Steven Snethkamp, a composer based in East Lansing, Mich., will find himself in esteemed company Saturday, when his name joins those of composers such as Beethoven and Mussorgsky on the program of “Orchestral Palettes,” the final concert of the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra’s 25th-anniversary season.
The centerpiece of the concert, at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, will be the professional premiere of Snethkamp’s composition, “Interstellar Arias,” winner of this year’s American Composer Competition. The concert will open with Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House Overture” and conclude in grand fashion with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
Snethkamp, 33, composed “Interstellar Arias” during his graduate studies at Indiana University, where the piece had its only performance last year. It was selected from more than 70 entries as winner of the competition, sponsored by the Loudoun Symphony.
Mark Allen McCoy, the orchestra’s music director and conductor, said that the symphony holds the competition every two or three years to promote new music and give composers a showcase for their work. The prize includes a $1,000 award and the first professional performance of the composition, he said.
“Oftentimes their work may get a premiere someplace and then get shelved for the rest of their life,” McCoy said.
Snethkamp describes “Interstellar Arias” as “a musical contemplation about existence and our spiritual relationship with the universe.
“I imagine these songs being sung by a drifter in the universe, expressing their personal struggle with the big questions of existence,” he said. In the program notes, he imagines the drifter as “a disembodied soul adrift among the stars.”
Snethkamp urges listeners to bring their own interpretations to the music.
“One of the things that music does not do very well is convey specific ideas,” Snethkamp said. “But one of the things it does really, really well is convey things that are deeply personal and hard to express in words.”
He said the piece took on new meaning for him when his father died last year. He had composed the piece as a “philosophical daydream” while his father was still living, he said.
“Now it means something completely different,” he said. “The fact that my own interpretation of it has changed means that it is successful for me.”
McCoy said he likes the concept of the composition, and that Snethkamp had done “a marvelous job of creating flow through the piece.
“It impressed me that someone so young had such a great handle on the orchestration part of it,” he said. “Even though it’s a big orchestra and a big score, he’s written it in such a way it’s not cluttered.”
McCoy said that it was fitting to open the concert with the Beethoven overture, because the competition is the group’s way of “looking for the next Beethoven.” He chose the demanding “Pictures at an Exhibition” as the final piece to showcase the orchestra’s range. The musical suite, composed for piano by Mussorgsky and arranged for orchestra by Ravel, culminates with the majestic “Great Gate of Kiev.”
McCoy, who has conducted the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra since 1997, said he made a deliberate effort to bring the orchestra out into the community during its 25th season. The group has also performed concerts this year at the National Conference Center, Franklin Park Arts Center and the Middleburg Community Center.
Clarinetist David Hughes, a retired lawyer who helped found the Loudoun Symphony a quarter-century ago, said the orchestra performs at a high level despite consisting mostly of volunteers. Although some of the musicians are conservatory-trained professionals, most members perform without pay, he said.
Hughes described the orchestra in the early days as a “ragtag” group that did not have regular practice space. The quality has improved significantly over the years, he said, crediting McCoy’s leadership.
“Nothing succeeds like success,” he said. “Once you find that the orchestra is playing well, then a lot of people want to join it. And the people who are [already] there want to play well, so they don’t spoil the performance.”
McCoy said the orchestra members are looking forward to performing Snethkamp’s composition.
“This piece has so much for everybody to do,” he said. “It’s quite a complicated piece, but everybody’s so engaged with it that . . . they really like performing it.”
The Loudoun Symphony Orchestra’s “Orchestral Palettes” concert will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn.