COLUMBIA — While the Columbia Civic Orchestra rehearses onstage, Anthony Hernandez sits alone in the seats of the Missouri Theatre Center for Arts. Immersed in a score spread wide like a newspaper, he occasionally taps his pen against his leg in time with the beat.
Onstage, the orchestra goes over a fast, rhythmically challenging passage and isn't quite together. Conductor Stefan Freund cuts them off. "Listen to each other," he says. "Keep it clean."
What: Columbia Civic Orchestra's "Visions of Romanticism" concert
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.
Admission: $5 for students, $10 in advance or $15 at the door for others
The orchestra will perform Hernandez's "Two Roads Diverged" at the theater on Nov. 15. The title comes from the opening lines of Robert Frost's famous poem, “The Road Not Taken":
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
“I based the music off of my own take on it and an experience that I was having at the time of writing it,” said Hernandez, a senior from Hermitage studying music composition at MU.
Frost considers two paths and, in choosing to take one, recognizes he will probably never go down the other. Hernandez related the poem to ending a 3 1/2-year romantic relationship.
“My piece presents two different ideas, and I go down one path," he said. "It’s kind of questioning the path I chose but realizing the way I did it was meant to be.”
The piece starts out slowly and gradually develops momentum and drama. It has sort of a dangerous feel to it in places and creates a sense of suspense in the listener.
Hernandez took about six months to compose "Two Roads Diverged." The civic orchestra gave the piece its first public performance on Oct. 17 at Lenoir Woods Community Center. Hernandez said that though he was nervous for the debut, he was pleased with the results.
“It was really nice just to finally hear the finished project unfold in front of me,” he said.
Hernandez, 22, has written about 15 larger pieces so far, and "Two Roads Diverged" is one of his favorites.
“I think the point of this piece, in particular, is it’s some sort of journey," he said. "I like how that journey takes place, more so than some of the other pieces I’ve written."
He has played the piano for nine years and is the accompanist for the Columbia Chorale. Director Alex Innecco said he is impressed with Hernandez’s open-mindedness and the effort he puts into his composition.
“I think he’s very versatile and original,” Innecco said. “I think that musicians that succeed are the musicians that persist. ... I know he will go far because of the professionalism he has with his music."
Hernandez won’t showcase his abilities as a pianist in the upcoming concert, but his music theory teacher at MU, Neil Minturn, was happy to take on the part.
“The piece is plenty challenging for me, but I’m handling it,” Minturn said. “The tempos are pretty fast, and for me to get my fingers going that fast, that accurately is challenging.”
Minturn said the piece has grown on him. “The more I hear it, the more I can hear what must have been in Tony’s mind,” he said.
Hernandez said the most difficult part to write for was the horns because he is not intimately familiar with the instrument. Hornist Charles Turner said the orchestra has to be on its toes because the rhythm is hard.
"Everybody's got to feel the same pulse," Turner said. "In this piece in particular, the rhythm is so important. It has to be just right on. ... It's challenging, but challenging is what makes it fun."
Thomas McKenney, who has been Hernandez’s composition teacher for the past few years at MU, said one of Hernandez’s biggest strengths is how much he cares about his music.
“He’s a really solid musician,” McKenney said. “He’s a very sensitive composer and a sensitive performer. He just doesn’t throw a bunch of notes together.”
Hernandez hopes to eventually become a music professor.
“I want to teach theory classes and composition classes," he said. "That’s what I want to do as a practical goal, but I think if I could freelance as a composer — that would be the perfect world.”