Two years ago, composer Jared Miller was in the Juilliard library working on his doctoral dissertation when he received an email from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra asking if he'd be available to write a piece for their 2017-18 season.
"According to the email, Leonard Slatkin, the music director of the DSO, asked seven well-known composers with whom he’d worked in the past to recommend one of their students for the orchestra to commission," Miller explained to us during a recent conversation. "Much to my surprise and delight, John Corigliano, my former composition teacher at Juilliard, put my name forward. As a huge fan of both the DSO and Slatkin, I think I immediately replied 'yes' to the email without thinking twice!"
Fast forward to today and Miller has his PhD and his new piece, Luster, received its world premiere by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on May 31 at a concert whose program also included Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. Watch Miller's Luster below.
"Since January of last year, I’ve gone on a bit of a listening binge with different types of electronic dance music, or EDM for short," Miller says, explaining the inspiration behind his new piece. "‘90s techno has this hypnotically reverberant texture and these shiny, bejeweled colours and timbres that I love. When writing this piece, I challenged myself to re-create and re-imagine these colours and effects with the orchestra while fusing them with some of my own compositional tendencies. The title, Luster, makes reference to this shiny sound world."
Miller hopes listeners will not only recognize the EDM idioms in Luster, "but also hear how these electronic sounds are re-contextualized in the 21st-century orchestra, rather than in a nightclub or stadium where you would traditionally find them."
"It’s always a bit of a mystery when you write a new piece and experiment with different techniques and effects," he reflects. "You never really know how they’re going to sound until you’re in the hall for the first rehearsal. However, I’ve been keeping up with the other commissioned works this season through the DSO’s live streaming of their concerts, and the orchestra really 'kills it' when it comes to playing new music."
Unfortunately, Slatkin had to back out of the last three concerts of the DSO’s season due to health concerns. Filling in for him was Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Composer in residence at the Victoria Symphony from 2014 to 2017, and an alumnus of CBC Music's 30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30, Miller says he also pays tribute to Detroit's rich musical history in Luster. "In addition to being a city known for its Motown, rap and of course, the incredible Detroit Symphony Orchestra, it’s also the city where techno was invented. The discovery of this fact definitely got my creative juices flowing."
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