Paul Henry Smith, MFA’04, brings his Fauxharmonic Orchestra to campus Oct. 4

He conducts with a cutting-edge baton

Paul Henry Smith MFA'04

Paul Henry Smith's Fauxharmonic Orchestra
Sunday, Oct. 4
3 p.m.
Slosberg Music Center
Tickets: $10 general public, $5 seniors and Brandeis community

Consider the Fauxharmonic Orchestra the place where Beethoven meets video games. The orchestra is actually a pioneering computer-based instrument created by Brandeis alumnus and conductor Paul Henry Smith, MFA’04, to perform orchestral music using Mac computers and Nintendo Wii controllers. On Oct. 4, the public will get the chance to see this unconventional conducting tool in person, in a concert at Slosberg Music Center. Smith will lead the Fauxharmonic Orchestra in a rendition of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, Webern’s Symphonie, and student compositions. The show includes a demonstration and Q&A about this new mode of performing orchestral music.

“I'm honored to be invited to perform at Brandeis,” Smith said, “because when I was a grad student here I was amazed at the musical ideas and skillful technique the composition students had.

“Now, I'll be using a digital orchestra, pushing it to do the best I possibly can, and using the best possible equipment. If you've never heard a digital orchestra live, in a concert hall, I think you'll be amazed.”

Smith discovered digital music’s potential after studying traditional composition at Brandeis and conducting with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. He wanted to determine if technology was sophisticated enough to make music on a high level- or at least a level he was satisfied with- and was surprised to see how “easy” it was using off-the-shelf hardware and software.

Still, Smith admits, there is a lot of work to do. “But the potential is definitely there for digital instruments to be as expressive as acoustic instruments when performing orchestral music” he said.

Smith was invited to bring the Fauxharmonic Orchestra to campus by Eric Chasalow, director of the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio (BEAMS). He felt that Smith’s work would give composition students the chance to hear representative "live performances" of their orchestra pieces. “One does not become an orchestral composer by writing one piece, rather, there needs to be a process of writing many pieces and learning from each experience,” Chasalow said.

“Of course computers can do things that are not humanly possible. But Paul Smith's work involves close attention to the details, and the payback uses the amazing Bang & Olufsen BeoLab5 loudspeakers so that even though there are no live players on stage, the effect is close enough for our students to learn a lot from.”

Smith says if he does a good job on Oct. 4, the audience will forget the sounds are coming out of speakers and simply enjoy a compelling musical experience that will feature a mix of music from Beethoven’s second symphony to “Liberi Fatali” from the video game “Final Fantasy 8.”

“I think audiences are intrigued by the variety on my concerts,” Smith said. “Some may not know about Webern's symphony (a twelve-tone masterpiece from 1928), while others may never have heard of Final Fantasy. But if you come with an open mind, willing to listen, you may discover a new favorite.”

And perhaps you’ll discover a favorite new way of hearing orchestral music live.

Click here to read a Boston Globe Q&A with Smith.

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