Jeff Scott (Photo courtesy of Portland Youth Philharmonic)
At the Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) orchestra’s rehearsal on February 6, composer Jeff Scott observed and coached the ensemble as they prepared for the world premiere of his new piece, commissioned by PYP in 2021.
“I create works that I call "Urban Classical Music, ”Scott said of his compositions. “It's rooted in European traditions and informed by my African American culture. It is also unapologetically influenced by the cultural experiences of my diverse, urban environment upbringing. My mission is to broaden the scope of American music theory and composition, with the intention of introducing performers, teachers, students and audiences to the richness and value of our very own, American music.”
The 100 young musicians of the orchestra weren’t just passively coached by Scott–they were active participants in the creative process.
PYP musicians were invited to send suggestions to Scott about what melodies they like, what inspires them, and what gets them excited about performing. Scott said they wanted him to incorporate influences from Bach, from Fantasia, even from Spider Man, and so this piece really reflects a marriage of current popular music and classical themes.
In an interview with PYP’s Musical Director David Hattner, Scott shared, “I always wanted to have more autonomy in music. I grew up listening to blues, jazz, soul, gospel, and I always told my mother that I was going to be the Michael Jackson of French horn because it was the music that I loved,” Scott laughed.
“As much as I loved classical music and the study of it, when it came to playing in band and youth symphony, the music that I loved never reached that stage. I always wanted more freedom to sing the soundtrack of my life. So, I thought about that when I was asked by David to write this piece – that I wanted to give the kids some autonomy.”
In honor of that, Scott has also tasked the PYP musicians with naming his composition, based on their experience while playing the music.
He commented, “The teamwork in this – that we see eye to eye on literally every note, every phrase, every intent of this – is a dream come true for me.” Recently named by the PYP musicians on Monday, February 13, the title of Scott’s piece is The Journey.
Many in the music world may know Scott as a French hornist. He is the Associate Professor of Horn at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, former hornist of the Imani Winds, formerly a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem orchestras and has performed numerous times with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis.
But Scott is also well-known as a master composer and has been commissioned by top tier musical organizations around the US, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Music Kitchen – Food for the Soul (a project of violinist Kelly Hall-Tomkins), the US Air Force Band, Akropolis Reed Quintet, Atlantic Brass Quintet, and PYP.
PYP’s first commission by Scott, Circle Dance, was premiered virtually in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. A recording can be found on PYP’s YouTube channel.
Jeff Scott’s new work is quite different from PYP’s first commission, namely in that it’s scored for full symphony orchestra, has multiple movements, and is about 20 minutes long.
He describes the opening of the piece as being big, horrific, and majestic, like that of an epic horror or drama. Then, he says it immediately empties into a “sarcastic, almost sardonic, real thumb in the eye sort of melody.”
In the second movement, audiences will hear a serenade with a soulful blues influence. When the piece comes to its final movement, we hear what Scott says is “modern video game music,” and then there is a “complete departure to have a blues session.”
“The piece has this heroic opening and then everything stops and all the sudden you’re in Harlem in 1940, listening to the blues and then you go back, and it was purposely done that way,” exclaimed Scott.
“When I was young. I was known to have a mixtape that would play side by side a Mozart horn concerto and Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang while I was just walking down the block and I couldn’t care less what people thought about me. And that was the way I thought about music – I loved it all! And so, I purposefully did this piece like that – sort of a mishmash of all the things that I love because I wanted that same autonomy when I was coming up.”
Scott hopes the young musicians of PYP and others will be inspired to learn more, listen more, and absorb more, to help “widen the expectation for what a life in music can be.”
The world premiere of Jeff Scott’s The Journey, will take place on March 4 at 7:30 PM at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This piece will be performed alongside two lesser-known works: The USA premiere of Symphony No. 3 by Ruth Gipps, one of England’s greatest, and little-known in the US, symphonic composers, and Frank Proto’s A Carmen Fantasy introducing PYP’s 2022 Concerto Competition Winner Maggie Carter, double bassist.
PYP offers both in-person and livestream concert experiences. In-person tickets start at $20 with student and senior discounts available. Arts for All cards are also accepted! More information about Jeff Scott, the concert program, the orchestra, tickets, and more can be found at: https://portlandyouthphil.org/concerts-tickets/