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Alabama Symphony’s Carlos Izcaray composes virtual symphony for ASFA students

Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Carlos Izcaray, music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, composed a piece for the American Youth Symphony, where he’s also music director.

“It was written for a virtually recorded ensemble,” the maestro says. “We recorded it remotely.”

As the pandemic continued, administrators and faculty at the Alabama School of Fine Arts were looking for ways to engage their students, and they reached out to Izcaray for ideas involving their music students.

“I said, ‘Well, I just did this kind of project,’” he recalls. “’We could do something similar with ASFA and explore this new way of generating something for this internet medium that we’re all watching now.”

And “Symphony of Colors,” a virtual piece involving all 53 of ASFA’s music students, was born.

Izcaray composed the eight-minute piece with the virtual nature of its performance in mind.

“Breaking them up a little bit into teams made sense, otherwise you’d be looking at 50 different screens,” Izcaray says. “So I thought of ‘Symphony of Colors.’ A rainbow has seven colors, so we divided the piece into seven sections, each one a color. We had six musical teams – red, yellow, orange, green, blue, indigo – and the last one, violet, I put them all together. … Each color has a mood and a personality.”

The piece was also composed with the 53 ASFA students in mind – each and every one of them.

“They have students from age 12 to seniors in high school, so there’s a wide range of where each student is musically,” Izcaray says. “That was a challenge, but it was fun, too. It is 100% custom-built for this student body at this time. For example, right now they have a number of pianists and guitarists, a couple of violinists. There’s a specific number of players per instrument, so I wrote it like that.”

The process gave Izcaray, the conductor, composer and performer, the opportunity to become teacher.

“It gave me a chance to be didactical, to teach through the music,” he says. “It’s a traditional approach. Bach and Beethoven would write pieces for students at their level. I’m a huge fan of other composers from the past who took this approach of writing for their students.”

Students rehearsed and recorded their parts at home, and Paxeros, a Los Angeles video production company, put it all together in a video. (The video will be available on the school’s social media and YouTube channel beginning April 8).

For the students involved, “Symphony of Colors” was a way to hone their musical skills with an acclaimed conductor, but it was also a way to keep up their playing while they were studying from home.

“This was a great experience,” says Clarisse Nacilla, a senior who plays the piano. “It was nice to learn music outside of my piano repertoire and collaborate with other musicians. It was also interesting to work with Maestro Izcaray. He was so supportive in the process, and his enthusiasm for the project was inspiring and motivating.”

Lujue’la McEntyre, a ninth grade bassoonist, called the project “amazing.”

“It was definitely challenging, but I fortunately had amazing musicians surround me and amazing music faculty who supported us every step of the way,” she says.

Izcaray, for his part, called the process inspiring.

“There’s that uncertainty with anything new, but I was very, very inspired by the students, the school and the faculty,” he says. “How lucky we are as a community to have such a great asset like the Alabama School of Fine Arts. … We’re very lucky to have great, great music teachers there and to have this fantastic school. This was with the music department, but I know the other departments are very vibrant, too, and that’s something we should all feel good about.”

Izcaray hopes “Symphony of Colors” brought some brightness to the darkness of the past year.

“I just wanted to be sure we did something meaningful during a dark period we were all facing,” he says. “What better way to bring us out of this grey feeling than with a lot of colors.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)