Push ~ A Composer’s Perspective

FBSO will be performing Rob Smith’s Push on the Texas, Our Texas concert. Rob is a Professor of Composition and the Interim Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston. He took some time to let us in on his compositional process for this high energy work. 

The tile “Push” came before any of the music when I began this work, a commission from several University Wind Ensembles. While the word “push” was intriguing to me and seemed to imply many ideas, serious progress on the work at first was limited: all I could come up with was the idea of a long note moving to a lower, shorter note. While this was frustrating, my attraction to the title kept this lack of ideas from deterring me, and I proceeded to compile a variety of longer melodic and rhythmic ideas that focused around this simple long-short “push” motive. This “push” motive eventually spawned three main ideas: 1) a fast, bright and energetic material, 2) a long, slow and introspective melody, and 3) textures in which repeated the “push” motive was repeated in all parts at different times and utilizing different rhythmic durations.  These ideas then became the main “characters” of the the work.

Originally written for wind ensemble, I arranged the work for orchestra at the bequest of James Tapia and the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra. At first, the task of writing the work for orchestra seemed impossible because of a baritone saxophone solo in the wind ensemble version. The baritone saxophone seemed to have no parallel in the orchestra: low strings and woodwinds could play the same pitches, but not in the same spirit, and brass instruments did not possess the appropriate technique to perform many rapid notes. Regardless of its lack of  technique, I eventually settled on the tuba, which could match the volume of the baritone saxophone. To recreate the excitement of the original solo, created by the use of many rapid notes, I composed a line that was virtuosic for the tuba to capture the same spirit and intention of the original. In comparison to this solo, the rest of work translated for orchestra much more naturally. In fact, an important countermelody near the end of the work actually works much better in the orchestra version through my presentation of it in all of the violins.
At the time I was composing “Push”, I was particularly interested in creating music that was optimistic, extremely energetic and bright. This is evident throughout most of the work, with the exception of the introduction and central section of the work. In these sections, the “push” textures and slow introspective melody feature prominently, providing a contrast to the other bright and energetic sections. Eventually, at the end of the work the introspective tune – which had always had appeared in minor – is presented in a major key and acquiesces to the bright and energetic spirit of the fast material.