So it’s not terribly surprising that the drummer for the Police and composer of operas and film scores also has a certain affection for the gamelan (GAM-uh-lon), a family of percussion instruments indigenous to the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java.
It’s an interest that came in handy when the Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioned him to create a piece featuring the Texas percussion quintet D’Drum.
“As a fan of music in general and somebody with an interest in what’s next, what’s cool and interesting-sounding, an American composer playing with gamelan bells — that sounds interesting to me,” he says of the challenge.
The result was Gamelan D’Drum, a three-movement, 35-minute composition for world percussion and orchestra, which will be a part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s first concert of its 2012-13 Fridays@7 series Oct. 5 at Severance Hall. “I’m an American guy. I’m not Balinese. This isn’t a representation of Balinese music,” says Copeland, who will be on-hand for the performance. “This is American music using very exotic instruments that bring with them all kinds of exotic atmospheric baggage.”
Q: Why did the Dallas Symphony Orchestra select you for this commission?
A: There are things on paper, I guess, that would make me a good choice. Fusion is part of the credential. I think one thing that gave them great comfort was the fact that I’ve got art credentials but also professional credentials. A couple of the guys earn a living as film composers and as producers. They appreciate the value of working with somebody who understands a deadline, somebody who understands things that artists don’t usually have to deal with. And I myself, as an artist, place great value on craft and professionalism, stuff that I learned in 20 years as a film composer.
Q: Why did you accept it?
A: Working with a big orchestra like the DSO is something that doesn’t come around every day of the week, and getting a chance to not only work with such an orchestra, but being commissioned to write something really out of the normal run of orchestral composing experience. Throw in the fact that when I got a look at these guys [in D’Drum], what they can do and their collection of instruments — and there’s this incredible collection of instruments to compose for, to be accompanied by a mighty symphony — we were at “yes” two reasons ago.
Q: Was that instrument collection your biggest challenge in composing the piece?
A: Every stage of it was challenging. [Working with] instruments like the rice trough – call that an instrument? How do you notate for that? Well, you notate it exactly the same way you do as with all the other Balinese instruments. And at the end of the day, getting that onto a page that the conductor can read was also a challenge.
Q: In 1989, you attended Cleveland Opera’s world premiere of your first opera, Holy Blood and Crescent Moon. What do you remember about that experience?
A: Opening night was a big splash. Everyone had a great time. The standing ovations — it really just felt like a big smash. … The next morning the B cast, at 9 o’clock or some ungodly hour, were all back at the State Theatre. They bring in these kids who couldn’t give a hoot about anything other than the fact that they got a day off from geography, French, reading, writing and arithmetic. The minute the countertenor comes out squealing, there was a big laugh. The morning after the night before was an adventure in humility. We can laugh about it now. In fact, I laughed about it at the time. I mean, you couldn’t not laugh. It was hysterical.
-By Lynne Thompson