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The Classical Station’s interview with Amanda Lee Falkenberg for Preview!

Interview with Amanda Lee Falkenberg
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © Ben Ealovega)

Amanda Lee Falkenberg, seated facing camera, chin on right fist, smilingAmanda Lee Falkenberg, the award winning Australian composer, will be our guest on “Preview!”. Over the past 20 years she’s won multiple awards, achieving the rank of finalist for her soundtracks in the Cannes Film Festival and the Marvin Hamlisch International Music Awards. The moons of our solar system inspired Falkenberg’s newest release, THE MOONS SYMPHONY, which will be played in its entirety. She spoke with The Classical Station’s Music Director Caleb Gardner about her experience as a composer, her newest recording, and more.

Q: Primarily, when you composed for ballet, you were on the piano, and that seems to be your home instrument. Now your work is an expansive use of a really wide palette. What was that journey from the keyboard to expansive orchestral writing?

FALKENBERG: I’m very grateful when I look back at my musical education. I was studying the piano and when I went to university, I remember my professor saying to me, “Amanda, we treat the piano like an orchestra.” And I love that analogy. Back then I wasn’t really dabbling with orchestral composing, I was doing more piano miniatures, and I really love that analogy because the piano really is your orchestra. That was a good heads-up that later gave me the ability to transfer the textures of the full spectrum of orchestral instruments. It was so refreshing, moving away from just being a pianist and experiencing a world full of all these flavors and textures and colors.

Q: I think our listeners would find it really fascinating to learn about the process from late nights using music composition programs to Marin Alsop conducting.

FALKENBERG: I love the fact that this symphony is based in science, because one of the expressions that scientists use is: science is a process, it’s not a destination. I think that’s really important. I’ve spent decades learning my craft using Logic Pro. I’ve got excellent sound samples that deliver a fantastic emulation of the final sound that I’m going after. Then, of course, I needed to transfer seven movements into Dorico, which is the musical software program–that was like building a spacecraft myself, and it was an absolutely huge undertaking. The platform of Logic Pro doesn’t really translate to performing the music live, which allows you to get into the role of a composer in a creative realm; that’s far more easy, at least in my experience, than going straight into a music notation program.

Q: Were there professional orchestrators involved in this particular project or did you do all the groundwork to go from MIDI maps to the stands?

FALKENBERG: I orchestrated everything myself. Samuel Adler’s book on orchestration was hugely influential. He was my teacher, basically; as I looked at his registration of instruments, I had to educate myself from ground zero about them, and I didn’t want to get professional orchestrators involved. It just didn’t feel right. I wanted to own this.

Q: I’d like to turn toward the composition itself and your inspiration for it. Very uniquely, this project is actually about science. Could you talk about the inspiration and the research aspect of THE MOONS SYMPHONY?

FALKENBERG: What’s important to get across is that one could think I started out with an intellectual plan of NASA scientists and astronauts and everything. I absolutely did not. I just saw these moons and I had almost finished writing my cello concerto, CROSSING of The CRESCENT MOON, and I was just doing research on the ancient symbolism of moons. That’s how I stumbled across this website, talking about ten of the weirdest moons of our solar system. They were just calling out to me to write music about them and give them emotion. I remember researching the Internet to see if anyone else had written something and no one had, and it felt like such a privilege. Once I started researching further, the science started tapping me on the shoulder and I couldn’t ignore it. I knew at that point that I would have some sort of wordless choir for texture, but then I thought, ‘What if I hire voices to sing this science I’m stumbling across?’ I was coming across a lot of inaccuracies with the scientific research, and I needed to find some sort of specialist who could help me sort out the facts. And that’s how I emailed Robert Pappalardo, who happened to be at NASA, and asked if I could Skype with him about characteristics.

Q: Did you use a sort of compositional key that served as your guide? As in, this moon is large or gaseous and that means X in the music? Or was it more general, just feelings and thoughts after studying a particular moon?

FALKENBERG: Definitely a bit of both, but I’d have to say I was more driven by feeling and intuition. There was dabbling between the intellectual brain and the creative brain, but intuition always led and guided me. And it was always 100% right. I’m so grateful that I turned to that creative muscle because if I did allow that intellectual brain to take over, sometimes I don’t think the project would have held.

Q: Composers probably don’t imagine that they’re going to have their work performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop on the podium. Can you please tell our listeners about the experience and what it must have been like to hear that group of humans make your work into what materialized?

FALKENBERG: I had quite a lot of years to look forward to that moment. I had a two-year hiatus, and there was this heightened anticipation of the COVID era. To have it all laid out in this organism called the London Symphony Orchestra was great.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of classical music as it relates to your work and other mixed media?

FALKENBERG: I’m really invested and committed to changing the face of how education is received as students experience science and music, and merging those worlds together. My big thing is getting this into classrooms and educating students, giving them an immersive experience. I definitely have big plans, such as putting holograms above audiences. We’re telling the stories of each of the moons. I’ve always been focused on that since the beginning. I see scientists giving talks to audiences and doing matinee performances and student outreach–whatever way this wants to go.

Q: THE MOONS SYMPHONY, as you said, has its own life that you’re following. Are there any thoughts as to what might be next for you as a composer?

FALKENBERG: I’ve got three things that I’m extremely passionate and focused on. One is the outreach with my new program, which is called Learning Under New Artistic Regimes (LUNAR), which is a companion guide to the symphony launching at Imperial College of London. My focus is on engaging students. Secondly, we want to then do a world premiere somewhere on planet Earth, Marin and I. And then we want to take it on a global tour. I have a project that actually came to me before this symphony; I decided to do this one first before I activated the other project. But I think about that project a lot and I trust that when the timing is right, that project is going to provide a beautiful overlap with the main symphony. 

Listen to Amanda Lee Falkenberg’s interview at 7 PM on Sunday, December 18! Download our app, stream online on TheClassicalStation.org, or turn your radio to 89.7 FM!