John Orfe

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Performed by the Ohio University New Music Ensemble

Oyster was commissioned by the School of Music and School of Dance at Ohio University with funds from Arts for Ohio. It received its premiere in June, 2008; John Climer conducted the OU New Music Ensemble, and Ruben Graciani choreographed the dancers. When discussing dramatic scenarios with John and Ruben, their suggestions were optimistic in nature. One idea came from an NPR segment in which someone suggested that happiness is perhaps most fully appreciated in the context of remembered bitterness. This notion led me to consider the creation of pearls—how a speck of dirt, followed by layers upon layers of mucus, eventually results in something of great beauty and value. In the piece, a series of variants (not precisely variations) have at their thematic center a piano solo—the kernel/speck/bitter pill that the other variants surround in successively optimistic layers. The title is a salute to the crusty crustacean that accomplishes the task.

In the excerpt, we hear the last two-thirds of the final variant, in which percussive punctuations, a garrulous bass line, lyric wind lines and soaring strings all propel the piece to its exultant ending.

Chamber Symphony

Performed by Alarm Will Sound, conducted by Alan Pierson

In two parts (as opposed to movements) and totaling twenty minutes, Chamber Symphony began as an abstract expressionist work.  It opens with a bold chorale whose harmonic language might be described as a type of post-Wagnerian chromaticism.  This is quickly torn asunder into a tonal null-space, out of which an adventurous whirlwind of energy picks up the narrative thread. Out of these three textures come the drama and architecture of the work. Its personal nature and heft led to its symphonic appellation.  By work's end I came to realize that nothing is ever truly abstract.

The excerpt starts in medias res from the allegro of Part One through its apotheosis.  Wind and brass instruments bring back the opening chorale line, which moves towards three climatic chords. Part Two then begins with an extended English horn solo.

Chamber Symphony was co-commissioned by Alarm Will Sound and Ludovico with generous assistance from the Jebediah Foundation for New Music Commissions; it received its premiere in March, 2008 by Alarm Will Sound under Alan Pierson at the Kitchen, New York City.

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Comments [10]

Melinda from Jersey City, NJ

I first heard John's work when he was a composition fellow at Tanglewood many years ago. I continue to be impressed by his work, as well as his musicianship, and would greatly look forward to hearing what he would write for the Orpheus Project 440!

Jul. 22 2010 02:00 PM
Carl S. from Bloomington, IL

Very intense stuff -- convincingly continues the classical tradition -- the kind of musical experience which demands to be heard in concert, performed by Orpheus-caliber musicians --

Jul. 14 2010 05:02 PM
Tim Sawyer from Minneapolis, MN

I recently commissioned John to write a new piece entitled "O Crux" for a cappella choir and solo trombone. Not only was it impeccably well-crafted, but quite moving and deeply spiritual; an amazing piece, and I have no doubt it will have a long life of its own. I would love to hear what John would write for a group like Orpheus!

Jul. 06 2010 12:01 PM

John Orfe has written compelling works--a flute sonata and the Chamber Symphony among them--and I'd love to hear the piece that he would compose for Orpheus.

Jul. 05 2010 07:53 AM
Steve from Illinois

John has already gotten a lot of positive attention as a composer and pianist, and this is just the start. His Chamber Symphony is an amazing piece in its own right and will one day be regarded as a portent of his great works. I can't wait to hear the great piece he will write for Orpheus.

Jul. 02 2010 10:39 PM
Todd from Peoria, IL

John is an outstanding composer and musician!

Jul. 02 2010 09:45 PM
Frank from Mystic, CT

I really enjoyed this piece and look forward to what he would come up with for Orpheus as well!

Jul. 01 2010 02:08 PM

Woo doggie, this here's a wild one!

Jun. 30 2010 10:51 AM
Kathy from Berlin, Germany

Nothing new. Skillful, but not interesting.

Jun. 25 2010 05:29 PM
Lainie from NYC

I'd be so excited to hear what John would write for Orpheus!

Jun. 24 2010 03:36 PM

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