While many who visit the Channel Islands admire its natural beauty, few have the inspiration and talent to write an eight-movement orchestral suite expressing that admiration. But this is exactly the undertaking that local musician and composer Ashley Broder started in 2017 after visiting the islands for the first time. After two years of steady work, her “Channel Islands Orchestral Suite” will have its world premiere on October 12, when the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra debuts the piece as part of a program called “American Landscapes” at the Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center in Camarillo. This will be followed by a second performance on October 13 at First United Methodist Church in Ventura.
In an interview with the News-Press Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Broder expressed excitement at her suite’s debut performance and the culmination of such a long creative process.
“It feels pretty surreal since I’ve been working on it for a couple of years,” she said.
Prior to visiting the eight Channel Islands two years ago, she had never been, despite growing up in Camarillo. Upon seeing them for the first time, Ms. Broder was struck by how different they all were from one another, from their landscapes to the flora and fauna inhabiting them.
“When I learned that there are a lot of endemic species that are on the Channel Islands and nowhere else in the world, I found that spectacular,” she told the News-Press.
She then decided to begin work on the “Channel Islands Orchestral Suite” and from the start wanted it to be played by the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, in which he used to be a cellist. When she told the orchestra’s artistic director KuanFen Liu her idea of a suite about the Channel Islands, the conductor immediately loved it. Ms. Broder recalled how she and Dr. Liu connected over a shared desire to promote awareness of the natural issues the islands face through music.
“We both bonded on a level that we wanted to do something for the community through beautiful music,” she said.
Each of the suite’s eight movements utilize various amounts of instrumentation commensurate with its corresponding island’s size. Whereas movements dedicated to the larger islands utilize all the orchestra has to offer from strings, to percussion, to brass, those dedicated to the smaller islands use only a couple of sections For instance, her Anacapa Island movement only utilizes strings and French horn.
As her music lacks lyrics and therefore can’t make any direct references to the islands, Ms. Brody wrote the suite to convey the moods she felt when she visited each of them. For her San Nicolas Island movement, she attempted to replicate the “eerie” and “unsettling” sound of the arid island’s high winds, which she described as “nuts.”
According to her website, Ms. Broder was classically trained on violin as a child and took up mandolin when she was eight years old. In college, she started playing cello. As a string instrumentalist, composing parts for wind and percussion instruments was a great challenge for her and took some fine-tuning. Upon completing the first draft of the piece, Ms. Broder held an initial playthrough with the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, after which members on instruments that she didn’t know how to play gave her suggestions on editing the parts.
“I’m learning a lot about how to write for things I don’t know how to play, so it’s been a really great learning experience for me,” she said.
Following the suite’s debut, it is possible that it will undergo further alterations, particularly if it ever gets played in public again. For now though, Ms. Broder looks at its completion and upcoming performance as a significant personal achievement.
“Of course there are things I want to change and fix, but I’m looking at it as a learning experience, a growing experience, and an accomplishment,” she said.
According to a press release, the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra’s October 12 performance begins at 7:00 p.m. at Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center, located at 4235 Mar Vista Dr. in Camarillo. The October 13 performance begins at 3:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, located at 1338 E. Santa Clara Street in Ventura. A pre-concert presentation will be held 1 hour before each show and donations of $20 at the door are appreciated. Attendees 18 years old or younger get in for free.