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Q&A with Alumni Composer Andrew Maxfield

After graduating from BYU with a degree in media music studies (2006), composer Andrew Maxfield spread his wings gradually, first as a composer of choral music and more recently as a composer of opera, chamber, and orchestral music. Maxfield studied counterpoint and composition at the EAMA–Nadia Boulanger Institute in Paris, France; Boston Conservatory at Berklee in Boston, Massachusetts; and the University of Bristol in Bristol, England. Now, his compositions have been performed throughout the US and Europe, even winning a King’s Singers’s New Music Prize. On March 16, 2024, The Utah Symphony performed Andrew’s piece, What About the Duck? in a family series concert. Before the performance, Andrew answered a few questions about the piece and the impact of the BYU School of Music on his career.

What inspired you to write "What About the Duck?"

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Photo by Photo used with permission of Andrew Maxfield

Maxfield: A few years ago, I played recordings of Peter and the Wolf for my son, who was four or five at the time, and he loved it—except the ending, in which the audience discovers that the duck is swimming around inside the wolf because the wolf swallowed it whole. My son, distressed, asked, "What about the duck?" I thought that was a clever and thoughtful question and that it was time for a sequel, which I created with my librettist Ruthie Prillaman. This piece, called What About the Duck? is the result.

How did it feel to watch the Utah Symphony perform your piece? 

Maxfield: Working with the Utah Symphony is a delight because not only is the orchestra absolutely top-tier in its artistic quality but it invests so much in music education. I fell in love with orchestral music thanks to the Utah Symphony, and I still remember watching Joseph Silverstein conduct the orchestra and play his violin while resting my 10-year-old chin on the first balcony raining in 1990. My third date with my wife was at Abravanel Hall, hearing the Utah Symphony perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.” And I’ve written two commissions for Utah Opera. USUO has been at the center of so many special musical experiences for me—the list just goes on. Hearing my work, particularly a work for young audiences, performed by the Utah Symphony is a very happy full-circle moment for me, especially since my own kids will be attending the premieres with me, maybe resting their chins on the balcony railing too.

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“Hearing my work, particularly a work for young audiences, performed by the Utah Symphony is a very happy full-circle moment for me.”
–Andrew Maxfield
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How did your education at BYU prepare you for a successful career?

Maxfield: While I was at BYU, I was lucky to work closely with Ron Simpson, who was, at the time, the chair of the proto-commercial music program, and who just passed away. Ron was a rare and wonderful musician who listened widely, respected well-crafted music of any style, and cared as much about people as he did for music, which was a lot! A single conversation with Ron would drift from Shostakovich to Pärt to Maroon 5 to Willie Nelson and back, and he was equally interested in my nascent creative efforts as a songwriter and composer, which have always been two sides of the same creative coin for me. I dedicated a recent piece for a children's chorus directly to Ron and, in a way, What About the Duck? is dedicated to him too, with thanks for his influence on me, which carried me through my compositional training in Paris, at the Boston Conservatory, and at the University of Bristol.

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“I dedicated a recent piece for a children's chorus directly to Ron and, in a way, 'What About the Duck?' is dedicated to him too, with thanks for his influence on me.”
–Andrew Maxfield
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