Interview with John Wineglass

We will be performing the World Premiere of John Wineglass’ composition, “Bonny Doon: From the Misty Redwoods down to the Mighty Pacific Ocean” at our concerts on January 26 & 27, 2019. We asked John about his composition in an interview:

1.    Why Bonny Doon?  How did you get your inspiration? Did you live there? How long? Is that a normal process for you?

I've driven MANY times on my way to Half Moon Bay and as far away as Pacifica and Napa Valley and had ALWAYS been intrigued with the name, its origin, its location because except for the beach along the highway - the main area of Bonny Doon is NOT truly accessible unless your intent is to actually visit there. But here's this place with award-winning wineries, this intriguing name (which I also address its Scottish heritage in the work as well), with a tiny population, a peculiar clan of musicians I know who also live there, and being located in the Santa Cruz mountains with a 5-6 mile (also the length of this new work) drive down some steep elevation to the magnificent Pacific Ocean - I just had to see what it was about.

Plus... I had an engineer friend of mine who recorded my Christmas album with Juilliard violinist Rebecca Jackson a number of years ago who basically grew up there but over the last few years became deathly sick... this was a journey to find him as well to unfortunately no avail. So there were a number of things that attracted me to the area. I've never lived in Bonny Doon but have spent plenty of time taken around by the Beauregard family showing me all the spots from their palatial wineries to hiking the moonrocks to the top where you can look out to the ocean. Taking in a particular geographical area is indeed usually my process for composition. I gather a lot of energy from the land and from people which can sometimes give me a synesthesia-induced experience as well.

2.    What do you like best about composing?

I love 'the find' - whether that's in the narrative of stories told through music or the evolution of a tonal row I often throw in a work to spur new composition ideas.

3.    Do you ever experience “writer’s block?”

Yes I do... there are tools for that as I mentioned earlier 'tone rows' which (and this is a bit of a gross generalization) are a series of notes you put together never repeating to help create melodic or derivative material for a composition. It is a method of musical composition created and developed by the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg often referred to 'serialism' as well. While I don't use this technique in it's TRUE form - I do use components of this technique to help generate ideas if I do get 'stuck.'

4.    What is your biggest challenge as a composer?

Dedicated time away for solitude to focus.

5.    Why did you choose the viola?

Everyone else played violin...

6.    Does your playing viola influence your composing?  I.e. do you write anything special for the viola in your compositions?

My viola GREATLY influences my writing - from Dvorak to Brahms to Walton - I'm heavily influenced by their use of the instrument (along with the second violins) in the orchestra medium from DECADES of playing and touring with orchestras since my youth. Playing the viola usually in the middle section (4th chair) hearing from the center of the orchestra has most definitely shaped the way I hear symphonic work.  I work with and hear the orchestra as ONE cohesive instrument - like an cathedral organ or accordion. In the concert hall (outside of my tv/film music) I compose hearing the orchestra as a whole and transcribing from my head what I hear... it's very rare that I 'orchestrate' a section of music which is often done in tv/film music. As far as something special for violas in my compositions? I write good fun parts for everyone but particularly for the viola. Some composers don't know what to do with this instrument at times - but I integrate it importantly into my works. Because of its voice in the orchestra (alto) it's hard to replace its role in any kind of ensemble.  It's a unique instrument for sure.

7.    What other instruments do you play?

Violin, piano, organs, accordion, a little drumset and electric bass.

8.    Which composition are you most proud of?

They are all my 'children' so I can't really pick a favorite I suppose.  

9.    You’ve been working on a number of new compositions this past year. How many, and what are they?

Oh my... yes this past year has been QUITE busy for me - probably the busiest in concert-hall composing than I've ever been in my career with FOUR symphonic premieres (two with full-on chorus) in one season - that's aside from other performances of orchestral and chamber works that are concurrently happening as well. The four premieres are (1) 'Cityscapes' - premiered by Stockton Symphony 9/2018 - full orchestra and jazz trio 12 minutes in duration, (2) 'Voices of The West' - premiered by San Bernardino Symphony 10/2018 - full orchestra (w/native flute and Chinese erhu soloists) w/full Los Robles Master Chorale 30 minutes in duration, (3) 'Bonny Doon' - premiered by Santa Cruz Symphony for orchestra 5-6 minutes in duration, (4) 'Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked' premiered by the Color of Music Festival and Pittsburgh Symphony 2/2019 and 2/2020 (w/full chorus, baritone and mezzo-soprano soloists) 30+ minutes in duration. So YES - it's been an insane year... and more commissions on their way - they are not listed because they have yet to go to contract.

10.        What attracts you about the classical music genre, and orchestral music in particular?

Its depth of expression - from all the interesting textures to dynamic range to melodic expression.

11.        If you weren’t a musician/composer, what would you do?

I couldn't imagine this at all - not being a composer/musician. But I will say I was on the MBA track at Johns Hopkins University to become a 7-series guy on Wall Street when I had the epiphany to chuck it all and pursue music. I thought to myself - well I can always go back and get a MBA... but the opportunities for music that were opening for me at the time of my move to New York City had to be taken advantage of at the time and since then... I've gratefully never looked back.