“Emerald Oasis,” a fanfare commissioned by the Redlands Symphony celebrate its 70th season, will be performed on Saturday, Nov. 16, at the symphony’s premiere event.
The composer’s fee for the fanfare is being underwritten by board Chairwoman Marilyn Solter and her family. Like all artists who are dedicated to their work, composer Sean Friar has his own method when approaching a new composition, as he did for “Emerald Oasis.”
“I came up with the idea on the piano,” Friar said.
“Piano is my main instrument. Often, I have some impression of maybe a mood I want to create for a piece and there’s something I like about sitting at the piano and improvising. It’s a little more direct. I go through some ideas and after a while I find something that I’m like “Yea, actually that would work really nice for orchestra. It kinda captured the vibe I was hoping for.”
After Friar’s initial work at the piano he took what recording he had of the improvisation with him on a road trip for a couple of weeks through the Southwest. “I didn’t really want to bring a bunch of music with me. “But I brought just a little notebook and I would listen to the piano improv I had done and I would think about what more could this be if I had an orchestra instead of piano.
“So I just started taking notes or basically orchestrating the piano with just words.
‘Maybe cello here’ or ‘no brass.’ So I’d have like five or 10 pages just of verbal notes sort of mapping out what I wanted to do.
The piece itself comes to listeners as if they were approaching the city from a distance.
Friar, a native of Los Angeles, describes this as a “pulsing energy” and “a little bit of a mysterious at first because you don’t quite know what you’re looking at.”
It comes on you and then moves into the middle section, which is a little slower. The more melodic section with little solos on the instruments where Friar said he was trying to capture the “beauty and sense of peace of Redlands, but with cohesiveness.”
Here he also emphasizes the harp as a major focus. “It’s perfect place for harp because when the whole orchestra is really going at it you can’t hear a lot of what harp can do. A lot of it will get lost.
“So there’s a lot of harp and woodwinds and just quiet strings way in the background — more like background textures.
“It alternates woodwinds moving in and out. For example, a oboe line that kind of morphs into a flute line.
“Then the piece picks up fast, taking it a little further and breaks through into a more celebration since this piece was intended as a celebration for the orchestra and everybody who has worked really hard to make it what it is today.”
Although Friar spends most of his time with classical compositions he is drawn to more modern music for inspiration and influence, especially the harmonies of The Beach Boys and the dynamics of modern electronic music.
“I really like Brian Wilson’s approach to harmony. His harmony in ‘Pet Sounds,’ there’s so many amazing chords and the more you look at it the more it’s really sophisticated — especially the way his base lines interact with his chords. He doesn’t write normal base lines that emphasize the root of the chord.”
That approach is reflected in “Emerald Oasis.”
“The way that I try to blend certain sounds, especially there are some textures where you might have everybody playing but I’m really specific about people having different dynamics like maybe have a woodwind and a brass chord at the center of the music and it’s pretty loud and you might have some strings really high and really quiet.
“So it’s kind of like a shadow harmony. “It’s not really equal. And it’s found in a lot of new compositions but also in electronic music, because people can control every aspect of it.”
The symphony’s first concert of the season, which also includes pieces by Beethoven and Mahler, is sponsored by Betsy and Bob Heinze of Redlands. The concert begins at 8 p.m. at Memorial Chapel at the University of Redlands.