Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn Musings

October 2009: I barely knew you. This month has been a complete blur, and it seems that today is the first day in a very long time where I feel like I have a chance to catch my breath! What have I been up to? Well - other than my usual professorial life, directing and running a new music festival, attending the premieres of two large ensemble works ("Tock" for concert band, and "Jefferson Rising" for orchestra), adjudicating a composition competition, and raising a two year old...well, you get the idea!

Of all of these activities, the Fresno New Music Festival needs a special mention from me. I founded this event back in 2006, and with the fourth festival now having come and gone, I must say how please I am with how it has grown! The inaugural 2006 festival was a mixed bag for me, as although we had a really great guest act in Duo46, the festival wasn't attended well at all. (Incidentally, Duo46 was one of two guest ensembles for the festival - our second ensemble, The Quintet of the Americas, was stranded in the Dallas airport!!!) In addition, my daughter had just been born three weeks earlier, so as you might imagine I wasn't in much of a position to host.

So, having reflecting on where this festival started from, I can safely say that we have made many improvements over the past few years! Having both Don Freund and Adrienne Albert as guest composers was a real treat - especially in part due to their many interactions with the Fresno State students. The Definiens Project proved to be a masterful chamber ensemble, and it is my intent to bring them back to future festivals (especially since I will be writing a chamber concerto for them!). Finally, I must give our two student ensembles - The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, and the Fresno State Saxophone Quartet - special props for all of the incredible hard work that they did! Their performances were incredibly impressive, especially considering the difficult music that they had to learn in a very short time period. While the festival still wasn't attended as well as I would like, attendance was most certainly better than it had been in the past. Next year, though, I'm filling the hall!

Admittedly, directing this festival can feel at times like a huge undertaking, especially since this is all done pro bono! However, with the passing of each festival I always come back with the same thought: I can't wait until the next one! It is, to use a cliché, a labor of love.

Now that the festival has past though, I can once again resume work on writing the music to Valentine! I am just about done with the music for the first scene, and will shortly begin working on the music for Act I, Scene IV. I often enjoy composing material "out of order," as it gives me ample opportunity to "preview" thematic material and motives earlier in the work before the actual presentation of the idea. I'm not sure exactly how this will turn out in the actual opera, but I have a feeling that elements of this scene will manifest themselves in scenes II and III as well. Should be fun!

As a final note - I will be up in Portland visiting the Heretic Opera next week, from November 5th through 8th. I look forward to finally meeting everyone in person, and putting more than just "facebook" faces to everyone's names! Until next week!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forging New Connections

Broken down to its essentials, opera is a very fluid, through-composed, structure that requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Theoretically it can accomodate a wide variety of story-telling approaches (as in a discussion I had recently with Bobak Salehi about the possibility of producing an opera grounded in Persian music). But can an opera company incorporate non-operatic performances of art music? Should importing other musical disciplines be the role of any opera company? What if an "outsider" artist offers a vision that is powerful, unique, and capable of moving a new audience? On the other hand, what happens to our art form once you break away entirely away from the classical model?

A key belief for our artistic staff is that western classical music should not stand separate from other highly crafted art or music forms. One reasons we are so pleased with our Composer-in-Remote-Residence, Kenneth Froelich, is his comfort in incorporating influences from jazz to bluegrass. Is this the furthest that we'll ever go in incorporating other musical forms? Perhaps not - depending on the execution and available artists.

It is my goal to explore the boundaries of opera as we build a healthy and successful business. And I hope that other artists will also provide their own answers to the above questions. With so much talent and craft in the performing arts world, I believe that opera has a real opportunity to gain relevance and new audiences in the future - but we'll need a lot of new ideas from many different sources to accomplish this.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


For those of you reading who do not know me, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kenneth Froelich, and I am very proud to be the new Composer-in-Remote-Residence for the Heretic Opera!

Heretic Opera has invited me to be a part of their organization, so it is my goal to ensure that the music I create matches the vision of this company. I am personally very excited to be contribute to this forward-thinking organization, and believe that this is the start of a great professional relationship.

As part of my residency, Madelaine Coffman has invited me be a regular contributor to this blog. Over the next several months, I will post regular updates here detailing my experience and creative process writing the music for "Valentine." I invite all of you to comment on my process, providing criticism where you see fit, or writing anything else that comes to mind!

In the meantime, if you would like to ask me any questions, or simply introduce yourself to me, please feel free to send me a message at You can also find me on Facebook, or through my website. Finally, if you are curious about what I do as a teacher, you can check out my blog, The Electric Semiquaver, where I post tips to young composers on how to compose effectively in programs like Finale and Sibelius.

I am honored to be a part of all of this, and look forward to meet all of you at the Heretic Opera. Now, time to get to work!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Catching Up

So much has been happening for Heretic Opera since I last posted here! This blog began as a way to give an inside look at a start-up performing arts company (something I thought might be helpful for other arts entrepreneurs), but my time flies so fast that a lot of significant experiences and events go undocumented. We recently had our Launch Party, which was very fun - thank you to Kim, Alex, and Kirsten for all of your hard work! (Party pics can be found on our Facebook page.)

Even more importantly, we've hired our first Composer-in-Remote-Residence, Kenneth Froelich. Kenneth initially approached us about his vision for an original opera focusing on the 1940's secession movement, the State of Jefferson (which we'll be producing in 2013). When he applied for the Valentine project as well, I was surprised by how well he fit our very ambitious list of desired composer attributes. We're very excited to welcome him to Heretic Opera, and we can't wait to produce his work on Valentine in 2011! You can check him out at, and he'll be an occasional contributor to this blog as well.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Further Adventures in Starting a Business

I took last week off to take an intensive course in Basic Mediation Skills - very soon I will be certified as a mediator in the State of Oregon. It's a good skill set to have at your disposal when working with artists, or with anyone who makes a career out of making themselves vulnerable to collaborators and strangers.

Now that I'm back, I am busy with a lot of odd little projects that have been piling up on my desk. This weekend was partly spent buying records for the DJ to play at our launch party and, at his request, tagging each record with playing suggestions. It was kind of wonderful to have the time to explore new (to me) music - from The Soviet Army Chorus & Band's recording of Murderers Stalk the Earth, to the lovely voice of Diahann Caroll, to the clean tight jazz of Amad Jamal, to William Russo's brilliant mash-up Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra. It's a funny thing, but after listening to Brubeck, Coltrane, Coleman, and other jazz greats, that Liszt, Bartok, Spanish Baroque guitar music, Bach, and Purcell all begin to sound a bit jazzy as well. This really is just one big world of music, and the mix can be tweaked any way you want.

I've come to have a similar perspective regarding my process with Heretic Opera. Most people don't think about the work that goes into creating a new opera company - creating a business plan that facilitates the mission statement, learning how to use new social technologies, securing funding and setting a budget is all stuff that happens behind the scenes. But since all of this is just as important to the process of presenting an opera as having singers onstage on opening night, where do you draw the line between the creative process and office drudgery? Too often we tend to box things into very small categories: despite the success of Street Scene and Porgy & Bess real operas don't use the jazz idiom, accounting can't be considered creative unless it involves stealing from your employers, classical music and the structures it has created (symphonies, operas, etc.) are inherently elitist and only a small percentage of the population would be interested in them anyway. I don't consider these prejudices to be true or helpful. In my experience, people seem excited about highly crafted work created with the casual listener in mind, and happy to engage with it in whatever way they can. I know I am often more content spending the majority of my days hunched over the keyboard and planning new projects than I was as a singer, when I sometimes felt almost incidental to the creative process (a teacher of mine once called that feeling "standing onstage and spitting out pitches").

In the end, I think that any work can be a creative contribution as long as the effort is directed towards a meaningful goal. I also believe that opera and other classical art forms are still be accessible and interesting to a wide range of people. I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to build a company that pursues these ideals in a concrete, pragmatic fashion. New projects, professional development classes, research for the DJ, and all.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Troubles with Technology

Well, it's been a bit of a difficult 24 hours here at Heretic Opera. The computer keeps on crashing and freezing - upwards of 10 times now, I believe - and so my tasks for today and yesterday have been shelved in favor of simply trying to get my "other brain" up and running again. It's funny how, even in a traditional performing arts company, a huge percentage of the work is done with a computer. We are completely dependent on these fragile pieces of plastic, silicon, and copper. I'd bemoan the loss of my autonomy from Microsoft and Google, but the truth is I turned in my Luddite badge the minute I realized that how emerging media could change the way people interact with the arts, and help to make some of the things I love relevant again. So, march on, inevitable progress of technology!