Composer Jordan Kuspa explains his piece Flybys

Composer Jordan Kuspa

On our season opening concert, we’ll be featuring a piece called Flybys by composer Jordan Kuspa. We asked Jordan to tell us a bit about his piece and how it came about. Check it out!

How did this piece come about? What does the title Flybys refer to?

Flybys was commissioned by the United States Air Force Heritage of America Band, and their director, Rafael Toro-Quiñones. The commission actually came to me when a colleague of mine at Yale, Kathryn Salfelder, suggested to Mr. Toro-Quiñones that I would be a good composer for them to work with.

When I was asked to write for the Air Force musicians, I thought back to the history of the Armed Forces as major supporters of new music. Many preeminent composers have been called upon to write works that could show the high level of American music-making and give the public a sense of cultural pride.

One such composer was Samuel Barber, whose Second Symphony was commissioned by the Air Force. Flybys begins with a gesture that is a direct tribute to Barber’s work, and to the legacy of the Armed Forces as supporters of the best in American music.

Is this a typical piece for you, or is it unusual in certain respects?

In some ways, Flybys is similar to some of my other pieces. I have written a handful of short chamber pieces for a wide variety of ensembles, most of which feature the sort of driving rhythms and energy that characterize Flybys.

But it’s also a unique piece for me. There aren’t many pieces for wind sextet (quintets are much more common), and I enjoyed the addition of the bass clarinet into the ensemble. I think it gives the group a richer and more balanced sound.

What are one or two key things that audiences should listen for in this piece?

[Editor’s note: you can hear a previous performance of Flybys at this link.]

First, the opening motive, which is a direct reference to Barber’s little-known Second Symphony. It comes back throughout the piece as a sort of marker, helping to guide you through the musical form. It also transforms into the dancing syncopated theme that first shows up in the oboe and clarinet.

Another musical element I was playing with is the idea of grouping different numbers of notes in patterns. For example, you might hear one instrument playing the same three fast notes again and again, while another instrument is doing a repeating pattern of five fast notes against that. Since those patterns don’t align right away, it creates a sort of rhythmic instability which approximates some of that wooziness you might feel going through some air turbulence.

Describe what your daily compositional routine was like when you were working on Flybys.

Honestly, I can’t remember! I tend to be a late-night composer. A lot of my best work is done between midnight and 4 or 5 am, when everything is completely quiet. That being said, sometimes I like to go to a bustling place and compose in the midst of the hubbub. As long as there isn’t other music playing, I can usually get good writing done.

When you’re not composing, what non-musical hobbies or interests do you have?

I’m a big lover of the visual arts and I love going to museums. I also am interested in just about anything having to do with the natural world. BBC Earth documentaries are my go-to choice on Netflix. I also am a pretty serious mineral collector. I have crystal specimens and fossils from all over the world, and I’ve been collecting almost as long as I’ve been playing music. If anyone wants to see some of my favorite pieces, they can see them on Instagram.

If you had to choose just one, what is the piece of yours that you think everyone should listen to and why?

It’s hard to choose just one! That’s like choosing between my babies! I think one of my most fun pieces is for orchestra, and is called Lemonade Battery. It starts with a groovy marimba solo, builds to a John Williams-like climax, and generally has a lot of color and energy. For someone who wants to have a longer introduction to my music, maybe start with my recent Violin Concerto, which was written for the excellent soloist Chloé Trevor. Links to both of those pieces are below.