In The Sword in the Stone, a concerto for English horn and orchestra, composer Stefan Cwik uses the solo instrument as the “voice” of Merlyn the wizard, leading the way for magical adventures with talking animals and daring knights as he educates the future King Arthur in this famous story.
“The first thing I thought of with ‘The Sword in the Stone’ is that it has to be light, because the English horn is not a loud instrument,” he said, describing Merlyn’s voice as “low and lyrical, can be seductive, but is not shimmery or pretty.”
The challenge, he said, was for the English horn and the orchestra to “have a conversation without the soloist being drowned out.”
Cwik, 29, is no stranger to Symphony Parnassus, which has premiered his Concert Dances for Orchestra, as well as his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. He has a degree in composition from San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in composition from the Juilliard School in New York, where he won the Juilliard Orchestral Competition for two consecutive years.
Originally from Chicago, Stefan came to San Francisco to study guitar performance at the conservatory, but found his true calling when he switched to composition. He cites influences such as Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. He also likes a lot of American folk music, which finds its way into his compositions.
Though other members of his family played instruments, he is the first to have pursued a musical career. The son of a lawyer (his father), and a retired judge (his mother), Stefan said he feels fortunate that his parents valued education and encouraged his interest in music. He studied trumpet and guitar growing up. “I am lucky,” he said. “I got the extra push to do it, but no one ever had to make me practice. I always wanted to do it.”