Posts in QA
SF Symphony trombonist Timothy Higgins enjoys transition from performer to composer


with Timothy Higgins

1) What was the inspiration for Sinfonietta?  

I came up with the idea to write this piece as a challenge to myself.  Since the majority of my musical career is performing in an orchestra playing symphonies, I thought it would be a good exercise to try to write something in a symphonic form.  I chose to write for brass and percussion because that is what I am most familiar with, being a trombonist myself!  I drew inspiration from composers like Shostakovich and Bruce Broughton to come up with the harmonic and formal material of the Sinfonietta. 

2) Has this piece been publicly performed before?  

The piece has been performed twice: by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music brass ensemble and the Chicago Symphony Brass section.

3) What inspired you to become a composer after becoming a professional trombonist?  

Music performance is a very specific side of the orchestral world.  Arguably, it is the midpoint between the composer and the audience.  What the composer feels and how the audience feels listening to the composer are all that matter in the end.  Performers are just skilled translators. I chose to explore composition in order to experience another side of the music process. In doing so, it informs my views of music performance.

4) How does it feel to have your SFS colleague—Symphony Parnassus Maestro Stephen Paulson, also principal bassoon for SFS—conducting your work?  

It's a thrill to have such support from Steve Paulson.  We have a very strong community in the SFS, and I am very touched that Steve would give me the opportunity to have my music heard on his program.  

Composer Preben Antonsen premieres uplifting, orchestral hymn 'What Wondrous Love'
Preben Antonsen, composer

Preben Antonsen, composer

Composer Preben Antonsen, whose new piece “What Wondrous Love,” makes its world premiere at Symphony Parnassus’ Nov. 19 concert, graduated from Yale University in 2013, majoring in music and computer science. He has been composing since he was a small child. “Before I knew how to read music, I would make drawings on staff paper,” he said. “At 4 years old, some kids draw pictures. I would draw pictures made out of notes.”

Though he’s only 26, he has an impressive list of accomplishments:

  • Studied with composer John Adams from 2001-2009
  • San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra premiered his first orchestral work in March 2009
  • In 2008, he appeared in NPR’s program about young classical musicians, “From the Top”
  • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized him with six Morton Gould Young Composer Awards: 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010

Below are a few questions and answers with Preben (pronounced PRAY-ben):

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I was born in Seattle but since age 4, I have lived in Berkeley.  

What is your musical background / family?

I learned to read music when I had piano lessons starting at age 6. I started trying to compose even then—mostly writing down melodies my sister would play on the violin. Both of my parents are amateur musicians: My dad plays trumpet (and has played with Parnassus before), and my mom studied piano as a kid, likes to sing, and is a music lover. My sister plays the violin.

What is your life like as a working composer?

My time split between a few things. I work at a Catholic Church (St. Jerome’s in El Cerrito), and I teach piano / composition students, some of them through the John Adams Young Composer Program at the Crowden School in Berkeley. I compose as much as possible and also perform as a pianist—one concert a year for the past five years. I also write with (composer / conductor) Matthew Cmiel for the new music ensemble, After Everything. I am writing a piece for eight double-basses for a concert later in the year.

What was the inspiration for “What Wondrous Love”?

The main idea was the old Christian hymn. Samuel Barber wrote a set of variations on it, and it’s from that shape-note style of singing, unaccompanied vocal harmony. I always liked that song as a kid, and working in a church reminded me of it. I thought it would be great to do an orchestral version. That’s the arrival point.

I wanted to see about writing a piece that ended happily without feeling sentimental or shallow. It starts in a minor key with a lot of darkness, and then there is some climbing upwards, and there’s an uplifting result at the end of the short but perilous journey.

How is it to work with Symphony Parnassus?  

It’s great. It’s a rare opportunity, and I will definitely try to make the most of it and learn as much about orchestration as I can. It’s thrilling to hear something of mine played by the orchestra for the first time. It’s hard to imagine how it will really sound (played by the specified instruments). I have a clear aural image, but the way each instrument moves through the notes is really distinctive. I have to imagine that aspect of it when I am composing on the piano. 

Painter's use of light and color inspires composer Cwik's 'Luz Dorada'
Calzado 3 paintings.png

Q&A with Stefan Cwik, Symphony Parnassus composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, composer-in-residence

Stefan Cwik, Symphony Parnassus composer-in-residence, is proud to present his latest work, Luz Dorada: Music After Three Paintings by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado in a world premiere with Symphony Parnassus.

Stefan, 30, who was named composer-in-residence in 2016, has collaborated three times before with Symphony Parnassus, premiering his Concert Dances for Orchestra, Piano Concerto, and his English horn concerto, The Sword in the Stone.

He is professor of music theory and musicianship at the San Francisco Conservatory, from which he also has a bachelor’s degree in composition. He also has a master’s in composition from The Juilliard School, where he won the orchestral composition competition twice, with his works Terpsichore and The Illusionist. 

Originally from Chicago, he now resides in the Bay Area.

How did you become acquainted with Eduardo, the artist who inspired your music? What is it about his paintings that drew you in?

Finding Eduardo's paintings was a happy accident. I was browsing through abstract art on my computer. I hadn't intended to come across a living artist since I was looking through older art from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A picture of one of Eduardo's artworks made its way into my search. That led me to his website where I learned about him as an artist and as was able to explore some of his works. I was immediately drawn in by the extraordinary use of fragmentation of forms and sensitivity to color and light. Upon reading his artistic statement, I immediately connected with him as an artist, specifically this line (taken directly from his website) "In most of my paintings I represent the human form or some sort of human element and our connection to another plane of consciousness."

Was it unusual to find inspiration in paintings? Have you done this before?

I had never before used visual art as an inspiration for a piece of music. I have always loved art museums and the process of experiencing and receiving a visual work of art but had not directly used art for my music.

Which composers inspire you and why?

I tend to listen to Igor Stravinsky, Britten, Ravel, Esa Pekka Salonen, and Thomas Adès. I like them all for different reasons, but I would have to say that what links them together is their ability to draw from the music that came before them for inspiration and innovate with an enormous creative sensibility that allows them to compose in an instantly recognizable style.

How has it been to work with Symphony Parnassus this time around?

It has been great working with Symphony Parnassus. The orchestra has been picking up the music rather quickly. The music seems to sit well with all of the instruments, which has been good to experience because it shows a general improvement in my orchestral writing. It is a very playable piece.

The challenges are always the same. Generally they are specific things such as bowing and phrasing for the strings, which is something that I consider a weak point in my orchestration skills. Although it is happening much less this time around, in the past it always takes a little bit of time to communicate the affect of the music to the players if the notated music does not communicate that obviously.

Steve helps an awful lot with this because he is such a sensitive musician that he can look at the score and understand what the underlying musical intention is. It is really an honor to work with him every time I get the chance. 

Q&A with Hope Briggs, Nov. 22nd Concert Soprano Soloist
Hope Brigss,  Soprano

Hope Brigss, Soprano

Soprano Hope Briggs, a Bay Area favorite, joins Symphony Parnassus at Sunday’s (Nov. 22) concert to sing Samuel Barber’s heartfelt piece, Knoxville: Summer 1915. We wanted to learn a bit more about Hope, and chatted with her in this Q&A.


Hometown: Jersey City, N.J.

Home: My family relocated to San Francisco when I was 5. So I guess you can say that I really am a San Franciscan. 

When did you realize you wanted to be an opera singer? 

I was studying voice as a music major at CSU Fullerton. I was actually interested in musical theater, contemporary Christian music or jazz, but the emphasis of the program was classical. To my amazement, after my first semester, I was told by the voice faculty that I “had the goods for a professional career in opera," and the rest is history!

Favorite opera role and why? 

I feel a special connection with the character Aida, and my voice just seems to know where to go naturally when I am singing the role. 

What makes Knoxville a special piece for you?

Like Aida, I feel a special connection with Knoxville. I love the text, and how atmospheric it is. The orchestration, paired with the vocal line, helps to transport not only the singer, but it is my hope that the audience is also transported back a time when life was more simple. There is such humanity in the piece. It truly is one of the most beautiful works I have ever heard, let alone performed.