Ted Unseth: Classical Composer Trilogy

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[ Autoplay = "Concertino - M2"; Minnesota Sinfonia; St. Mary's Basilica; Minneapolis, MN; April 27, 2013 ]

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"...great musical intuition oriented towards composition.  ...purely intuitive and powerful."
--Ennio Morricone, Academy Award-winning composer   

Ted Unseth has 3 Musical Personae:
01.  Singer/Songwriter (SS)
02.  Classic Jazz Orchestra Director (CJO)
and
03.  Composer/Arranger (C/A)
 
The First Two are well-represented via these Webpages:

 
This Website is dedicated to Original Composition for Classical Orchestra.  The history (and irony) is this:

I've been consumed with my Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra (ACJO) project for 40+ years and the sad fact is that the last paying gig for music I've had was in 1993, the 20th Anniversary Concerts.  I have tried mightily to procure a sponsor to support a 40th Anniversary Concerts scenario this year, but it appears there's no support whatever for this; it's not going to happen.  

The Irony is that the next paying gig for music, 20 years later, was not for Jazz but for my Classical Composing:

World Premiere of my "Concertino in Three Movements" by the Minnesota Sinfonia, April 26-27, 2013: Mpls.-St. Paul, MN.

It was perhaps the Best Weekend Of My Life: Yes, I've devoted most of my music work to the ACJO, but I've had a few windows of opportunity over the years for serious Classical Composing and 35 years after the initial sketches, my "Concertino" is now 'on the books'.
 
My complete Classical composing to date was originally crafted in the late 1960's-1970's; a 9 year span.  

 
Ted Unseth - Classical Composer Oeuvre:
 
Opus 1:  "Envelopment"  1973; 1978; 2013
Opus 2:  "Five Orchestral Sketches" 1974-1977; 2013
Opus 3:  "Concertino For Chamber
Orchestra"  1978; 2013
Opus 0:  "Deanna"  1969; 2015

(Click on "Virtual Orchestrations" link at the top for MP3 recordings)
 
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Below is my Classical Composing Profile:
 
 

04/30/13

 

Ted Unseth: Classical Composer Oeuvre

 

Irony.  It’s ironic that all of my composing for Classical Orchestra was done in the 1970’s.  This is when the CJO was moving along nicely—we were making a living via gigs (!) and we had free time, mostly for transcribing and practicing, but also for me: Composing. 

 

I and 3 other original WCJO band members were living in the attic apartments of an old Mansion near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  It had been converted into a Workshops venue for the Urban Arts Program; and after my 3-year stint as Music Workshop Director for that program,  the WCJO was formed and we were the transcribing core for the band. 

 

There was an empty room with an acoustic upright piano and I would frequent that scenario when no one was around and I’d experiment with Composing.  I would put a large towel behind the hammers to make the sound mellow and work on ideas and record them.  I also did some of this when I moved to the 7 Corners area of Mpls. (I took the piano with me). 

 

So, my Complete Composing Oeuvre are these:

 

Opus 1: “Envelopment  1973

I’d sent a copy of my ridiculously child-like score to Aaron Copland.  His reply, “If you’re really serious about becoming a composer, be prepared to devote all of your time to it.”

 

Opus 2: “Five Orchestral Sketches  1974-1975

4 of these 5 were presented as Piano Sketches at a Special Concert at the West Bank School of Music that featured a handful of WCJO members showcasing different musical aspects.

 

Opus 3: “Concertino in 3 Movements”  1978

This was ‘commissioned’ for a West Bank School of Music Composers Series (commissioned = I paid $25 for the privilege).  It was written for a much smaller ensemble; and updated for Chamber Orchestra. 


Opus 0: “Deanna”  1969; 2015

Conceived as Guitar feature during my Singer/Songwriter phase (1964-1973)--all done 'by ear', nothing written down.  I finally scored it in 2015 for Solo Guitar and Strings.  It is a fitting complement. 



 

That’s it!  About 9 years’ total.  I haven’t composed anything for Classical Orchestra since.  I got super busy with the WCJO and eventually lost possession of that beautiful upright piano.  Since 1990, I haven’t had access to any keyboard except a small Casio keyboard that is essentially worthless.  So, I haven’t had the Time or Situation like those in an empty room with an acoustic piano for 35 years or so. 

 

OK.  So what was my Composing all about back then (and now, since I’ve re-worked everything)?

My Composing was greatly influenced by two books:

 

Emotion and Meaning in Music”  Leonard B. Meyer

--Effective composing is giving the audience enough of what’s familiar to keep their attention, but divert from expected outcomes and take ‘detours’ in new ways that will keep the audience awake and interested. 

 

Structural Functions of Harmony  Arnold Schoenberg

How odd that the inventor of 12-tome composing would write a book about Harmony; but how wonderful.  He said the first task in composing is finding interesting chord progressions, then working Melody into it after that.

 

My Composing Style is based on:

 

Chord Progressions/Changes.  Enough of somewhat familiarity, but ‘throwing curveballs’ as to where the resolutions are going.  I’ll never forget a comment from a listener to Saturday’s concert: “Most everybody can hear the top and bottom notes of chords, but I listen for all the stuff in-between and … you’ve got a lot of interesting voices in there.  I love your chords.” 

 

Timing When I had that empty room with an acoustic piano, I would work on ideas at the keyboard and record them; most importantly: while playing, giving no consideration to Meter or Time—just letting it flow as it best feels.  Then I would listen to the recording and write the Timing as exactly as possible the way it Feels.  This is why I have so many ‘unusual’ time signatures in these works:  Instead of using fermatas and hoping the hold time is just right, I’ve written in the ‘just right’ timing. 

 

Melody and Harmony I don’t see my composing as Neo-Romantic, but perhaps Neo-Impressionist.  It most certainly is not the super-cerebral Avant Garde style.  Melody and Harmony are not just old hat and to be disregarded; they can be employed in new and interesting ways. 

 

Uniqueness.  The one thing I never wanted to be as a Composer was to be unduly influenced by another composer’s style or teaching.  So I’ve purposely avoided any one teacher or composer’s style; I want to be sure my ideas are from me; Original. 

 

For the past 40 years, I’ve been focused almost exclusively on my Classic Jazz Orchestra project (which I love as dearly as ever).  But, there are no gigs for such a project; and…

 

Double Irony: My last paying gig as a musician was in 1993 for the ACJO 20th Anniversary.  20 years ago!  And the one paying gig I did finally procure was not for the ACJO; it was for my Classical Composing via the Minnesota Sinfonia (“Concertino in 3 Movements”).  It took a couple of years to straighten everything out (the Director and I had a few differences), but we did and I entered my Brand New World:

 

Ted Unseth, Composer

 

These were all first time, I’d never done this Classical setting before:  Rehearsal,  Performance, Accolades.

And I got a feel for the Circumstances:  One hall had very little natural reverb; and the other had booming reverb.  Overall, the percussive effects were rather lost and the strings a bit muddy, especially on faster tempos.  But The Strings on the slower second movement had a nice lush sound; very nice.   

 

The concerts went well enough; but after the first night, I made a couple of CDs of my re-workings for “5 Orchestral Sketches” (that are now for Solo Violin and Strings) and gave the Director and the fine Guest Pianist (who is well connected to the Classical World worldwide) each a copy. 

I then thought about what a friend had mentioned to me at the Saturday concert:  “Ted, do you have anything else in the works?  How about that other piece you wrote for the West Bank School of Music Composers’ Series?”  Hmm. 

I have now re-worked the ‘other piece’:

 

Envelopment for Solo Violin and Strings”. 

It will need more work, but it’s mostly all there and…

 

01. Now that the Minnesota Sinfonia have done my Opus 3; I’d like them to finish the ‘series’ and do Opus 1 and Opus 2, as well.  That would make a Complete Set of my Classical Composing to date. 


02. I can ‘see’ the Sinfonia players’ faces, gestures, etc.  I can see them playing the other two sets. 

If this can be accomplished in the near future, I will at least have my Classical Composing oeuvre out there for posterity.  One of my tennis buddies who was at the Friday concert said, “You ought to be writing a new work every week or month.  You’re not going to live forever.’  Well, every week or month—forget it; I would need months of unhindered Time and Situation.  So, until I get that rare opportunity again, I at least want these works to be ‘on the books’ in toto before it’s too late. 

Lastly, I can’t get away from the 2 high profile responses re: my Composing: 

 

01. A letter from the Academy Award winning composer, Ennio Morricone.  He took a ‘serious listen’ to my works and, in part, said:  great intuition oriented towards composing.  …purely intuitive and powerful.’  I’ve taken that to heart because I believe I have some sort of knack for composing, albeit in my own way.  And I think my composing voice could become one that critics and audiences alike would appreciate and support. 

 

02.  Jay Fishman, Director of the MN Sinfonia.  Jay thought I had a very interesting composing approach, quite unlike any other and influenced in part by my Jazz background (even though none of these pieces are Jazz-related).  And he had the courage to take on my “Concertino in 3 Movements” for public performance. 

And I’m not sure if I should be proud of this or not, but Jay told the audiences that he rarely uses a baton—maybe 2 o3 times in the last 20 years = I made him use a baton for my work (which is not to say that I intentionally made things difficult to conduct; it’s just that’s the way things end up, once I complete a score). 

 

Now that this has been accomplished successfully, I see things differently:  I see very good possibilities for completing my Oeuvre Cycle; and perhaps new commissions for new works; perhaps finally being recognized as a New Voice on the Classical Music Scene (better hurry up though, I’m not going to be around forever). 

Do I have an idea for a completely new work?  You bet I do:  “Bamboo Birding”: I’ve told you about this—when I lived in DC there was a large, long stand of Bamboo behind the backyard; and in the Fall, a large number of birds of several species would come dive-bombing into the bamboo for overnight stays.  It would start out minimally, but eventually grow to a beautiful din of singing, cackling, etc.  Then, it would eventually die down to the last bird: a Robin making the last statement, then all would be quiet until morning.  I have Video and Audio for this and would love to write a piece for ‘acoustic’ Classical Orchestra (all sounds coming from acoustic instruments; no bird recordings).  A big challenge, but one I want to take on before I kiss the sky goodbye. 

 

The fact is: No matter how many years I’ve spent on the ACJO, I’ve always wanted to be a Composer.  As a kid growing up in Albert Lea, MN, I would ‘air-conduct’ to Classical records when no one was home and would think, “What a great thing to be a Composer; perhaps the best thing you ever did in your life could be the last thing you ever did—what a life!”

 

I thought success via the ACJO would open doors for my Composing and I think that’s what happened this weekend: I don’t think Jay would have given me a second blink if it weren’t for my ACJO achievements.  35 years later = A Dream Came True.  “Good things come to those who wait” (“just so it’s not too late”). 

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Ted Unseth - Classical Composer Oeuvre:
 
Opus 1:  "Envelopment"  1973; 1978; 2013
Opus 2:  "Five Orchestral Sketches" 1974-1977; 2013
Opus 3:  "Concertino For Chamber
Orchestra"  1978; 2013
Opus 0:  "Deanna"  1969; 2015

(Click on "Virtual Orchestrations" link at the top for MP3 recordings)

 
 

 
 
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Adaptive Orchestration:
Click on the Link below for a portion of Charles Ives'  1905 "Country Band March" with 2009 Rock Drummer added:  

Country Band March_MP3

More Related Links:

http://tedeboy.tripod.com  Ted Unseth, Overall
www.sonicbids.com/tedunseth  ACJO Selections
http://tedeboy.tripod.com/acjo  Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra
www.myspace.com/tedunsethacjo  ACJO MySpace Page
www.youtube.com/tedunsethacjo  ACJO YouTube Videos
http://tedeboy.tripod.com/acto  Americana Transcriptions for Orchestra
 
 

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Ted Unseth - Classical Composer