BWW Interview: Dominique Holley of Driftwood Quintet
Dominique, as you know, I'm a huge fan of the Driftwood Quintet. Your ensemble is unique in the region. Your sound is just exquisite, and your arrangements feel free and even edgy, without departing too far, I'm guessing for ears a-tuned to classical repertoire. I think your work may be something of a bridge for different audiences.
We are quite unique due to the fact that not only do we arrange the majority of our own music but our members are mostly younger musicians who are fairly recent graduates of their music programs. I think those two details have a large effect on the venues we play at and the types of performances we produce.
I see that you have a background in musical theatre. Can you unpack that for us? How did you come to do theatre, with your classical music background?
Along with my interest in classical music, my mother actually helped foster my appreciation of classic cinema and musical theatre growing up as well. I actually had a pretty decent collection of musical recordings by the time I reached high school in addition to the other genres I listened to at that time. Although I pretty much only had experience playing in wind bands throughout the majority of my middle school experience, my first experience playing in an orchestral-like setting was actually when I played in the orchestra pit for my high school's production of the Sound of Music. I went on to do a few more productions with the Scottsdale Music Theatre Company while I was studying music at ASU, but I eventually realized that the extensive doubling that's required of Musical Theatre musicians wasn't what I personally wanted to focus on as a musician.
However, the other clarinetist of Driftwood, Melissa Malork, is a very accomplished multi-instrumentalist and she actually takes part in a number of musical theatre productions around the valley.
I bet you've got some good stories - theatre is rife with adventure.
Well, this isn't something that happened to me personally but one of my friends was in an orchestra pit when one of the actors on stage lost track of where they were and accidentally fell over the front of the stage into the orchestra and broke one of the string player's bows in half. Ever since I heard that story there's always a small part of my brain that gets paranoid whenever actors get close to the front of the stage.
One of my favorite memories in musical theatre was probably simply that first experience I had in an orchestra pit for my high school's production of The Sound of Music. The amount of audience interaction and involvement was something that I hadn't really experienced before. I believe interdisciplinary arts and performances have a much easier job of connecting to audiences than artistic productions that simply stick to one field.
You have a marked emphasis on collaboration and the crossing of genres, including poetry. As you said - your youth, as an ensemble, puts you in venues and contexts that are non-tradition, which we love. In my view, the demise of "high art" has much to do with how isolated it tends to be. Do you remember when occurred to you to take your music out of the pit and off the concert stage and into other environments?
I think my first wake up call was when I was in music school. Not many people may realize this but ASU's School of Music has several performances going on almost every night of year, and whether it's a guest artist, a faculty performance, or a student recital; the vast majority of the performances programmed there are pretty top notch. What surprised me, however, was the fact that so many of the performances have such small attendance despite the large size of the music school's student body. So I figured that if we as classical musicians have trouble getting even our own peers excited and interested in our events then there must be something that we're doing wrong.
As an event organizer, I always feel like it's important that I organize the types of events that I see myself going to. If I can't personally see myself attending or spending money to see my own performances then how can I expect other people who don't know me to do the same. What that means for me as a classically-based musician is that I always try to redefine not only how I present the music to audiences but also how I determine what constitutes meaningful and significant repertoire worthy of performance. That's why at many of Driftwood's performances you'll hear music by video game and film composers such as Nobuo Uematsu or Joe Hisaishi alongside works by Mahler or William Grant Still. It's very important to me that we always treat the music with the same due level of care and interpretation whether we're playing an arrangement of Fake Love by Drake or Handel's Water Music. We take the same approach with our collaborations as well. We've played soundtracks to live films, performed with jazz rhythm sections, and performed music that's paired with poetry and spoken word.
Can you tell us about your residency in the historic downtown Glendale district this spring and summer?
Although we have developed lasting relationships with many venues throughout the valley, our collaboration with the Glendale Arts Commission is our first official residency that we've organized. We're happy to say, though, that it lines up with many of the goals that Driftwood Quintet has always strived for which is to not only produce high-quality, socially relevant chamber music performances; but to also "bring the music to the people" in easily accessible spaces. For this residency, we've partnered with three Glendale-based establishments that we feel have had a strong positive influence on the local community.
The first performance is in partnership with the comic book store Drawn to Comics which will take place at their Comic Book Day event on Saturday, May 6th, from 12 - 2pm at the American Legion Bingo Hall. We'll be taking the stage with local video game jazz band Dratini on the Rocks to put on a performance of popular music from video games, movies, and anime. The second performance will be a children's concert at the Velma Teague Library on Thursday, May 11th, from 6.30 - 7.30pm featuring Carnival of the Animals with companion poetry by Ogden Nash.
The final performance will take place at Brelby Theatre Company on Sunday, May 21st from 6.30 - 8pm and will be our program Orchestral Masterworks III. Orchestral Masterworks is a program we put on every year that features arrangements of some of our favorite orchestral pieces. This year we're actually breaking new ground and performing a piece called November by Max Richter who is probably most notable for his work with video games and film. The piece features a solo violin part which will be played by our colleague Clarice Collins.
We're glad to say that all the events are free and open to the public and more info about them can be found at our website.
I haven't heard about Ogden Nash in ages. When I was a kid, a thousand years ago, he was wildly popular. How did you decide to present his work, and who is performing it - members of your ensemble? I'm intrigued by the crossing of performance genres - performing poetry ain't for sissies. In the acting world, many artists are terrified by the very idea (and a lot of actors aren't adept at it, so there's good reason to stay away).
That's interesting, I actually wasn't aware of his popularity from older generations. Most classical musicians are aware of Ogden Nash primarily through the piece Carnival of Animals that we'll be playing. Although Saint-Saens wrote the piece in 1886, Ogden wrote a series of poems to go with each animal-themed movement in 1950 and ever since they were premiered, performing the piece with the poems is almost expected. As far as the performer, I'll actually be the one doing the reading of the poetry. We've organized the poetry and music in such a way that we've been able to make them a little more intertwined with each other than you might normally hear it performed by an orchestra.
When you say you're "breaking new ground," with the Max Richter piece, what do you mean - that the work wasn't composed for live performance, and that you usually perform pieces more traditionally considered orchestral masterworks?
Our performance of November is more of a groundbreaking for Driftwood as an ensemble. In the past two years that we've done Orchestral Masterworks, the arrangements we've created have only been for Driftwood. However, with November we'll be experimenting with our first time playing an arrangement where Driftwood acts as the accompaniment for a soloist. The idea for this actually came from the fact that one of the main goals of Orchestral Masterworks is to bring the orchestral concert-going experience into a chamber setting to introduce orchestral repertoire to people who might not otherwise have access to it. Therefore, it only makes sense that we should program a piece with an instrumental soloist since that is a common occurrence for many traditional orchestral concerts.
Clarice Collins is quite an up-and-comer, isn't she? How exciting for you that she's playing with you, and for her to be playing with you! Were you all students together at ASU, or what's the background there?
Yep, exactly. I met Clarice while we were both in our undergraduate music studies at ASU she's really a fantastic player. I performed with her once or twice while I was in a few chamber pieces and they were all really enjoyable experiences. It's always easier to put pieces together with people you've already worked with before so when we decided to program Max Richter's piece she seemed like an obvious choice for a collaborator.
Many thanks, Dominique, for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm looking forward to seeing you in my neighborhood soon! For information about the Driftwood Quintet and their programs, visit their website, DriftwoodQuintet.com.