Here’s today’s musical puzzler.
You’re the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and you want to commission a piece that is: (a) relevant to the community; (b) appropriate for an orchestra composed of community musicians; and (c) enjoyable for the audience.
Who you gonna call?
What composer on earth can possibly fulfill all three conditions?
The answer is Conrad Pope, for three decades one of the most successful composers, orchestrators, arrangers, and conductors of film music in Hollywood and a longtime friend of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra conductor Cynthia Woods.
The piece: The Little Match Girl, presents a narrative about homelessness, which affects hundreds of people in the very same communities in which the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s members live and perform.
Pope has composed for films such as My Life With Marilyn, Tim Vermeer and The Boss Baby as well as orchestrating and conducting the Star Wars and The Hobbit films.
Initially, Pope searched for a film version of The Little Match Girl to which he could compose new music, but he couldn’t find anything that really worked.
In addition, the demands of composing to a pre-existent film are extremely intense and limit the freedom of the composer.
“Instead,” Pope says, “I composed a tone poem with several scenes—she’s trekking through the snowstorm. She reaches the town center. She tries to sell matches. There’s a snowball fight. And ultimately, she ascends into Heaven.”
Pope says he did not seek to paint the scenes in music.
“I tried to capture more of the emotions of the moments,” he says. “Audiences will be able to follow her journey as they listen to the music.”
It wasn’t long ago that seeing the words “World Premiere” on a concert program struck if not fear, at least dismay into the hearts of concert goers.
The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra wants the words “World Premiere” to excite audiences instead of alienating them. Pope’s accessible musical style prioritizes the audience’s experience.
“I wanted to have a piece that was relevant to our audience,” Conductor Woods says. “It also had to be a piece that my players didn’t hate to play, because sometimes new music is not a rewarding experience for the musicians”.
“So we wanted a piece that was really rewarding for everybody, that also engaged and challenged both the performers and the audiences, and felt really good.
“Pope came to mind as someone who is not only a brilliant composer, but someone who, because of his background composing for the movies, has the ability to keep the needs of the audience in mind.
“It turns out that he was the perfect choice. We think the world premiere of The Little Match Girl is going to be a great experience for everyone in the hall—those on stage and those in the audience.”
The Little Match Girl by Conrad Pope, World Premiere, Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, Kresge Auditorium, June 17. For further information, cambridgesymphony.org.