Interview with composer James David

Dr. James David is a composer and professor based at CSU in Fort Collins. In 2020, he wrote Ostinato Fantastico for the FCS, a piece that celebrates the universally compelling and alluring force of repeated rhythms to create a thrilling tour-de-force for the orchestra.

In this interview, James David and FCS Assistant Conductor Jeremy discuss his new piece Ostinato Fantastico and his relationship as a composer with rhythm and dance.

Join us for “Escape to Enchantment,” live at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins on Saturday, October 1, 2022. Tickets and more information are available at

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Midi demo of Ostinato Fantastico

The FCS would like to thank Kay and Larry Edwards for sponsoring the commission of Ostinato Fantastico, and Bob and Diane Graziano for sponsoring the Composer Talks and this interview

Interview with composer James David

James David

Could you please give us an introduction to your piece Ostinato Fantastico?

Of course. First, an ostinato is essentially a repeated rhythmic pattern. This piece is an exploration of many different way to exploit a repeated rhythmic pattern.

It’s based on a lot of my favorite pieces for orchestra, particularly from the 20th century. Including composers that you may know, like Rimsky-Korsakov, who is also on this concert.

It was really just an exciting journey to write something that was really demonstrating as many different orchestral techniques as I could and exciting ways to exploit the colors of the orchestra.

Where does the title come from?

The title itself I actually completely stole from another composer. His name is Blas Atehortúa. He’s a Colombian composer who I worked with when I was in the American Wind Symphony Orchestra back in 1998. I loved the title Ostinato Fantastico so much that I said one day I’m gonna write a piece with the same name. And this seemed like a good chance to do that.

What role does rhythm play in your music?

I am very engaged by rhythm. My brother and my father were both drum set players and jazz was a big part of my background growing up, particularly Latin jazz. That influenced me a lot and plays out in almost everything I write.

Rhythm is inseparable from dance. What is your relationship with dance?

Growing up, I was a big fan of early 20th century and late 19th century music, like the ballets of Stravinsky: the Firebird and the Rite of Spring, for example. And I loved all the big French Impressionist pieces like Debussy’s Iberia and Ravel’s Rhapsody Espagnol. I also really like symphonic dances. I’m a big fan of Sylvestri Revueltas, who is one of the great 20th century Mexican composers. There are some direct nods to his music in the middle part of the piece.

What are your favorite parts of Ostinato Fantastico?

I really like the beginning. I like how simple it is, just the heavy intonation of this beat. I like using the Tam Tam (similar to a gong) with the triangle beater rather than the regular mallet. It creates an aggressive sound, and not something that we always associate with orchestral music. I’m a big fan of percussion.

Later on, I used a technique called “metric modulation,” which is a fancy way of getting to a new tempo, but by concealing it. It jars you into being in this new tempo. If you’re listening closely, you may hear some Star Wars in that section. But it’s the part where John Williams ripped of Stravinsky, so you can decide how much of those two composers I borrowed from.

Finally, I love the big final moment that kind of feels like a tango. I wanted to have some other flavor in there, something not so asymmetrical like the rest of the piece. And then the ending is big and exciting. I’m all about trying to make that as intense and exciting as possible.

I tell my students all the time to put tambourine in their music. If there is tambourine in your piece, you automatically get half a letter grade better. So I wanted to also have a nice, fun tambourine part for the last section.

What do you want audiences to take away from listening to this piece?

Mostly, I hope that people are enthralled and thrilled by it. I just tried to make the piece as absolutely exciting as possible. Don’t get bogged down with any particular references or influences that I mention. That’s interesting to some people, but I hope that you just listen to it and it makes you want to get up and dance a little bit.

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