Composer Ryan Gallagher interviewed by Academy fellow ToniMarie Marchioni
Academy fellow ToniMarie Marchioni interviewed composer Ryan Gallagher, whose Oboe Quartet made its Carnegie Hall and NYC premiere on December 1 at Weill Recital Hall. ToniMarie, an oboist, performed the work. For those who missed Thursday's performance, the Oboe Quartet will be played once more this Sunday, December 4 at Music at Our Saviour's Atonement. The concert is free—more details can be found here.
Why did you become a composer?
Composing was a natural outgrowth of my interest in listening to and performing concert music in high school. My father is a composer, so I was surrounded by the lifestyle from a young age, but the possibility of exploring it for myself never seriously occurred to me until I learned some of the repertoire. As I began listening to more orchestral music, I felt a desire to try to create sounds like those I was hearing. It was, of course, an indispensable part of my musical education to have grown up in a house with a composer, as my dad helped me greatly with composing, theory, and performing, and also guided me to many of the pieces I still hold closest to my heart.
If you weren't a composer, what would you be?
I can't imagine being anything other than a musician, but outside of composing, there are a few artistic endeavors in the field of music that I find intriguing. For a long time I gave up performing on any instrument, but now it interests me again, and even though I don't plan on ever doing it full-time, I could see myself dedicating more of my life to music performance in a parallel universe.
What is your favorite thing about working with Ensemble ACJW?
I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to work with Ensemble ACJW! In particular, the professionalism of the ensemble as a whole (musically and administratively), the top-notch virtuosity displayed by the performers, and the kindness with which I've been treated by everyone involved has combined to make me feel remarkably fulfilled.
We were both at Skidmore College during Ensemble ACJW's recent residency there. What was your favorite meal in the awe-inspiring Skidmore dining hall?
Strangely enough, my favorite part of every meal was the crunchiness of the fresh pears!
What is one thing you'd like your audience to listen or watch for in the Oboe Quartet?
Since Ensemble ACJW is performing the piece so thoughtfully and musically, I hope that the audience might be able to appreciate the enormous amount of dedication and hard work put in by performers ToniMarie, Keats, Margaret, and Yves, and as a result, how well they are realizing my vision of the music as a collective quartet.
You wrote an awful lot of high As in the oboe part. What's up with that?
I have a general interest in music that pushes the extremes of instrumental tessitura, volume, and tempo. I think my Oboe Quartet displays those characteristics in all of the instruments to some extent, but the oboe received the brunt of the "abuse" with the many high As and other exposed stratospheric notes. There's a certain kind of expression in the harshness of the tone when the instrument is strained that I find oddly appealing. I do understand that this sort of music puts a lot of pressure on the musicians playing the parts, but the best performers, like those in Ensemble ACJW, always seem to find a way to overcome the difficulty and create what is for me a thrilling sound.
Do you have a favorite piece that you've written? Why or why not?
I don't think I have a favorite. I sometimes find it difficult to listen to my past pieces, because I hear so many sounds I wrote in them that make me cringe now. My hope is to have fewer of those "compositional-cringe" experiences in each new piece that I write. The works that make me feel the most satisfied when I look back are those in which I feel like I accomplished, at least to some significant extent, what I set out to do when I began composing the work.
What's your favorite thing to do when you visit New York?
I love to walk around the streets and visit places I used to frequent when I lived there. For instance, when I was last in New York for the Ensemble ACJW rehearsals in October, I went to SoHo to explore the area in which I worked for a summer during my undergraduate years. It was fascinating to see how much changed in such a short amount of time.
Where could your fans find you on a typical Friday night?
I'm not aware of many fans, but if someone is looking for me (hopefully for all good reasons), my apartment, even on Friday night, might be a good place to start. I often get my best work done on weekends. Additionally, now that I live in LA, I try to attend various concerts in the immediate area. It's astonishing to me how many talented performers of all types of music are living and working in this city. It's very exciting and inspiring for me to see and hear it live.
What's next for Ryan Gallagher?
I'm currently studying the electric guitar at the Los Angeles Music Academy, thereby fulfilling a longtime desire and honoring "the road not taken" at an earlier time in my life. It's possible that the experience might overtly influence my future compositions, but even if that doesn't happen, I'm having a lot of fun (and sometimes getting very frustrated) trying to play the instrument!