Valdosta Daily Times


September 8, 2013

APPlause! Valdosta Symphony opens with an iPad Concerto

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Symphony Orchestra plans to turn people’s perceptions of what they expect from an orchestra on its head this coming week.

People often consider an orchestra to be a group of musicians playing ancient, classical music, on traditional, non-electric instrument. Though far more musically appealing than that sentence sounds, it is the basic truth of a symphony orchestra.

Enter the husband-and-wife team of composer Ned McGowan and soloist Keiko Shichijo. Shichijo will perform the U.S. premiere of McGowan’s Concerto for iPad and Orchestra Saturday night with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra.

That’s right. The cutting edge technology of the tablet leads the timeless music of the orchestra. Meanwhile, McGowan’s work imbues modern technology with a soul.

While it may sound novel, composers have long taken advantage of technological advances, McGowan says.

“Electronics and computers have a long history and future in music among composers,” he says.

However, with exception of a few chamber pieces, “it is quite scarce in the classical/new music scenes,” McGowan says of his iPad concerto. But he was inspired by the possibilities.

“The aspect that excited me to compose for the iPad was its combination of visible gestures with many new possibilities to create music within Apps,” he says.

As for what audiences can expect, McGowan says, “You can expect the soloist to play the iPad in front of the orchestra, just as if it was a piano or violin concerto. Also, throughout the performance, there are projections on a large screen behind the orchestra of the iPad being played and its screen output so that the audience can see what the soloist sees — ‘a peek inside the kitchen, so to speak.’”

The American-Dutch composer has won numerous awards for his music’s “rhythmic vitality and surprising forms and are performed regularly in halls and festivals all over the world,” according to a short biography provided by the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra. “A pioneer composer of new directions, he has also written the world’s first concerto for Contrabass Flute and Orchestra and created a new form for projected photography and music, together with Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.”

This concerto is McGowan’s first for iPad.

“Typically, I am a traditional pencil-and-paper type composer working with acoustic instruments. When a violin just draws the bow along the string or a clarinetist plays a note, it just works. There is beauty of sound and human expression,” McGowan says.

“With electronics, it is very difficult to replicate that combination in an effective way. When the iPad came along, I got excited in the possibilities of electronic music because of the gestural technique of the touchpad — you see a movement and the sound changes — and the open source nature of the apps being written for it — and the creativity possible.”

His wife was key to composing the iPad concerto.

“I knew that she had the right combination of finger technique and expression to be able to play it,” McGowan says. “The solo part turned out to be fantastically difficult and she hit it out of the park at the premiere.”

The Japanese-born Keiko Shichijo has won international awards as a pianist. “Known for her technical command in live performances,” according to the VSO, “... she showed off the iPad’s possibilities for virtuosity, expression, percussiveness, and new visual ways of creating sound.”

The concerto first premiered in June 2012. McGowan sent a copy to Howard Hsu, Valdosta Symphony conductor, who booked the composer and Shichijo to open the VSO’s 2013-14 season.

During the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra performance Saturday night, a screen will allow the audience to see what Shichijo is doing as she plays. Mid-week, the VSO will host an iPad Party where McGowan and Shichijo will explain how to use various musical apps, and play together in iPad choirs; participants are encouraged to bring their iPads to this event, Hsu says.

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