Checking in with Composer-in-Residence Katherine Balch

California Symphony Orchestra: What have you been up to since the premiere of your first piece with the California Symphony in May?

Katherine Balch: After an amazing week with the California Symphony, I had a fun time celebrating with the folks at Broadcast Music Inc., at the 66th Annual BMI Student Composer Awards ceremony in NYC, where I received an award for my orchestra piece, Leaf Fabric, written for the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (with conductor Ilan Volkov). Then, I dove right into composing a new piece for the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, called Chamber Music, which was premiered just recently in Portland, OR under Jun Markl. There’s a nice write-up about the piece and my time composing it here.

I then spent 8 weeks as a fellow at Tanglewood Music Center, in the beautiful Massachusetts Berkshires, where I worked on site-specific projects there as well as a big new piece for NYC-based trio, Bearthoven. We recently were honored to receive a Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Grantfor this project!

Katherine Balch conducting

Watch out Donato! While a composing fellow at Tanglewood, Katherine had to write a short piece that she later had to conduct. (Balch claims she was “terrible”!)

Now, I’m back in school at Columbia University, where I’m currently in the 3rd year of my doctorate. I spent some time revisiting like a broken clock, and with the California Symphony recording in hand and some reflecting in mind, made some substantial revisions to the piece.

CSO: You’re working on your next commission for us — a violin concerto, which will premiere at the season finale and which you’re writing for your friend Robyn Bollinger. How is that going?

KB: I’m so excited to be working on this piece for my dear friend. The piece is called Artifacts, and each movement takes as a departure point a fragment or gesture from pieces in the solo violin repertoire that I love. Some of those pieces remind me of Robyn and her playing, and were chosen with her in mind, like Paganini’s 6th caprice for solo violin. I heard this piece for the first time when Robyn played all 24 of the Paganini Caprices in a single concert.

I currently have sketches of each movement, and am just starting to orchestrate some moments from each movement to workshop with the orchestra in January.

Composition sketches in Katherine’s studio at Tanglewood

CSO: You’re coming back to workshop the piece with Donato and the orchestra in January. Having done that once already last year, are approaching things any differently this time, and if so, how?

KB: I plan to use my time very differently. Last year, I came into the workshop with a basically finished draft of the piece, and the orchestra read it. This recording helped me tighten up loose ends and rework the ending of the piece, but I think because the piece was so close to done, I wasn’t as open about making changes as I could have been.

This time, I am going to bring small excerpts from each movement that each address a potential orchestral problem or question I have. In this way, it’ll be more explicitly experimental than the first workshop. I think this will be more educational for me and will also keep me open to making more drastic changes to the piece after the workshop period.

CSO: Outside of the California Symphony premiere, what else are you currently working on?

KB: Once I finish the workshop materials for California Symphony, I’ll be writing a piece for ‘cello and piano for my Young Concert Artists-roster colleague, the brilliant cellist Zlatomir Fung.

I’ll also be starting a string quartet for Juilliard’s quartet-in-residence, the Argus Quartet, which premieres the day after Robyn’s violin concerto, on May 6 in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Later in the season, I’ll be writing a double bass septet (yes, seven double basses) for Tanglewood Music Center, which will be performed in the summer.

Composition in progress: Katherine at work on the violin concerto that will have its world premiere at our 2018–19 season closer on May 5, 2019. Her cat Zarathustra likes to “help.”

Katherine Balch’s Violin Concerto will premiere May 5, 2019 at the California Symphony season finale.


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