Composer Joseph Colombo on Green Day, New Opera, and his Favorite Composers

Composer Joseph Colombo

Composer Joseph Colombo, featured on Elevate’s Sep 18, 2015 concert

Leading up to our season opener this Friday, we’re interviewing composer Joseph Colombo, whose piece B:R:X was commissioned by Elevate and will be featured on the concert. Get your tickets today!

When did music become an important part of your life?

Growing up, my father had a ¾ size acoustic guitar sitting around the house. In middle school, the son of a close family friend was already playing guitar. I knew that I also wanted to learn, so I asked him teach me the instrument. He played left-handed, which was perfect for a right-handed guitarist like me, as sitting across from him was like watching a mirror image. I had him teach me how to play Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” and that experience sparked a passion for music that has yet to stop.

When did you begin composing music?

I began composing in high school. I attended the Interlochen Arts Camp for composition, and even won a few competitions. One competition resulted in the Orlando Philharmonic performing one of my orchestral works. It was clear to me in these high school years that a career in composition was the right choice for me.

What do you enjoy about the San Francisco music scene?

There is so much going on in San Francisco’s music scene! I’ve been fortunate enough to participate and collaborate with so many wonderful organizations. I recently helped found Prodigal Opera Productions and have participated in several Guerrilla Composers Guild projects. It has also been amazing to witness the rise of the Center for New Music here in SF. As a composer, I’ve worked with many groups including Friction Quartet, Mobius Trio, Areon Flutes, and now, very thankfully, Elevate Ensemble.

Can you share the name of a composer who has had a profound influence on your music?

The composer that comes directly to my mind is Iannis Xenakis. I remember, so clearly, the first time that I heard Xenakis. It was in my composition seminar class in undergrad. The professor was playing a game where he would put on a piece of music without revealing the composer’s name and have us write about what we were hearing. One of the tracks was Eonta by Xenakis. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ve been a huge Xenakis fan ever since. When you asked me to write a piece on the theme of homage, I knew that it would involve Xenakis.

We are premiering your work B:R:X on September 18th. Can you share some insight into this composition?

The title B:R:X comes from the first letters of three hugely influential composers: Ludwig van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, and Iannis Xenakis. My composition is pretty much focused on a piece that Xenakis wrote as an homage to Ravel, called a.r. Knowing the fantastic players in Elevate that would be premiering my piece, I decided to write a trio for piccolo, oboe, and contraforte (a modernized contrabassoon). The piccolo and contraforte represent the extreme range of the orchestra. It was Beethoven that brought massive registral stretching into the orchestral realm, so my choice of instrumentation is what pays respect to Beethoven. I am truly excited to hear Elevate premiere B:R:X at the show!

Come hear Joseph’s piece this Friday, or get season tickets and attend all our shows!