Schoenberg finds it hard to explain how he comes up with an idea. His intuitive nature factors into his work, most of which is rooted in improvisation. He will improvise at the piano for days before “something emerges from my subconscious” that he will use as the root for his work. It could be as little as four notes.
If he hears something he likes, Schoenberg will stop and notate it. This is where he goes into composer mode, mapping out a composition’s form and structure. “I’m able to piece it together as if I’m constructing a building at that point,” Schoenberg says.
Michael Stern, the conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, was the first conductor to champion Schoenberg’s work. In 2006, Schoenberg’s world premiere came with the IRIS Orchestra in Germantown, Tenn., under Stern’s guidance. Their relationship led to Schoenberg’s composer-in-residence standing here. The Kansas City Symphony will have played all of Schoenberg’s orchestra work by mid-May. “Many of the members of the orchestra are dear friends,” he says. “It’s an honor to write music for people you know.”
Composer-in-residence doesn’t mean that Schoenberg lives in Kansas City year round, just that his work will be featured for a period by the Symphony. Schoenberg makes his home in Los Angeles, where he teaches composition and orchestration at UCLA.
Schoenberg is making the most of his time spent here in Kansas City. He spurred the idea of starting the Young Composers Institute during his residency. Schoenberg has been schooling five Olathe high school students, prepping them to compose their own pieces. Those compositions will premiere in mid-May and culminate almost a year’s work between Schoenberg and the students. “They’re going to be the next ambassadors of this art form, and I want to give them as many tools and resources as I had,” Schoenberg said.