On January 28, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s annual reading project will take place. Among the participating composers is Alison Yun-Fei Jiang. Alison spent her high school and undergraduate years in Toronto, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in composition with Justin Dello Joio at NYU. The reading session will be quite the musical homecoming for Alison, as you will see in this short interview exploring her musical life and connection to the orchestra in particular.
CMC: Tell us about your existing experience with orchestras, as a composer, musician, conductor, and/or listener? What draws you to the orchestra?
Alison Yun-Fei Jiang: As an orchestral music lover, I constantly attended the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concerts during my adolescent years in Toronto, and I have attended numerous concert by the New York Philharmonic since moving to New York. As a composer, writing for the orchestra has always been my primary compositional interest and focus. The endless sonic possibilities of an orchestra, from the delicate and crystalline to the most powerful and thundering sonorities, are what draws me to it. So far, I have written a few orchestral works that have been read or premiered by school orchestras. My undergraduate thesis composition was an orchestral work written for and premiered by the Manhattan School of Music Composers’ Orchestra.
CMC: What was the first orchestral recording/concert you listened to, or attended?
AYFJ: The first orchestral recording I listened to was a set of Beethoven’s symphonies conducted by Karajan, played by the Berlin Philharmonic; I was around seven at the time. I attended my first orchestral concert at eight: it was a performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, performed by a provincial orchestra in China. I remember having goosebumps throughout the concert; it was such an emotional experience, and I was overwhelmed by the powerful presence of a live orchestra.
CMC: What is your relationship to Toronto, the city?
AYFJ: I was born in China, and I immigrated to Toronto with my parents in high school. My family are still settled in Toronto, so it is home for me. I attended high school and university (University of Toronto) in Toronto before studying in the US.
CMC: What does it feel like to be working with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra?
AYFJ: At the moment, I feel excited, privileged, and nervous about working with the TSO. The TSO is my hometown orchestra, so this reading session is very meaningful to me. I am very grateful for being selected for this opportunity, and I hope to learn as much as I can from it.
CMC: What are you looking forward to at the reading session, and what do you hope to gain through the experience?
AYFJ: Having the opportunity to hear my music played by one of Canada’s foremost orchestras is an absolute privilege. I hope to hear a clear realization of my work Waves, Exile, which would truthfully reflect and evaluate my orchestral writing, and sonically reveal anything that might not work as effectively as I had expected. I am looking forward to hearing critical feedback from the TSO musicians on which passages they might or might not enjoy playing. I am also looking forward to working with Composer Advisor Gary Kulesha and hearing feedback from him, as well as from Music Director Peter Oundjian and the RBC Affiliate Composer Jordan Pal.
The reading session will be an invaluable learning experience. I hope to gain a better understanding of writing for the orchestra, and more insight on idiomatic writing for the instruments. I am also looking forward to meeting the other two composers and hearing their works.
CMC: A few shorter question for you! How much time do you spend composing in an average week?
AYFJ: I spend around 15 hours per week contemplating and gathering ideas in my head or on a sketchbook, and another 30 hours or so notating and working out musical ideas either on paper or in notation software.
CMC: How do you deal with musical writer’s block?
AYFJ: I deal with it by reading, taking a walk, or getting inspirations from other art forms and musical genres (such as film, animation, jazz).
CMC: What do you do when you are not composing?
AYFJ: I study music scores, play the piano and conduct new music. I also read, jog, and watch anime.
CMC: Outside of music, what artist rocks your world, and why?
AYFJ: Japanese animation director Mamoru Oshii. His style of story-telling, storyboarding, and general aesthetic have been inspirations for my own works in terms of structuring ideas over time.
We will be featuring interviews with the other participating composers from the TSO Orchestral Reading Session in the coming weeks. Visit the community page on the CMC website regularly for updates.