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Office space: Making music for the symphoy

Adam Schoenberg is the first composer-in-residence for the Kansas City Symphony during conductor Michael Stern’s tenure.

Adam Schoenberg, the Kansas City Symphony's composer in residence.

‘Picture Studies’

The Kansas City Symphony is featuring Adam Schoenberg’s piece at its three performances this weekend. In keeping with the Symphony’s current theme of visual art, pieces in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art inspired each of the eight movements in “Picture Studies.” Though each movement is different, they all speak to what Schoenberg felt and experienced while viewing each piece. There is “a sense of unity to the entire thing,” he says. He ordered the movements so that they’ll take you on an emotional ride. “You move with each piece,” he said. “It should hopefully take you on an adventure.” Symphony tickets are available at tickets.kauffmancenter.org. Additionally, Schoenberg will give a talk at the Kauffman Center at 11 a.m. Saturday. The event is free, but reservations are required.

Special to Ink


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.

The blueprint

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.

Stern approval

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.”

The residency

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.

Teaching overtime

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.


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