, redwoods and ocean at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She's a "noise Maker, world Traveler, close Listener."
Mary Jane Leach is a composer/performer whose work reveals a fascination with the physicality of sound, and how it interacts with space. Musicworks Magazine has commented that her music gives "an iridescent lingering sense of suspended time." It is an important function of the Flexible Orchestra to give revival performances of significant works for multiples of the core instruments of the current Flexible Orchestra. In this case, the composer's "4BC" for four bass clarinets is that focus.
Jeannine Wagar will be conducting her first concert of the Flexible Orchestra. Her most recent assignment was as conductor/music director the North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. She has conducted internationally, opera, dance, orchestra, new music.
The orchestra consists of the ten of New York's most adventurous virtuoso new music clarinetists and string players, representing many cutting edge ensembles.
Go to http://eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~larry/flexible_orchestra/
for the full story on the Flexible Orchestra, including recordings, photos, programs, scores.
"I think the idea of the flexible orchestra is an excellent one. (maybe 12 violas next time?) and I enjoyed your piece, it had grace — a quality in short supply these days! it was just, well, pleasurable listening to the instruments as they played together"
— David Behrman, composer, 2005