A conversation with Scott Gendel

Scott Gendel is a Virginia-based composer who wrote "We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On" for Sixth Anniversary concert series. Apart from being a very busy composer, Scott also works as a pianist and vocal coach.

His Six Degree Singers connection: Rachel Carlson, our artistic director, who he met at the  University of Wisconsin-Madison. (SDS first commissioned Scott to write "Juno's Garden," set to a poem written by Rachel's mother Nancy.)

How did you choose to write "We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On" in the way you did?
When Rachel approached me about writing a piece for the Six Degree Singers, she mentioned that they would particularly love some new music that would pair well with the older works the choir is performing on this concert. When I looked at that list of choral classics, immediately Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers” jumped out at me, as I love both those powerful words of Shakespeare and the lush harmonies of Vaughan Williams. So I set out to create a setting of that same text but to shed some new light on it. In particular, I wanted to take the extreme dramatic shifts in the text and turn them into "extreme" choral textures. Basically, I sought to turn Prospero’s brief monologue into something like an operatic aria for choir, where the choir is both the orchestral accompaniment that illuminates the subtext AND the singer on stage pouring his heart out through dramatic interpretation and gestures.

What are you most looking forward to about hearing the Six Degree Singers perform your piece?
I'm particularly excited to hear how some of the more unorthodox vocal techniques come to life in the choir.  In a few sections, singers slide between chords, dissolving the texture into something more disorienting than a traditional choral sound.  In another section, half the singers perform these sliding phrases at their own tempo, creating a swirling morass of vocal lines, while the other singers project a smooth melody above that texture. These kinds of textures are almost impossible to conjure up in my head, and I'm looking forward to hearing how the Six Degree Singers translate them into dramatic shapes.

What was your most fulfilling musical experience to date?
My music is performed around the country, and internationally as well, but one of my most fulfilling musical experiences to date happened right near here, in Washington DC.  All Souls Church, Unitarian commissioned me in 2012-2013 to create a huge choral / orchestral cantata that explores some of the principles of Unitarianism and the history of All Souls in particular.  That piece, "All Souls," is about 35 minutes long, and is written for soprano and baritone soloists, choir, and a medium-sized orchestra of strings, percussion, and piano. To hear such a gigantic piece of music integrated into the history of the place it was written for and about, and to see an audience of churchgoers (not necessarily concertgoers) respond to my music as part of a spiritual experience ... it was completely unforgettable.