My time with Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music
Dani Howard
Composer / Collaborator
19th October 2016
My time with Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

It is thanks to the generous support of Help Musicians UK that I was able to attend the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, California this summer. Incredible doesn’t even begin to describe my experience over there! It was a particularly special year for the festival as it was the 25th and final year with Marin Alsop as Music Director. It was therefore filled with heart-felt goodbyes, a hugely supportive and engaged audience, and of course a programme filled with new commissions featuring works by the 11 composers-in-residence. One of these included a world premiere of ‘Lola Montez does the Spider Dance’ by John Adams which was commissioned for Marin by the Festival Orchestra. 

Dani Howard 1The composition fellows were commissioned to compose a work for orchestra, to be rehearsed and performed at the festival. I composed a 6 minute work ‘Haven’ which is inspired by living in a busy city, and finding comfort among the chaos (something we all have to do in London!). We gained valuable feedback on our pieces from composers’ in residence Kevin Putts and Anna Clyne, with whom we had one-on-one sessions with. Haven was work-shopped and performed, and I have never seen an orchestra so incredibly proficient and prepared for a first rehearsal. Every musician knew their part inside-out, which is a huge treat for any composer! On top on this, the players had an amazing attitude towards new music, and were incredibly helpful in their comments and feedback of our pieces.

On top of these rehearsals and concerts, we attended sessions with a number of people involved in the organisation. This included Maestra Marin Alsop; who discussed the importance of fundraising, and gave detailed advice for conductors and composers including composer etiquette, and how the dynamics between composer/conductor/orchestra should or can be in various contexts. Additionally we met a representative from Boosey and Hawkes, the executive director of the festival, all of the conducting fellows, and of course I personally learned a huge amount from the other composition fellows Viet Cuong and Michael Schachter.

A particular highlight for me was working with the orchestral librarian of the festival, who explained in great detail a number of aspects of publishing that I was unclear about. This ranged from specific paper types/textures/tapes/binding tricks, the systems you must put in place when selling or renting music, logging of orchestral parts and efficient ways to monitor corrections during rehearsal periods. These sessions really offered a range of skills required to create a career as a composer, that is beyond the creative practice of writing music.

I highly encourage any composer in the UK to seek out the opportunities that the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary music has to offer, and I am so grateful to Help Musicians UK for their support, allowing me to attend this festival - thank you!

Photo credit R.R. Jones.