Composer Jordan Holloway’s New Music Celebrating Chautauqua’s 125th Anniversary

June 15, 2023

Jordan M. Holloway is the composer of 2023’s Flatiron Escapades, which celebrates the Chautauqua Association’s 125th anniversary. In this interview, Holloway discusses composition, Chautauqua Park, and the experience of giving the world premiere of a piece of his music.

Colorado Music Festival: Hello! My name’s Erica Reid, I’m with the Colorado Music Festival, and today I am talking to composer, musician, conductor Jordan Holloway. How are you doing today, Jordan?

Jordan Holloway: Doing great, Erica. Thanks so much for having me.

Festival: Thank you so much for being here. Can you just start us off, tell us a little bit about your musical background and education?

Jordan: Yeah, so I was studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder from 2017 to 2021, and I was doing a double major, so I was doing composition and viola performance. And now I’m at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh doing a master’s in composition.

Festival: Okay, wonderful. So I’m talking to you because the Festival is going to premiere your Flatiron Escapades this summer, 2023, on July 16th actually. And Flatiron Escapades was written to celebrate Chautauqua Association’s 125th anniversary, which we celebrate this year. Can you talk about the process of writing that piece and how you drew inspiration to commemorate this anniversary?

Jordan: Yeah. So while I was going to CU, I actually lived like a 10-minute walk from the Chautauqua trailhead, so I would take many walks and jogs, and hikes, and whatnot over there, and had a ton of experiences to draw from. So actually the biggest challenge of it was trying to narrow it down to make something that seemed at all coherent. But in any case, yeah, it was mainly just a process of going through all of the memories that I have of that place and all the things that I love about it, and trying to figure out how to translate that into music.

Festival: Is there a lot of nature then? It’s sort of the natural splendor of the Chautauqua Park area, that’s in the piece?

Jordan: Absolutely. As well as… I would bring my earbuds with me to my various excursions and whatnot, and would have music that I’d be listening to throughout all of those. And then part of the piece is trying to, I don’t know, pay respect to the music that I took with me there as well. There’s not explicit quoting or anything like that, but there are little tiny references to music that I have enjoyed there too.

Festival: Yeah, an attempt to capture a feeling you had while you were there.

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely.

Festival: So Flatiron Escapades will receive its premiere on the same night that we have two other world premieres. We have Adolphus Hailstork’s JFK: The Last Speech, which is a symphony, and then we have a work by Carter Pann, Dreams I Must Never Speak. How does it feel to be on a program that features entirely brand new music?

Jordan: It’s amazing, and particularly these two composers. It really feels unreal. I have a deep love for both Hailstork and Carter Pann’s music, so this is really an unbelievable honor.

Festival: Did you study with Carter Pann? Do I have that right?

Jordan: I did. Yeah, that’s right.

Festival: Well, that’s got to be special for you guys, to both have pieces coming out on that program.

Jordan: Absolutely. Yeah, I can’t describe it.

Festival: So I know that it is not your first time hearing a composition of yours performed by an ensemble, but can you describe a little bit how it feels to hear the music that you’ve written performed by a full symphony [orchestra]?

Jordan: Yeah, this is one of my first times having my music done by a full orchestra, so the newness of it, or the novelty of it, is still very much there. But yeah, the computer gives you one version of your music, but then to hear it made by actual musicians it just totally changes everything and it’s incredibly rewarding.

Festival: Can you tell us, because I don’t know that everybody watching this will know this, what is the process for you to hear your own music before you get to hear it by a full orchestra? What are the stages of you getting to hear that, if that question makes any sense?

Jordan: Yeah. No, absolutely. I would say there are a couple different ways, one of which is playing it yourself on the piano or whatever instrument you have available to you. Obviously for an orchestra piece that doesn’t quite translate, so you have a limited scope of your understanding of what it’s going to sound like. But then you also… Most composers these days are putting their music into the computer, into their notation software, and all of the big notation software have a computerized version of it that it’ll play back to you. But there are obviously some pretty severe limitations with how realistic that could sound. So yeah, very different from the real orchestra.

Festival: And so your first opportunity to hear it in the way it was meant to be performed will be at rehearsals for this piece, is that correct?

Jordan: That’s right.

Festival: So tell me, audiences will obviously be hearing this for the first time. A lot of times when we play like a Mahler piece or something, people are familiar with it, they’ve had a chance to study it or hear it before. Not the case with this program, this will all be something that everyone is hearing for the first time together, more or less. What is something that an audience might listen for or expect to hear? You mentioned the natural world and your influence from Chautauqua Park, but what is something that an audience might listen for or hear in the piece when they’re hearing it for that first time?

Jordan: I think to dig deeper into the nature of it all. It opens with this very severe presentation of a theme that’s all in the brass, and that’s meant to be… In the score it’s marked “Volcanic Silhouettes,” so it’s sort of the shape of the Flatirons. So there are things like that where it’s just visually I’m trying to translate that. But then I’d say most of the piece is just meant to be an enjoyable walk through the woods, I guess. I would hope that folks listening and hearing it for the first time, assuming they’ve been to Chautauqua and have experienced all it has to offer, would also be able to draw on whatever experiences they might have there.

Festival: And in my experience, even within Chautauqua Auditorium you’re hearing a lot of Chautauqua Park, because those doors are open and you’re hearing magpies, and thunderstorms, and things throughout the performance, which I also think is really special. I’m kind of hoping you get one of those moments during your performance. [laughs]

Jordan: Yeah, totally. Totally.

Festival: Does the viola play any special role in this work?

Jordan: I always try to give them something fun to do, because we have so many pieces where we are just not very involved, so I try to make it interesting. But no, there’s no particular feature or anything.

Festival: Well, thank you so much for talking to us. Is there anything else you would like to say before we close out, about Flatiron Escapades, about your time with the Festival Orchestra, or Chautauqua, or anything else before we end our interview?

Jordan: I don’t think so. I hope people enjoy it. Thanks to everyone who are making this happen.

Festival: Well, thank you. I always love when we have new music on the program because I feel it’s very democratic. Everybody’s coming at it with the same experience level, we’re all hearing it together, and I think that’s a really rare opportunity. And I’m so excited that your piece is going to be a part of that and that we can celebrate Colorado Chautauqua’s 125th anniversary in this way, so thank you so much.

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

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