This weekend the La Jolla Symphony will present its latest concert, Stravinsky Circus. Opening night, there will be one member of the orchestra listening especially close to the opening piece: Igor Korneitchouk, the Encinitas composer whose work Tintinnabulation will premiere Saturday night.
Korneitchouk will be seated just on stage, as he is also a violinist performing in the concert that evening. “I still don’t think we’ve figured out how I’m going to stand up and take my bow because I’ll be sitting in the middle of the symphony,” he jokes, adding that this will be the first time he’s had the distinct experience of hearing his work debut as part of a concert that he is also performing in.
Tintinnabulation is described as a percussion concerto and was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells. Here, Korneitchouk takes a moment to talk with Patch about what else inspires his work, and how it all began.
Patch: How did music enter your life?
Igor Korneitchouk: My father always played classical music in our home, so I learned to love it. I started playing the violin in fourth grade, and by high school I was writing music and I couldn’t get enough of listening to music—I ate it up voraciously. I entered college as a double major in music and chemistry, at my parents’ urging. But after a couple years of that, I decided to do what I wanted, so I dedicated myself entirely to music. I earned my master's from the Cleveland Institute of Music, not far from where I grew up, and ultimately got my PhD in composition from UCSD.
Patch: What inspires you to write music?
Korneitchouk: I’m a filter for what I like, and I like variety. I like everything from new music by John Cage to heavily vetted romantic composers from the early 20th Century. What I listen to becomes part of my musical DNA, but I try to never take anything from another artist. I add my own view of life, whatever it may be at the moment.
Patch: Can you give an example?
Korneitchouk: I wrote one piece based on an experience I had when I was called to serve for jury duty. During the interview, they were asking me a series of questions. It’s not easy for me to give one-word answers, so I was disqualified because my answers were too detailed. Bizarrely enough that inspired a piece of music. It’s called ÓThe Disqualification of Harry Semantix as Trial Juror for East County Ó.
Patch: How long does it typically take you to write a piece of music?
Korneitchouk: It depends on the piece. When I wrote ÓPhoenix, Triptych for Piano Ó it took me three years to complete the first movement. But other times, it may take me a matter of days to complete a work because it just fits.
Patch: You’ve been professionally writing music since 1975. How has advancing technology impacted your craft?
Korneitchouk: When I was switching to computers in the early 80s I found that they worked well for everything but composing. I was stuck between two worlds. Now I’m able to use the computer to do things like mix timbres, but I am trained to write at the piano and sometimes I will still do that do get a better sense of a sound.
Patch: You must have a impressive collection on your iPod.
Korneitchouk: I’ve got about three days worth of music. I have an obsessive system for listening to everything.
Patch: Do you listen to your own songs?
Korneitchouk: I do. It allows me to rediscover them over time—and I may hear it and say ‘Hey, that’s not such a bad piece of music.’
Patch: You also teach young composers at San Diego Mesa College. What’s that like?
Korneitchouk: I started those classes and I’m really proud of them. I don’t know of any other community college that offers classes in music composition, and I have been doing it for 20 years. My students don’t need to know how to write it down, but they do have to bring their music to class so their peers can critique it. It’s gratifying to teach young composers. I feel I have a lot to offer.
Patch: How do you feel when your works are preformed live?
Korneitchouk: I’m usually pretty anxious. I want it to come out perfectly. A baby could cry in the audience and ruin everything—it’s like a soufflé, it could all fall apart. There’s also a good deal of responsibility also because people have spent their time and money to come hear it. But despite the anxiety, I do it fro the same reason someone would scale a mountain: It’s a rare view.
The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus’ Stravinsky Circus will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. inside the Mandeville Auditorium at UC San Diego. For more information, visit LaJollaSymphony.com.
You can find Igor Korneitchouk’s music on iTunes, Amazon and on his website, IgorKorneitchouk.com.