Plymouth, N.H. — As the New Hampshire Music Festival (NHMF) Orchestra was performing his “Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Harp,” composer Romeo Melloni was in his usual spot for a premiere of his work — in the audience, listening, taking a few notes and waiting for the audience reaction.
“I am interested in the energy an audience provides,” he says, as he puts his nervousness aside to “listen as objectively” as he can.
Melloni’s “Sinfonia” was performed at Plymouth Sate University’s Hanaway Theater as part of the New Hampshire Music Festival’s 60th summer season. A professor of music at Plymouth State, Melloni praised the orchestra for its performance, and its conductor laureate, Paul Polivnick, for preparing the ensemble. He admits the 21-minute piece is complex and, in some places “rhythmically it is a nightmare,” and recalls the initial panic as players first read their parts earlier in the week. But Melloni also remembers Polivnick’s reaction to first seeing the work. “He (Polivnick) said ‘I love it and we’ll do it.’”
“This orchestra is amazing and they proved it with an exceptional performance of the work,” Melloni exclaims. And Polivnick, who has been with the NHMF Orchestra since 1992 and guided the orchestra in its preparations and its performance? “No one else could have done this.”
Melloni teaches music composition and theory at Plymouth. His process for writing the “Sinfonia” mirrors what he teaches his students to do as they compose, and what he teaches not to do.
“I tell students to ‘give up and abandon what you know. Enter into a territory of the unknown. The new that you find is 10 times better than what you had.’” He also tells them to avoid the use of computers in composition. “Technology gives advantages that are illusions. When things become easy, they lose depth.” In his classroom, pencils and staff paper are still the norm and corrections are encouraged.
Melloni spent three years composing the “Sinfonia,” which he describes as a “journey of different emotions.” It is a postmodern piece that is in turn classical, romantic, tonal and atonal. He started with a musical idea, and, in this case, the harp was “the very nature of that idea.”
Then, the music takes over. “I listen to what the music wants to be. The music is already written. I just rediscover it.” Melloni believes that composition is more an intuitive process than a rational process. If one composes rationally, the composer is simply doing what is expected. Composing intuitively allows the composer to “serve the music.”
“I’ve never composed rationally,” he says. “The form of the piece is the most important thing.” Besides, he adds, “the intuitive decision is beautiful. Do something new. Don’t be obvious.”
Melloni is the author of more than 65 works which have been performed by orchestras and ensembles throughout the United States and Europe. While he is an accomplished pianist, he readily admits that his instrument is the orchestra or the ensemble for which a piece is written.
And as much as he has studied and admires the great composers , Melloni believes he is now ready to develop his own style.
“Before I felt the need to compose in every style to understand” those styles and their connection to music. Many young composers, he says, make the mistake of not learning the styles and forms of the past, preferring to begin creating their own style right away. “To learn music, you need to be humble.”
A composer also has to let the performer participate in bringing a composition to life. It is common for a composer to “hear” the instruments during composition, but during a performance Melloni does not expect to hear his voice from the stage. “I want the performer to appropriate the piece.” The performer’s interpretation is a sign that the music is meaningful and speaks to others. “Music reflects a human being. Music reflects a soul.”
Now that the “Sinfonia has had its inaugural performance, Melloni says the piece is not quite finished. Based on his notes, he expects to “fix a few things then let it go for three or four years.”
“Ultimately,” he says, time is the judge of what is good.
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