The Birth of a Cello Concerto

by Joshua Roman


Damn. This is hard! My respect for composers has gone through the roof since I first began scrawling on manuscript paper, and at no time has it been higher than the present. The focus and skill required to compose a work for soloist and orchestra are not easy to come by. Taking a few initial ideas – whether they come as a sound, a form, a gesture, a transitional mechanism – and turning them into a cohesive musical narrative is a process that can only be learned through experience.

There have got to be as many ways to do this as there are composers. I’ve gone through several myself, even on this one piece. To begin with, I had the idea to write from the piano. Supposedly, this would help me focus on the relationship between soloist and orchestra, rather than writing a solo line with incidental backup music behind it. Ironically, I realized several weeks into this method that all of the best moments were in the orchestra part, and the solo line was now secondary! Not to mention, it was taking forever due to my rudimentary keyboard skills.

A fun fix for this came from my growing experience playing the great concertos each season. I close my eyes, cello in hand, and imagine this scene: Walking out onto stage, bowing, shaking hands with the concertmaster (a friend), looking over at the conductor (another friend), and nodding that it’s time to begin. At that point, what happens? Who starts? What have I always wanted to do and hear that has not yet existed?

This method is very fun for me; involving more than one sense in the creative process. Picturing people I know helps, too. When I see them in my mind’s eye, I want to give them something meaningful to do musically. The natural outcome is that the orchestra becomes a partner, and the dynamic between solo line and ensemble is one that takes on a malleable quality. In the end, it even affects the form of this piece, and shapes the climactic moments, as a metaphor for individuality and life purpose emerge.

A little bit of a teaser: my concerto is in five sections, or movements (attacca). The rough outline follows that of a love affair, beginning and ending without the love interest. Of course, this is mostly a structure, the themes and motifs themselves interact on their own terms, and in the end, their momentum supersedes any story I might be using as inspiration. The orchestra is sometimes the broader setting, sometimes a reflection of the solo line, and sometimes used in smaller units as a partner or even antagonist.

It’s difficult to describe this process completely without musical examples. The work is not quite finished, but it’s getting there. Along the way, much has fallen to the cutting floor, and many moments and connections undergo intense scrutiny and revision. And yet, there is so much more that could be done. I understand both the desire to continue working on a piece forever – revising every few years as Stravinsky might – and the feeling of wanting to leave it behind and go on without looking back, taking along only the lessons learned.

Composing is a tough path, and I’m beginning to see that one must really earn their way to a good piece every time. It is a beautiful thing, something I hope we all learn to turn to from time to time as our artistic journeys deepen. And for those who are already in the thick of it, I offer my heartfelt gratitude as you bare your souls to give your music that touches something unique in each of us, and ignites our shared humanity.

Spotify Playlist
Taking a break from other music until I’ve finished the concerto, at which point the regularly scheduled playlist will resume… AKA, Silence, until I’ve finished the concerto!


by Maggie Stapleton

Seattle composer Tom Baker (not to be confused with any other reputable Tom Bakers out there) is a crucial contributor to the new music scene in Seattle.  He is the artistic director of the Seattle Composers’ Salon, the co-founder of the Seattle EXperimental Opera (SEXO), an instructor of Composition and Electronic Music at Cornish College of the Arts, and a performer alongside with many bands and ensembles, including the Tom Baker Quartet, Triptet, and Jesse Canterbury’s Vertigo.

Tom Baker

He is also the founder of Present Sounds, a record label which celebrates new music by primarily Seattle-based composers and performers.  You’ll certainly hear some of these tracks on our stream!

Tom stopped by the KING FM/Second Inversion studios recently to talk about some of his favorite tracks from a couple of these discs.

Stay tuned for more music and insights on our SoundCloud page from Tom!  You can catch him live on May 2 at the Seattle Composers’ Salon, along with Seattle Composers William O. Smith, John Teske, and Keith Eisenbrey at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Center Chapel!


Composer Madeleine Cocolas.

Composer Madeleine Cocolas.

by Maggie Stapleton

Music has always been a passion for Madeleine Cocolas, Australian-born and now Seattle-based. When her husband landed a job in Seattle and they moved here a year and a half ago, she found a great opportunity to focus on composition in a project called “52 Weeks,” in which she’s composing one new piece every week for a whole year.  With only a handful of weeks to go, she is nearly complete and she came here to chat about it with Second Inversion, sharing stories about 12 of the pieces!


Madeleine says this music is a reflection of how she feels each week and her response to living in Seattle…. “It’s fun to look back and trace my moods!”  She’s drawn inspiration from a lot of sounds around Seattle (construction noises, for instance!) and the dark grey of colors of winter, represented in some melancholy piano music.  Be sure to follow Madeleine (Blog, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud) as her project concludes in the coming weeks.  We can’t wait to see what the next project will bring!


by Maggie Stapleton
John Teske

Seattle composer John Teske takes inspiration from nature and space in a lot of his compositions, including his upcoming premiere topographies (along with Andrew C. Smith’s Topology (A/∀)) to be performed on Saturday, March 22, 8pm at the Good Shepherd Center’s Chapel Performance Space.  The work is composed as a set of graphic scores based on a topographical map and will be performed by 2 saxophones, cello, double bass, & percussion.  This should be a great catalyst for musical discovery – John is curious to find how the performers carve their own path.. both alone and together.

Here’s a conversation between Second Inversion’s Maggie Stapleton and John Teske on the inspiration behind this piece (including which particular map inspired this piece), his approach to collaboration with performers, educational outreach, and his overarching love of space and seas in his compositions.

To tide you over until March 22, here are some of John’s recent recordings with introductory comments: