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Mainly Mozart commissions Edric Saphire to write a work honoring Mozart

I doubt Mozart himself would have thought of this.

Edric Saphire (center) accepts stand-up ovation for his composition.
Edric Saphire (center) accepts stand-up ovation for his composition.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Edric Saphire? The kid is 17, a high school senior, and the Mainly Mozart organization commissioned him to write a work honoring Mozart. Tonight, he’s here at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla for the world premiere of the fruit of his labors: his Bassoon Sextet in B-Flat Major.

This young man is riding two horses: expectations are that the piece will echo the Mozart sound (he has a lot of material from which to get ideas: Mozart wrote about 600 works) but also represent his own generation, and maybe show that Mozartian art is still going to be cool in the electronic/AI age. Right now, he’s up onstage, being questioned by Anne-Marie McDermott, who’s a famous pianist in her own right. She starts with the obvious. “When did you start composing?”

Saphire: “I began composing at the age of 9.”

McDermott: “A little later than Mozart, then.”

A lot of laughs. Amadeus famously started at five. Also, if Marshall McLuhan (“the medium is the message”) is right, Edric is bound to be different in another way, because he did his composing electronically. “What’s unique about the app is it contains both the scrolling score and the classical recording alongside it,” he explains. “As I listened more and more, I began to appreciate the complexity of music, which inspired me to compose my own music. Plus, I’ve been playing the trombone for seven years.”

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His arrival here tonight was, it seems, just in the stars. His bassoon-playing dad discovered Edric had perfect pitch, his jazz-composing uncle helped him learn counterpoint, and he got a lot of inspiration from listening to Mahler. (It sounds as if he likes Mahler better than, ahem, Mozart himself.) He talks about ideas he got from other composers, like introducing a sudden forte, or a shift to a minor key. Yet when the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra performs the world premiere of his 11-minute piece, it sometimes sounds surprisingly traditional, puritanical. It does indeed sound like Mozart — as interpreted by a visiting Martian from the future. Which doesn’t mean it’s not pulsing with heart. But the element that leaps out is his choice of bassoon as the fox in the chicken coop of surrounding strings. Its lower notes are so-oo satisfying; its clarity defines the melody. I doubt Mozart himself would have thought of this.

“This is a first,” confirms McDermott. “Edric has written the first such piece to feature a bassoon.”

And, electronic assist notwithstanding, the work was no walk in the park. “I just didn’t know how to operate the software. It took me four weeks, for the intense writing phase. Writing the cadenza was the hardest part.” Cadenza: “Improvised, ornamental passage, often allowing virtuosic display.” — Wikipedia. “But I have been considering writing a third movement, a scherzo.” Scherzo: “‘Joke’ in Italian, a light-hearted, short composition, or interlude.”

Later, when he is at a reception, surrounded by fans with wondering eyes (and, you know, raging thoughts: “What have I done with my life?”), I sidle up with a few more queries. For instance, is it very different writing music using software rather than the way Mozart would have done it, that is, scrawled-down notes and lines with pen and ink?

“Pen and ink? Actually, I have never tried writing music using pen and ink.”

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Edric Saphire (center) accepts stand-up ovation for his composition.
Edric Saphire (center) accepts stand-up ovation for his composition.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Edric Saphire? The kid is 17, a high school senior, and the Mainly Mozart organization commissioned him to write a work honoring Mozart. Tonight, he’s here at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla for the world premiere of the fruit of his labors: his Bassoon Sextet in B-Flat Major.

This young man is riding two horses: expectations are that the piece will echo the Mozart sound (he has a lot of material from which to get ideas: Mozart wrote about 600 works) but also represent his own generation, and maybe show that Mozartian art is still going to be cool in the electronic/AI age. Right now, he’s up onstage, being questioned by Anne-Marie McDermott, who’s a famous pianist in her own right. She starts with the obvious. “When did you start composing?”

Saphire: “I began composing at the age of 9.”

McDermott: “A little later than Mozart, then.”

A lot of laughs. Amadeus famously started at five. Also, if Marshall McLuhan (“the medium is the message”) is right, Edric is bound to be different in another way, because he did his composing electronically. “What’s unique about the app is it contains both the scrolling score and the classical recording alongside it,” he explains. “As I listened more and more, I began to appreciate the complexity of music, which inspired me to compose my own music. Plus, I’ve been playing the trombone for seven years.”

Sponsored
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His arrival here tonight was, it seems, just in the stars. His bassoon-playing dad discovered Edric had perfect pitch, his jazz-composing uncle helped him learn counterpoint, and he got a lot of inspiration from listening to Mahler. (It sounds as if he likes Mahler better than, ahem, Mozart himself.) He talks about ideas he got from other composers, like introducing a sudden forte, or a shift to a minor key. Yet when the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra performs the world premiere of his 11-minute piece, it sometimes sounds surprisingly traditional, puritanical. It does indeed sound like Mozart — as interpreted by a visiting Martian from the future. Which doesn’t mean it’s not pulsing with heart. But the element that leaps out is his choice of bassoon as the fox in the chicken coop of surrounding strings. Its lower notes are so-oo satisfying; its clarity defines the melody. I doubt Mozart himself would have thought of this.

“This is a first,” confirms McDermott. “Edric has written the first such piece to feature a bassoon.”

And, electronic assist notwithstanding, the work was no walk in the park. “I just didn’t know how to operate the software. It took me four weeks, for the intense writing phase. Writing the cadenza was the hardest part.” Cadenza: “Improvised, ornamental passage, often allowing virtuosic display.” — Wikipedia. “But I have been considering writing a third movement, a scherzo.” Scherzo: “‘Joke’ in Italian, a light-hearted, short composition, or interlude.”

Later, when he is at a reception, surrounded by fans with wondering eyes (and, you know, raging thoughts: “What have I done with my life?”), I sidle up with a few more queries. For instance, is it very different writing music using software rather than the way Mozart would have done it, that is, scrawled-down notes and lines with pen and ink?

“Pen and ink? Actually, I have never tried writing music using pen and ink.”

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