Monday, July 1, 2013

5 Questions with Peter Boyer

Peter Boyer (M.M. 1993, D.M.A. 1995, Alumnus of the Year 2002) studied composition and conducting at Hartt from 1991 to 1995. He is currently living in the Los Angeles area.
What have you been up to since you graduated from Hartt?

That’s a big question. Many things! My career has been divided roughly into three areas.

First and foremost, I’ve been an orchestral composer for the concert hall, and very active in that arena. I’ve been fortunate to have over 300 performances of my works by more than 100 orchestras; several recordings on labels such as Naxos, Koch, Albany, BSO Classics, and FWSO Live; and hundreds of radio broadcasts of my music in many countries. I’ve had a pretty steady stream of orchestral commissions, starting shortly after my student days, and continuing to the present. Recent commissions have included a work for the 50th anniversary of the Eastern Music Festival from Gerard Schwarz; my Symphony No. 1 from the Pasadena Symphony; and the Boston Pops 125th anniversary commission, celebrating the legacy of the Kennedy Brothers. Keith Lockhart chose me for this project, which was narrated by actors including Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Alec Baldwin, and was recorded and televised, including on the Fourth of July for 750,000 people! My most popular work to date has been Ellis Island: The Dream of America, the premiere of which I conducted with the Hartford Symphony in 2002; it’s had nearly 150 performances, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

The second area of my career has been as an orchestrator for films and television. I’ve contributed orchestrations to more than 20 feature film scores, by some of the top Hollywood composers, including Thomas Newman, James Horner, Michael Giacchino, Alan Menken, Mark Isham, and others, for most of the major film studios. Films I’ve worked on have included Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek, Up, Mission: Impossible III, Super 8, Cars 2, and Dolphin Tale. I’ve also arranged music for the Academy Awards on a couple occasions, and have composed music for The History Channel.

The third area of my career has been teaching. I’ve been on the faculty at Claremont Graduate University, part of the Claremont Colleges (located east of Los Angeles), since 1996. I hold the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music and the rank of Full Professor there. I should also mention conducting, though that’s largely taken a back seat to my other work in recent years. I’ve conducted various orchestras, mostly in my own music, including the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Pasadena Symphony, and Richmond Symphony in concert; and the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and various studio orchestras in recording sessions.

What is your current project?

I just returned from London, where I conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios. We recorded five of my works for an upcoming release by Naxos in its American Classics series. The centerpiece of the recording was my Symphony No. 1, a 24-minute, 3-movement work dedicated to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, and premiered just recently. We also recorded my works Festivities, Silver Fanfare, Celebration Overture, and Three Olympians. The LPO are one of the world’s greatest orchestras, and I had been hoping to work with them ever since I heard them in Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The LPO and I recorded nearly an hour of my music in three sessions over a single day and evening—quite a feat, and quite a thrill! I’m really looking forward to the Naxos release in early 2014.

Who were your most important teachers during your time at Hartt, and why?

My two principal teachers at Hartt were Larry Alan Smith and Harold Farberman. I studied with them both for three years, from 1992-1995. Larry was my primary composition teacher, and Harold was my primary conducting teacher. As I was focused on both composition and conducting, it was very valuable for me that both of them were highly skilled and trained both as composers and conductors. Their personalities and approaches were quite different, and I benefited greatly from their different experiences and wisdom. I also studied with Harold during the summers of 1992-95 at the Conductors Institute (which was then at Hartt).

I should also mention some other instructors whose teaching was valuable to me in different ways: Robert Carl was my composition teacher there in my first year; I had James Sellars for 20th-century music; Steve Gryc for orchestration; Anthony Rauche for counterpoint and other subjects; and Kenneth Nott and Charles Turner for music history. They were all highly committed teachers. I learned a great deal from all of them, and look back on all of these courses with great affection. (I still have all of my class notes!)

What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned during your time at Hartt?

My four years at Hartt were a time of incredible growth for me. I had done my undergraduate work at a relatively small state college music department (Rhode Island College), which was a very fine department, but limited in its resources compared to a full-fledged conservatory like Hartt. Being surrounded by so many excellent professional musicians on Hartt’s faculty was eye-opening for me in many ways. Besides my primary work on acquiring techniques and skills as a composer and conductor, probably the most important thing for me was immersion in a huge variety of musical repertoire. My classes exposed me to so much repertoire from so many different composers, and I spent countless hours in the library exploring unfamiliar music. This practice of constantly attempting to broaden one’s horizons was invaluable then, and still is now.

What is next for you?

The most significant upcoming career milestone for me will be the Naxos release of my recording with the London Philharmonic in early 2014. I’ll be on sabbatical leave from my teaching gig for the 2013-14 year, so I’ll be focusing completely on my freelance musical work. It looks like there will be some exciting film orchestration gigs in the near future, but since they’ve not yet begun, I can’t discuss them “on the record” yet. Please stay tuned.

How can your fellow Hartt alumni get in touch with you?

My website is, and on Facebook, I have both a personal page and a “fan page” for Propulsive Music.

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