Composer Spotlight: Michael Boyman

Composer and violist Michael Boyman is a regular performer and collaborator with The Chelsea Symphony. Writing primarily orchestral and chamber music, Michael has worked with the Minnesota Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, and the brass quintet Subtle Cheetah, among others. His music is published and available through the Theodore Presser Company.

Michael’s Clarinet Concerto will be receiving its world premiere performance on Friday & Saturday, September 23rd & 24th, featuring Angela Shankar. Looking forward to the performance, we reached out to him to learn a bit more about the piece and composition process.

The Chelsea Symphony: Can you talk about the inspiration for this piece? How did this influence the musical material?
Michael Boyman: I took a break from composing early in the pandemic and instead listened to and studied a lot of music. I found myself drawn to the agitated, minor-key Sturm-und-Drang (Storm and Stress) music of Haydn and Mozart, which combines classical poise and violence of expression. It seemed appropriate to the moment and serves as the inspiration for this concerto.

It affected both the tone and structure of the piece, which is closer to a symphony than a virtuosic display piece. The solo clarinet and orchestra are equal partners in the musical argument, and all three movements are linked through shared melodic and motivic ideas.

TCS: Did the piece change from your original conception?
MB: Yes, it changed dramatically. The original idea was to write a series of character pieces for clarinet and orchestra, based on a collection of women's portraits by Picasso found in the MoMA. It would have been akin to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exposition but featuring a solo instrument.

I still like this idea, but at the time of composition, grappling with the pandemic and other difficult circumstances, it seemed to sidestep the importance and trauma of what the world was going through. I wanted to write something that grappled with the moment and this concerto is the result, a piece unapologetically tragic in tone and symphonic in scope.

TCS: What can you tell us about the collaboration process with Angela Shankar?
MB: This concerto originated with Angela, who approached me in late 2019 to write a new piece for her for the 2020-21 season. I remember her inviting me to a WeWork near Union Square to brainstorm ideas and to talk about idiomatic clarinet writing. Little did we know what was around the corner or the unusually long time between inception, composition, and the premiere performance.

Angela has been the ideal collaborator throughout that time – open, generous, and fearless. She took all my changes in conception in stride, patiently explained the intricacies of writing for the clarinet (I’m a string player and it was a steep learning curve), and never failed to remind me that wind players need to breathe. I think we’ve created a strong piece of work together, and I am very thankful for her partnership.

TCS: What does a day of composition look like for you? Do you have any rituals or processes that you like to employ?
MB: Ever since becoming a dad, a day of composition (really every day) is about survival. I used to compose in the morning and to edit or orchestrate in the evening, but that’s all out the window now. I beg, borrow, and steal whatever time I can, usually during naps, and I’m much better at time management. How’s that for an endorsement of parenthood?


Join us at 8pm on Friday & Saturday, September 23rd & 24th at St. Paul's Church at 315 West 22nd Street for the world premiere performance of Michael Boyman’s Clarinet Concerto!