Why New Orchestrations?

Composer Will Buck plays his score for Orchestrator William David Brohn

Composer Will Buck plays his score for Orchestrator William David Brohn

By Founder and Program Director, Danny Abosch

The “New Orchestrations” series pairs emergent musical theatre writers with Broadway orchestrators to commission stunning new orchestrations of their shows. This culminates in a concert performance wherein excerpts from these four new musicals (and one reimagined favorite!) are brought to life by the 35-piece Chelsea Symphony and a cast of Broadway stars.

The mission of the series is to free composers and orchestrators from the traditional economic limitations of instrumentation, and unlock new possibilities through a fully-realized reading of their scores. The series offers composers the opportunity to hear their scores fully orchestrated, and performed by a live orchestra that’s larger than what their show would ever otherwise receive. The industry concert presentation and resulting demo recordings also have the potential to significantly impact a show’s development trajectory.

While most early-career musical theatre writers are limited to piano reading opportunities, the New Orchestrations series is the only program of its kind. To the best of our knowledge, there are no other programs, either in New York or anywhere else, that commission large orchestrations for new musicals in development and make an orchestral experience accessible to emergent writers.

For financial reasons, Broadway and Off-Broadway orchestra sizes have been on the decline in recent years. Today it’s common for the orchestra of a large Broadway Musical to have 12-18 pieces. Off-Broadway, it’s very rarely larger than 9, and often closer to 5–Keyboard, Guitar, Bass, Drums, and one or two additional colors. It’s the equivalent of an artist being told they can only choose five colors with which to paint.

Because of this, today’s musical theatre composers often limit themselves to writing a score that will translate with just a piano, or a piano plus a few pieces, since that’s all their show will ever get, even if the show gets an Off-Broadway or Broadway production. That reality is actually changing the way that musical theatre scores are being written. (Imagine how different the score of West Side Story might be, had Leonard Bernstein written it today.) The New Orchestrations series will give composers the chance to write that glorious, expansive score they’ve always wanted to write, or the kind of score where the instrumentation is essentially another character in the piece.

It will also offer the opportunity for existing musical theatre scores to be heard in a new way. Pieces that have, until now, only been heard with a chamber orchestration will be heard with full orchestra for the first time. We may well find that the instrumentation helps tell the story in a way never before possible.

The series will allow for the creation of orchestrations beyond the scope of what’s practical for a musical production, even on Broadway. It’s decidedly impractical, and this is part of what makes this opportunity so special; it’s quite possibly the one and only time a given musical will ever get to be heard with a full orchestra.

There’s a whole generation of musical theatre writers who have never heard their work beyond a 5 piece band at Joe’s Pub or 54 below. We’re trying to change that.

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