In 1998, Fabian Almazan fell and injured his right wrist. He was 14. For weeks after his surgery, the young right-handed pianist was in full recovery mode, and couldn’t play the way he was used to playing. But what could have been a long and debilitating recovery period turned out to be an artistic awakening.
Not wanting his student to lose inspiration—or practice hours—Almazan’s piano teacher recommended he check out Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. But the album Almazan wound up purchasing included more than the left hand concerto and, after playing the record in its entirety, he found himself digging into the G-Major Piano Concerto and a number of suites Ravel composed for piano, then orchestrated—an experience that set Almazan on the path toward exploring orchestral concepts in his own music.
“It made an instant impression on me,” he says. “It kind of opened up my mind. And in terms of how it’s affected me as a pianist, I really try to be more aware of my left hand, as well as inner voices, in general.”
Years after his wrist mended, Almazan continued working through arrangements of original music, paying what he considered close attention to voice leading and other fundamentals of orchestral arranging. But a commission by The Jazz Gallery would transform his relationship to orchestration, once again. “When I was commissioned a couple years ago, I decided to write a song for a choir,” he says.
“As musicians, we study voice leading all the time, but we kind of forget where that comes from. It’s literally ‘voice leading.’ So, writing for the choir was ear-opening, I would say, because there’s a lot of—not rules, but music theory that you try to apply as a composer, but when you actually do it for a choir, it really hits home. You have an immediate impression of why there are certain things—that in the Baroque era they used to do, and they still do—that really click when you have a choir singing what you wrote. It’s the human voice. You really can tell when something’s working, and when it’s not.”
At a point in his career when he had a strong working concept of each instrument’s strengths and limitations, Almazan found arranging for the choir to broaden his understanding of how to develop those strengths and limitations in a way that serves the arc of the composition. (more…)