The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra kindly wanted to commission a ten-minute orchestral piece from me to be premiered at the new Kupittaa Ball Game Hall in a free admission mega-concert “Symphony for the Ball Game Hall!” organized by the orchestra with Nick Davies as conductor. They also threw in a suggestion that I would adopt ball sports (such as basketball, volleyball or badminton) as a theme for the new piece.
When I asked Maati Rehor, the chief executive of the orchestra, what might the suggested ball sports theme mean in the context of an orchestral composition, she replied that they don’t know, I have to invent it!
After taking some time to ponder the suggestion I came up with the idea that the artistic theme for the piece would be ball sports as a cultural phenomenom in general and especially the thrilling basketball slam dunk. Perhaps my background as a junior basketball point guard in the 1980’s influenced this, as well as the huge slam dunks performed recently by Finnish basketball player Lauri Markkanen and his current success in the NBA.
Entitled Slam Dunk, the expression of the piece is extrovert, rhythmic and energetic. It utilizes the harmonic, melodic, rhythmical and orchestration methods of contemporary art music. I did not aim at composing a traditional sports competition fanfare, or a theme song of an imaginary basketball team. Instead, I wanted to compose a new independent orchestral piece of its own right with connotations to ball sports on different levels. Also, knowing that the venue of the premiere would be a big ball game hall with more than 2500 seats, I decided to omit extended playing techniques from the piece, because they sound best performed in a concert hall.
Kupittaa Ball Game Hall, exterior and interior.
I integrated into the composition an interactive sports culmination: by the end of the piece two basketball players perform a Slam Dunk Battle, guided by the Master of Ceremonies (MC), in interaction with the orchestra (through the conductor). In front of the orchestra there will be installed a professional basketball hoop with a backboard, with top of the hoop 305 cm above the floor. Hence the concert venue must provide enough extra space (and height) for the Slam Dunk Battle, approximately a free space covering an area similar to one end of a basketball field enclosed by the three-point arc.
Premiere of Slam Dunk has reached the start of the Slam Dunk Battle.
The Slam Dunk Battle is appropriately started by a fanfare and the battle is guided by the MC. The composition is coordinated, through the conductor, to the dunk performances. It also reflects the applauses by the audience. After the dunk performances, the MC has an acclamation vote from the audience, into which the orchestra also participates by playing. After the winner has been announced, the Slam Dunk Battle Fanfare is heard again to salute the contestants and then its time for the finale of the piece.
Basketball player Mikael Aalto in the premiere of Slam Dunk.
The premiere of Slam Dunk took place on Saturday 15th of September 2018 in Turku, Finland at the Kupittaa Ball Game Hall, featuring basketball players Mikael Aalto and Eero Lehtonen. There was more than 2600 people in the audience and the piece was extremely warmly welcomed.
Watch a video of the premiere of Slam Dunk
(Please scroll forward: the performance starts at time code point 48:45 and ends at 1:00:47)