Julia Okrusko is an award winning violinist/composer, a member of the New England String Quartet, and has appeared as a violinist on several albums. She also composed Legends: Fantasy Violin and Excalibur: Fantasy Violin, producing both through successful kickstarter campaigns. Now she has a new Kickstarter for an intriguing symphony called Dragonborn. I am a big fan of Julia’s music, and used one of her tracks from Fantasy Violin in our Sertorius preview (this year she wrote and recorded a new track just for Ogre Gate). Julia is also a gamer and much of her inspiration comes from fantasy online gaming and the worlds they create. When I found out about Dragonborn, I decided to do an interview to learn more. I was particularly interested in this project because it is a four movement symphony.
You can learn about the Dragonborn Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/okrusko/fantasy-symphony-no1-dragonborn-album-release
Brendan Davis: You have a new Kickstarter for a symphony called Dragonborn. Can you tell me a little about the project and what inspired it?
Julia Okrusko: This symphony is inspired by Skyrim (video game). I was captivated by the beauty of Skyrim's fantasy world, by its atmosphere, music, gaming aesthetics, and mythology. I was inspired by the role of Dragonborn, and I wanted to write a piece of music that would reflect my admiration for Dragonborn's power and missions, and share my journey in Skyrim. I feel enormous gratitude to the creators of the game for this incredible experience and inspiration.
BD: What drew you to the violin and why is it a good vehicle for these fantasy and gaming inspired projects?
JO: I have been a violinist for 25 years, and violin is the instrument which I introduced as a key element in "Legends: Fantasy Violin". I have been composing for various instruments, but violin remains one of the most important and expressive parts in my orchestration for concert music and soundtracks. In the symphony, there are numerous violin solos, and throughout the piece the violin sections are blended as live mixes, allowing it to lead the recording through multi-voice performance as parts within the orchestra. The violin is an instrument that expresses my own musical identity, and it took a prominent part in the musical texture of the symphony.
BD: What does the Kickstarter help you do in terms of funding?
JO: With the help of Kickstarter backers, the symphony can be released as a CD and digital download featuring live and synthetic instruments. Kickstarter support would allow for recording, mixing, mastering, cover design, and the manufacturing of the discs.
BD: You talk about symphonies and the sonata in particular on your kickstarter. Can you explain these musical forms and why they appealed to you?
JO: As a classically trained performer, I am actively involved in a number of musical projects featuring different styles and applications, including soundtracks, classical concerts, new academic music premieres and recordings. Through experiencing the diversity of methods in musical composition and production, I am developing the approach to musical architecture, and as part of this development I wanted to employ a musical form that could internalize the image of Dragonborn and the meaning of his presence in Skyrim. In my mind, the stylistics of Skyrim and the powers and choices of Dragonborn project an image of great and legendary organization, and as a musician, I connected this image with the musical architecture of a symphony. I was inspired specifically by the traditionally established symphony form, and I felt that an older model of musical organization would convey and support the atmosphere of Skyrim. A prominent part of the symphony, the sonata form is a large musical structure that became universal in the late 18th century. This form is centered around a tonal and thematic conflict between two subjects that are presented in the exposition part of the sonata form, elaborated and contrasted in the development, and resolved harmonically and thematically in the recapitulation. I felt that the sonata form would create a great structure for presentation of Dragonborn in the first movement, and that it would lay the proper stylistic foundation for the entire work.
BD: Dragonborn will have four movements. Can you explain the process of writing each movement and how you organize them into a complete symphony?
JO: The process of writing the symphony was influenced by my performing experiences—work in the orchestras where I get to play the symphonies of great composers. Until now, I have professionally experienced symphony from the point of performance, and it was this internal exploration that taught me how material can be developed to convey the intended artistic effects. I also wanted to explore the management of time within a large symphonic work—I wanted to unfold the musical material with timing that would be familiar to the flow of the game itself. The construction of the symphony is based on Allegro-Adagio-Scherzo-Finale movement layout, and each of the four movements features different atmosphere and characters that are united through instrumental and vocal motives, rhythm, and musical references. During the course of the Kickstarter campaign I will be sharing audio sketches and notes on specific elements within the symphony.
BD: What can listeners expect to hear when the project is complete?
JO: The listeners can expect to hear an original symphony in four movements for orchestra and choir, recorded with live and synthetic instruments. The musical language of the symphony employs a combination of classical music techniques and fantasy themes, sounds, and effects, to create a reflection of being immersed in the world of fantasy.