As a new feature, every month ICA will be presenting a new “composer of the month,” featuring a living composer with a significant body of work for the clarinet
ICA COMPOSER OF THE MONTH, MAY 2021
ICA: Welcome, Jenni Brandon, we’re very happy to have you as our May 2021 composer-of-the-month!
JB: I’m so thrilled to be here! Thank you for inviting me.
ICA: Tell us a bit about the featured composition, Starry Night.
JB: Starry Night is a three-movement work for solo B-flat clarinet that tells of the night skies and the fascination with what lies in them. I use text and poetry as inspiration for each of the movements that relate to the stars and the skies, including poetry and texts from Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, and Van Gogh (whose painting is also the inspiration for the title of this work). This work was written for Los Angeles clarinetist Virginia Costa Figueiredo and was premiered by her in February 2013 in Los Angeles. She recorded it in 2014 and it appears on her CD “Seule”. You can read the poetry that inspired it here.
ICA: What other works have you written for clarinet?
JB: I have quite a few pieces that feature the clarinet. I love exploring the colors of the clarinet, and I’ve been fortunate to get to write works for some truly wonderful performers. Below are my solo and duo works for clarinet, with links to more information:
Chansons de la Nature pour la Clarinette for solo B-flat clarinet: 7-movement work inspired by Aesop’s Fables
Stardust for solo E-flat Clarinet: 3 movements exploring the great American songbook writers of the 20th century
Starry Night for solo B-flat Clarinet
Pleistocene Epoch: The Great Ice Age for solo Bass Clarinet: tells the story of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and some of the extinct animals found in the tar that roamed the area over 10,000 years ago.
Cumulonimbus: The King of Clouds for B-flat Clarinet and Piano: Telling the story of the massive Cumulonimbus cloud and a coming storm.
Shades of Violet for B-flat Clarinet and Viola: The story and history of the color violet
Multitudinous Stars and Spring Waters for B-flat clarinet and Soprano: Originally for Oboe and Soprano, this work uses translated Chinese poems from women poets to tell a story of love, death, life, and what we hold close to our hearts.
I also have a number of larger chamber works that include clarinet, which you can find under the “chamber music” section of my website: http://jennibrandon.com/product-category/chamber-music/
ICA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JB: I grew up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania and after my undergrad at West Chester University moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas at Austin. I then moved to Southern California where I attended the University of Southern California and have been in SoCal ever since (almost 20 years – wow!) I currently live in Long Beach, California and I work full time as an independent composer and conductor and over the years have led choral ensembles, conducted operas, run music organizations, and had the joy and privilege of collaborating with many amazing performers around the world.
ICA: How would you describe your music?
JB: My music is lyrical and melodic, and is often influenced by nature and poetry. I think my music is accessible to a wide variety of performers and audience members. I love telling stories through the music and strive to create a world where everyone can immerse themselves in the story being told.
ICA: What are some of the important influences on your work?
JB: I really cut my teeth as a composer when I was young and started writing my own songs and lyrics and performing them. These many hours I spent at the piano playing and singing became the basis for my love of melodic gestures and find the story in the music. I also love nature and many of my works reflect this love of nature through the stories that I tell. From Sequoia Trees and mountains to the ocean and the skies above, I’m constantly inspired and humbled by the beauty of the Earth and what she has to say.
ICA: What do you like about writing for clarinet in particular?
JB: The colors of the instrument! There’s SO much a composer can do with the colors, registers, and range of the instrument, and I love the possibilities I have when writing for the clarinet. And it’s so agile, too, which gives me the opportunity to explore rhythm as well as range.
ICA: What is your composing process like? Do you have a regular routine/time of day you like to work? What tools do you use to compose?
JB: I often start a work with a lot of research about the story I want to tell. I’ll spend quite a bit of time sketching out gestures and themes using colored pencils and large pieces of paper, even before I put a single note on the page. I use this as my road map as I begin to compose. Once I begin to work, I always start at the piano with paper, pencil, and a reliable eraser! Eventually I’ll take these drafts to my computer where I’ll begin to enter the music into Sibelius (notation software). From here the piece continues to grow and take shape. Often, I’ll print out drafts and go back to the piano to rework sections.
An important part of my composition process is the collaboration with the performers for whom I’m writing the new work. I will share drafts with them as I write the work, and I really value their feedback and suggestions. These suggestions will help shape the piece, and I find this collaboration is what makes the works really idiomatic for the instruments and brings the performers into the creative process.
I tend to like to write in the morning, but depending on schedule will write throughout the day, especially when I’m on a deadline to finish a work!
ICA: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your work?
JB: Although I’ve missed meeting in person with performers, the pandemic has actually been a very busy time for me. I’ve been writing multiple works, creating online composition festivals and workshops, collaborating with performers, and making plans for future projects. If anything, I think I’ve gotten to connect and collaborate even more with performers through Zoom! But I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of wonderful performances of my work online throughout the pandemic, and was thrilled to get to enjoy them virtually. But I’m looking forward to in person connections and live performances that I can attend in person.
ICA: Tell us about a current compositional project you’re excited about.
JB: I have several great projects I’m working on right now, but one in particular that is exciting and relevant to the clarinet community! It’s a new work for Chris Mothersole (watch his beautiful performance of “Starry Night”). He is at the front of the Efx Clarinet or clarinet with live digital effects such as those used by electric guitarists. I’m writing a new work for him using the clarinet and effects pedals such as reverb, delay, and distortion. I’m really excited about this medium – it’s not something I’ve done before, but the opportunity to create a soundscape with the colors of the clarinet AND the effects pedals is really thrilling.
ICA: What other musical activities/projects are important to you, beyond composing?
JB: I am also a conductor, and enjoy conducting my works and the works of other composers. At the end of 2019 (before lockdown began) I was very fortunate to get to conduct my one act opera THREE PADEREWKIS several times around the world. This project was partially sponsored by the Ministry of Poland as part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Polish independence. I was able to lead performances of it in Los Angeles, Poland, and in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center. I’m looking forward to getting back to more conducting when opportunities open up again.
ICA: What non-musical activities do you enjoy?
JB: I am a certified yoga teacher and enjoy teaching and practicing yoga. I started my own yoga business Bloom Yoga a few years ago and teach private, semi-private, corporate, pre and postnatal yoga, pelvic floor yoga as well as yoga for musicians. Because of the pandemic I’ve moved my teaching online and offer online classes and workshops. I really enjoy geeking out over anatomy and find joy in supporting people in their practices.
ICA: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I imagine in another life I might be a veterinarian or maybe a dog trainer as I love animals! I especially enjoy doing agility work with my dog Harrison in our backyard!
ICA: Where can people learn more about / hear / buy your music?
JB: You can visit www.jennibrandon.com for more info about my music, to purchase scores, find recordings of my works, locate upcoming events, and to keep in touch.
ICA: Thanks for taking the time to share your work with us! We really appreciate it!
JB: Thank you so much for having me!
Is there a composer you think we should feature as our composer-of-the-month?
Are you one yourself? Email us and let us know about it!