Dr. John Orfe takes the prize

DeWayne Bartels

On Jan. 15, the Pacific Chorale in Santa Ana, Calif. announced Metamora resident Dr. John Orfe was a winner in their 2012 Young Composers Competition.

Orfe’s “Fire!” based on poetry by Langston will receive its world premiere this spring, performed by the 24-voice John Alexander Singers under the direction of John Alexander. Orfe will receive an honorarium of $1,500 and have the opportunity to attend the premiere performance on March 11 in Meng Concert Hall at California State University, Fullerton.

Orfe, who will say only that he is in his 30s, is a temporary assistant professor of music at Bradley University.

He is an accomplished musician and composer. His resume of works fills a great deal of space. An abbreviated list of his accomplishments includes: commissions for Duo Montagnard, Dez Cordas, Alarm Will Sound, the NOVUS Trombone Quartet, the Two Rivers Chorale and the Northwestern College Choir, Ludovico, the Music Institute of Chicago, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, the Diocese of Peoria, the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Lila Muni Gamelan Ensemble.

He is a winner of a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, a Tanglewood Fellowship, the William Schuman and Boudleaux Bryant Prizes from BMI, and eleven Standard Awards and the Morton Gould Award from ASCAP. His works for solo, chamber, choral and orchestral ensembles have been performed in Russia, Denmark, Canada, Germany, the Baltics, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Thailand, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and throughout the U.S., earning praise from The New York Times, LAWeekly, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Die Welt, and Hamburger Abendblatt. He is a winner of a 2008 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was awarded the DMA by the Yale School of Music in Feb. 2009.

On the composition  “Fire!” Orfe said to PR News, “Langston Hughes’ poem, written in vernacular idioms, leapt off the page when I first read it. Inspired by the Last Judgment in the Book of Revelation, where every thought, word, and deed will be given its ultimate reward, the poem deals with themes of justice, mercy, guilt, hope, fairness, and accountability. In setting this poem I decided to engage and pay tribute to the rich traditions of African-American spirituals and choral singing.”

Orfe sat down for an interview with the Woodford Times to speak about music.

Q. How long have you been interested in music?

A. “It was an early passion in my life. It’s still my first love.”

Q. Do you play any instrument other than the piano?

A. “No, but I can write for any instrument.”

Q. Is playing or composing more satisfying?

A. “I don’t think it’s an either or. One teaches me about the other.”

Q. How many pieces have you composed?

A. “I’ve composed more than 100 pieces. They range from short pieces to half-hour pieces. It’s not a regular output. Often it’s far and few between and other times it’s big output.”

Q. When did you start composing?

A. “I was very young. It was an individual streak in me. I didn’t come from a musical family.”

Q. What lead you to start composing?

A. “I couldn’t say. I don’t think about my early years in music. I’m in the present. Sounds and music are an undiminished source of fascination for me.”

Q. How does the process of composing work for you — do you hear it in your head first?

A. “That’s a tricky question. Sometimes the artistic process is seeing things fuzzy and making them clear. It’s not always fun. It’s work. It’s about being an editor. I have a revisionist nature.”

Q.  This is a very creative endeavor. How do you define creativity?

A. “It involves breaking things down and re-building them. I find that process fascinating. Sometimes, though, it seems so daunting. There are so many choices. I am also receptive to accident.”

Q. What’s your personal payoff for creating an original piece of music?

A. Strangely, I haven’t thought about that question. I guess the funny thing is if you are immersed in the creative process it’s about the book, the story or the piece of music. Learning and discovering something new is always satisfying.”

Q. When you compose are you writing for the audience or yourself?

A. Sometimes it’s for the person performing it. I do write for myself. There are pieces I want to write I have not done yet.”