Composer/conductor Robert Pound recalls an exceptionally frutiful spring
by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
July 21, 2011
Robert Pound, associate professor of music, made his professional conducting debut and premiered two new works, all within a few weeks' time.
There is no single magic formula for creative inspiration, but for composer and Associate Professor of Music Robert Pound, an under-the-gun schedule seems to do the trick. In a recent cyclone of creativity, Pound premiered several new works and made his conducting debut with a major orchestra--all within a few weeks’ time.
The composer had just completed a work for a brass trio and had begun to sketch out a requiem written in response to the death of Tyler Clementi, to be performed in April by the Dickinson College Collegium and Orchestra, when he was invited to guest-conduct an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) concert in Atlanta, to be held just two nights before the performance at Dickinson. And a week later, the ASO added another job to the mix: composing a fanfare for a rapidly approaching ASO concert, which would be presented in Atlanta in just a few weeks. (For those keeping track, that's three major projects in just one month. And in two states. In the busiest time of the academic year.)
Pound was more than happy to take on the challenge.
"You just have to keep working—it’s a trial-by-fire situation,” Pound said. And he emerged from that trial victorious: The requiem, which Pound had written at top speed, is his largest work to date, both in terms of length and scope. And, Pound reports, the fanfare stretched the limits of his imagination in ways he couldn't have foreseen.
"Working in these conditions, I couldn't over-think my decisions. I was artistically freer, and I discovered new sounds and styles," he said. “There’s a certain high to that –it was a thrill.”
Building on successes
A professor at Dickinson since 1998, Pound has enjoyed a string of previous key successes that includes two Carnegie Hall premieres, two commissioned works in honor of his hometown of Columbus, Ga., and commissions by noted artists the Corigliano Quartet, the Timaeus Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound and the Florestan Recital Project. He also has written music for professional theatre productions, at times collaborating with Associate Professor of Theatre & Dance Karen Kirkham. And he’s been honored as composer in residence (Columbus State University, 2002), guest composer (Contemporary Music Forum) and guest composer/lecturer (University of Texas, 2010).
Interestingly, the professor attracted national and international attention when he unveiled a work inspired by the ill-placed enthusiasm of stock-market investors. Watching the news one night in 1996, Pound had been struck by Alan Greenspan’s description of the phenomenon. “He used the words ‘irrational exuberance.’ I loved the fantastical imagery that phrase evoked,” Pound explained. “I tucked it away, because I knew I’d use that phrase in an orchestral piece someday.”
The finished product—a result of eight months’ work—was performed by the ASO in 2005, the year of Greenspan’s retirement. It generated a Washington Post article, NPR coverage and an appearance on German television. (Greenspan’s staff later called Pound at Dickinson to request a copy of the music as a retirement gift to Greenspan. Pound complied and later received a personal thank-you card from the former federal-reserve chairman
In the years since, Pound has augmented his teaching and administrative work at Dickinson with approximately three new premieres each year. When the pace kicked up considerably last semester, he was more than happy to break that average. His accomplishments thus far, he explains, are all steps toward greater creative growth and success.
“Energy begets energy, and there’s a certain thrill to riding that wave,” Pound said. “If I’d had these opportunities a decade ago it would have produced a lot of anxiety. But at this point in my career, it’s very elating. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I can do.”