James Boznos: Social Distancing
(Submitted by ISCM – HONG KONG SECTION)
James Boznos (b. 1969) has been the Principal Timpanist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra since 2000, performing as a soloist with them on three occasions, both of William Kraft’s Timpani Concertos as well as his own composition, Concerto for Timpani, Nr.1. The China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony premiered his Concerto Nr.2 “Pavilions” for extended timpani, orchestra and mp3, with the composer as soloist. James has been a frequent guest principal throughout Asia, performing with the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, the Singapore Symphony, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, and the Seoul Philharmonic. He is on the faculty of the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts and the University of Hong Kong. Previously, James worked regularly with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as the leading new music groups of Boston and Chicago. In addition, he has conducted the National Taiwan Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, including the American and Asian premieres of Donnerstags Gruss by Stockhausen. James Boznos composes music under the pen name OZNO, writing for orchestra, chamber, solo, vocal, and electronic genres as well as for the theatre. Recent premieres include Cantatas Nr.1-3, “Anesti”, “Nevu’ah”, and “Gabriel”, with the Hong Kong Bach Choir. The Hong Kong Philharmonic performed his Oikogeneia in 2016, conducted by music director Jaap van Zweden. Social Distancing and the Zoon Project were written in response to the COVID pandemic. 2021 brings the premiere of his Concerto for Piccolo, also conducted by Jaap van Zweden, with Linda Stuckey as soloist. A consortium commission of 16 performers will premiere 22.5 for vibraphone and mp3 throughout 2021/22.
About his 2020 composition Social Distancing op.23A for 10 antiphonal musicians and mp3, Boznos has written:
Orchestras were silenced. Halls locked, conductors and soloists grounded. Our orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, hadn’t made music for months. To find a way forward, I wrote the original version of this piece for 10 antiphonal musicians and mp3, Social Distancing op.23A, which could be played in alternative venues with the musicians themselves safely distanced from one another. The composition is a sound sculpture; imagine a 3D marble piece from antiquity that provides differing views depending upon the position of the patron in relation to the work.
One of the most iconic images from the pandemic has been people singing out of their windows while home in isolation. In this piece, I envisioned the musicians on different levels of windows, all surrounding a central square, “singing” their different songs of both despair and hope. For the final section, all melodies sound simultaneously, like a Zoom meeting with everyone trying to talk over each other.
The mp3 is composed of a low drone that sounds throughout the entire piece. It portrays the inescapable force of COVID; although we may briefly forget about it (like the effect of a drone), it saturates daily life with its ominous presence. It is my hope that this piece gives orchestral musicians just one path forward and a glimpse of a composer’s commentary on the changes affecting our profession.