David Raphael Scott // Composers of the TSO Reading Project

January 23, 2017

David Raphael Scott is one of three composers participating in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's reading session on January 28, and this week we feature a short interview with him. David shared some details about his longstanding interest in music, and the feeling of being pulled between various genres as a listener, which also shaped his multi-faceted pursuit in music as a composer and performer. We also hear from David about his creative routines, making time for music, and achieving that rather elusive balance between creation and administration.

Canadian Music Centre: Tell us about your existing experience with orchestras, as a composer, musician, conductor, and/or listener? What draws you to the orchestra?

David Scott: I’ve had a number of works of mine played and/or commissioned by orchestras including half-a-dozen pure orchestral works, concertos, and works for voice and orchestra. I feel that working with an orchestra is the ultimate creative musical and collaborative experience. It’s both endlessly challenging and rewarding.

CMC: What was the first orchestral recording/concert you listened to, or attended?

DS: I don’t recall the first orchestra concert I attended since it was certainly over 45 years ago! I had some opposing early musical influences around the house while growing up: my father was an enthusiastic amateur musician and encouraged a strict diet of classical music; my mother was listening to African drumming, jazz, Iron Butterfly, Cream and Alice Cooper. To my father’s enduring distress, I started off playing rock music and was actually introduced to bits and pieces of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and Handel’s Messiah by the prog-rock group Yes with Rick Wakeman. I was also quite interested in the treatment of composers like Bartok, Mussorgsky, Janacek, etc. by Keith Emerson in bands like The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The first true orchestral music I remember being excited about was Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Peter and the Wolf and, to a lesser extent, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. In the summer of 1973...I remember the date because Nixon’s impeachment hearings were being televised...I listened to all of the Beethoven symphonies over and over. From then on I was hooked on the orchestra and have only returned to American politics in the last decade!

CMC: What are you looking forward to at the reading session? What do you hope to gain through the experience?

Primarily, I’m looking forward to hearing a first performance of a piece that was written 13 years ago! The creation of my piece Scylla was a development project originally. The idea was to compose a work that could be played relatively easily (by a solid prairie band), be accessible to a general orchestral audience and fit unobtrusively into a program with other standard repertoire works. The piece also has a bit of a back story which gives listeners something to latch onto. The other very important and unique aspect of this experience is the feedback session with orchestra members, Maestro Peter Oundjian and the Affiliate Composer Jordan Pal. This is an extremely rare opportunity for a composer, particularly once you become a professional. It will be a great learning opportunity for me.

CMC: What does it feel like to be working with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra?

DS: Working with the Toronto Symphony is a huge privilege for me and extremely humbling. To have dedicated time with one Canada’s flagship orchestras, in its natural habitat of Roy Thomson Hall is very rare, somewhat daunting, and exciting.

CMC: What is your relationship to Toronto, the city?

DS: I’ve visited Toronto many times, but have spent only limited time actually living there, from a few weeks to a couple of months doing various music and arts-related things. In my twenties I was in Toronto working with the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop on several occasions, I also did a residency with Arraymusic and, more recently took part in Tapestry’s Composer/Librettist Lib Lab. I’ve also spent extended time in Toronto when I was with CBC radio. So, I’ve gotten to know the city and love the range of experiences it has to offer.

CMC: How much time do you spend composing in an average week?

DS: Right now I’m trying to spend about four hours a day actually composing. I also deliberately have at least one day of not composing per week. A great deal of time is also spent editing, revising, corresponding, grant writing, establishing and renewing contacts, etc. The purely creative time has to be balanced with a great many other things...subsidizing your income, most crucially.

CMC: How do you deal with musical writer’s block?

DS: I don’t really experience writer’s block. Only rarely do ideas get onto the page and survive untouched; mostly it’s a process of shaping, revising and reshaping the material. Sometimes it happens fast, mostly it’s slow. The most important thing for me is to play around with the material...it seems to generate its own momentum.

CMC: Finish this sentence for us: “Composing is a lot like ______.”

DS: ...gardening. Within the confines of its borders, your planned cultivated space is incrementally modified through adjustments of colour, texture, pattern and depth. As the individual elements develop, the whole takes on a character and presence of its own. You just have to decide whether to grow potatoes or chrysanthemums!

CMC: What do you do when you are not composing?

DS: I balance the sedentary nature of composing with running, yoga, meditation and, in the summer, I add sailing and cycling.

CMC: Outside of music, what artist rocks your world, and why?

DS: There are too many wonderful artists across disciplines to isolate only one. I’m also a fan of reading, film, fine machines, architecture and the visual arts so the “rocks your world” designation changes from day to day and discipline to discipline.

We continue to feature interviews with other participating composers from the TSO Orchestral Reading Session, with our final installment next week. Visit the community page on the CMC website regularly for updates.