Michael John Trotta is an award-winning composer of choral music whose latest work, Seven Last Words, will be given its NY premiere in Carnegie Hall on May 27, 2017 as part of MidAmerica Productions’ 34th concert season. This will be the first time that Trotta will conduct his own composition in a MidAmerica Productions Carnegie Hall concert. We spoke with him to learn more about the piece and how he approaches his compositions.
Trotta was interviewed by MidAmerica Productions’ Social Media Specialist, Kirk Naylor.
Kirk: When did you realize you wanted to write music for a living?
Michael: Oh gosh. Well, I think I first wrote music as a response to the groups I was working with and ultimately made a choice between teaching university and composition.
Kirk: Who or what do you look to for inspiration when you’re composing?
Michael Trotta: Firstly, the text. Finding a way to serve the text is a big part of it. In choral music we have that advantage of having the text already there for you. I’m also inspired by working with choral and orchestral musicians themselves. The way I see it, I serve as a bridge between the text and the performers.
Kirk: A number of your works have been performed in Carnegie Hall and you yourself are conducting your latest piece, Seven Last Words, there this May. To what do you attribute that kind of success and recognition?
Michael: I think it’s a reflection of the fact that I came from the podium. The music is first and foremost for the group. What is unique about Seven Last Words is it is being embraced as a concert work, it’s not just being performed in a church setting.
Kirk: Seven Last Words tells the story of the Passion, but utilizes a number of biblical and liturgical texts to do so. Why did you decide to use multiple texts and how did that inform your composition?
Michael: There’s certainly a precedent for additional texts. In a sense I got permission from Haydn, permission from the masters to use additional texts. Seven Last Words highlights a very intimate journey of Christ. It has this universal aspect embodied in the words of a centurion, “truly this man was the son of God,” sort of looking back on the event, but it also has the deeply personal aspect where it is happening to Christ himself. Using multiple texts gave me the ability to do more, like a painter who gets to paint with all the colors, and really speak to the juxtaposition between the public and private nature of the story.
Kirk: What is it that most interests you about this piece?
Michael: Well, it was written in response to a need. These four churches (Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, Missouri; White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, North Carolina Karl Zinsmeister, Director of Music; Highland Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Kentucky Frank Heller III, Director of Music Ministries; and Westminster Presbyterian Church, Greenville, South Carolina Mark Kemp, Director of Music) wanted a setting of the text that resonated with their current membership, a reflection of choirs singing today; not just a liturgical work but a concert work. I like that it fits into both worlds: the story is religious, but it works on its own.
Kirk: What are you looking to do next? Is there a new composition in the works?
Michael: I have two more major works on the way. For Sara Teasdale’s 100 year anniversary I am writing a work entitled “For a Breath of Ecstasy” for choir, string quartet, and oboe. The other work is called “A Light Shines in the Darkness” for organ and optional string quartet. It’s a flexible setting that can live in more than one space.
Over the past 34 years, MidAmerica Productions has produced over 1300 concerts in Carnegie Hall and all over the world. To have your ensemble perform with us, visit www.midamerica-music.com or call us at 212-239-0205.