• Brian Raphael Nabors

Composer Spotlight: 2019 American Composers Orchestra Earshot Readings with Detroit Symphony



This special post was taken from a feature in the American Composers Orchestra SoundAdvice blog regarding my selection as a composer fellow for the 2019 Earshot readings with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra:



Composer Brian Nabors' music draws from combinations of Jazz/R&B and contemporary music. He is currently completing doctoral studies at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, with professor Douglas Knehans. Brian's works have been performed the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Zodiac Trio, Unheard-of//Ensemble, and the Contemporary Directions Ensemble at the University of Michigan. He has received awards from the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), Alabama Music Teachers Association (AMTA), and the Birmingham Music Club.


Brian's piece Rise was selected for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra EarShot Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed under the direction of conductor André Raphel. Public performances will take place on March 6 and March 9 at the Fisher Music Center. Click here for more information.


We spoke with Brian about his piece and the readings.


American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings?


Brian Nabors: I was more than elated! I view it as an incredible blessing and milestone in this early stage of my compositional career. I have been in love with the Detroit Symphony for quite some time and have always admired their diligence of promoting diversity, culturally enriching musical experiences, and overall support of new music. I very much look forward to what this experience will bring.


ACO: You mention in your bio that Jazz and R&B, combined with contemporary classical influences, feed into your compositional voice. Can you talk about some of your greatest influences from the worlds of Jazz and R&B? In what ways do Jazz and R&B show up in your compositions?


BN: I grew up in the 1990s-2000s, when smooth R&B and Neo Soul reigned supreme. There are several artists that I loved from that time as well as today. Everyone from Boys II Men, Maxwell, Toni Braxton and Musiq Soulchild, to jazz/funk acts like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, and Snarky Puppy continue to play a huge role in the cultivation of my compositional aesthetic. Location and culture also played a role in what I absorbed. I'm originally from Birmingham, AL. There's so much soul throughout the city! It has an eclectic mix of gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and R&B all tightly rolled into one! The main compositional traits from these worlds that often make it into my music are a heavy sense of rhythmic drive, a very complex system of harmonic activity, and intense visceral development of motives/themes.


ACO: Rise is an orchestra adaption of the first movement of your Concerto for Hammond Organ and Orchestra. In regards to your concerto, can you talk about the challenges and rewards of combining Hammond Organ and orchestra? In regards to Rise, how did you go about re-orchestrating the Hammond Organ part?


BN: The Concerto for Hammond Organ and Orchestra was such a massive and rewarding undertaking! There are several experiences I've had that definitely contributed to my integration of the instrument with orchestra. As a Hammond organist myself, I had the fortunate advantage of understanding how the effects (such as the drawbar harmonic system, percussion, and leslie/tremolo settings) would fit in such an ensemble of endless sound possibilities. I essentially scored the instrument as I would any solo instrument with orchestra, allowing the orchestration to be constructed in a way that is most supportive of the soloist. I would say the greatest challenge was working out the numerous sound possibilities with the stage setup of the organ. In the score, I've given quite a few options for obtaining balance with orchestra as the piece is scored for traditional Hammond models and well as Hammond's new digital line of organs. The instrument could be run through a hall's sound system with a monitor for the player, or the Leslie speaker could sit on stage with the player depending on the acoustic situation.


As for Rise, I took one week and tore apart the solo, assigning suitable portions to the most equally idiomatic sections of the orchestra. I often found myself adding additional melodies and passages to support which ever section was in the forefront at the time. The orchestration would sometimes be bare because I originally made room for the soloist. This was also an advantage as the open space allowed the different families of the orchestra to speak well. Also, I have four percussionists in the concerto and three in this piece, so it gave me a lot of ideas of instruments to add as well as timbral possibilities to enhance the orchestration.


ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?


BN: I'm looking forward to everything! One of the things I'm especially excited about, in addition to the readings, are the educational workshops and visitations we'll be participating in. As an artist, these types of activities are particularly meaningful to me. Knowing where I've come from, I realize how fortunate I was to have visitations from artists and musicians who took time out to expose young people to the gift of the arts. I have very special memories of how the simple act of just seeing these people awakened all of the underlying potential that I had to become who I am today. I often tell my colleagues if you want your communities to experience the overwhelming power of classical music, it starts from the bottom. It is there that young people have the opportunity to develop a love and relationship with this music that then inspires them treasure it, support it, and care for its well-being. I also look forward to the incredible advice that I'll receive from the mentor composers as well as the various amounts of musical intricacies that I'll discover while working though the piece. It's truly an incredible experience like no other!


Brian's piece Rise was selected for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra EarShot Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed under the direction of conductor André Raphel. Public performances will take place on March 6 and March 9 at the Fisher Music Center.

© 2020 Brian Raphael Nabors