ROCO’s concert “Space: The Final Playground” allows the audience to marvel at the wonder of space from a different perspective. Composer Michael Gilbertson explains the metaphors and techniques employed to create this cosmic experience.
The concert takes place Nov. 18, at the Woodlands United Methodist Church and Nov. 19, at The Church of St. John the Divine.
Q: What fascinates you about the cosmos?
Michael Gilbertson: I thought that the cosmos would make a great subject for a large musical work. It’s something everyone has thought about and encountered at some point, which gives every audience member a chance to connect with the ideas depicted in the piece. The elements of the cosmos I’m exploring in the concerto gave me a lot of dynamic imagery to work with, which always helps in the creative process.
Q: Curious minds want to know: How did you choose the elements of the Cosmos to be represented in your piece?
Michael Gilbertson: I picked elements of the cosmos that are associated with the most vivid imagery, and that most people would already have some point of reference for. I didn’t want the piece to depict obscure features of the universe that people wouldn’t already be familiar with. With features of the universe like nebulae and comets, I think audiences are more likely to immediately connect with the aesthetic experience rather than grappling with new conceptual information.
Q: Choose one of them: What compositional techniques and colors did you employ to bring that element to life?
Michael Gilbertson: In the fourth movement, a tree branch imitates the wind rustling in the trees. In the concerto the “wind” sound is a metaphor for dark matter—something you experience intangibly. Dark matter makes up a significant portion of the universe. We detect it through its gravitational presence, but can’t see it.
Q: Talk about the decision to add special effects in the form of adding a wind quintet meandering about the concert hall: What are you trying to achieve?
Michael Gilbertson: I wouldn’t describe WindSync’s performance style as “meandering” at all. Rather, their movements in performance are carefully choreographed and intentionally realize aspects of the music. Their movement in the first movement, for instance, depicts a nebula. They begin spread around the hall, and slowly coalesce into an ensemble on stage over the course of a few minutes, mirroring how nebulae coalesce into stars.
Q: What’s your process for making revisions, and when do you know when you’re able to put the pencil down?
Michael Gilbertson: At this point, after writing dozens of orchestral pieces, I have a pretty good sense of how a piece is going to sound, so I don’t typically make extensive revisions to a piece. I do, however, reuse material frequently in different pieces. I rarely feel like I exhaust a musical idea in a single piece, and in reusing material between pieces, feel like the compositional process never quite stops in my head, even when a piece is finished.
ROCO presents “Space: The Final Playground” on Friday, Nov. 18, at The Woodlands United Methodist Church and on and Saturday, Nov. 19, at The Church of St. John the Divine.