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June 2009
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Composers in their own words, pt. 8: Osvaldo Golijov

Osvaldo Golijov's eclectic music reflects his diverse cultural background.  He grew up in an Eastern European Jewish household in Argentina, studied in Israel and in the U.S., and currently lives and teaches in Massachusetts.  Much of his music defies categorization, and like several other Loose Filter favorites, he takes inspiration from all musical quarters - concert, pop, ethnic, folk, electronic, high, low, and middle. 

 

Regarding the human experience:

 

[T]o me, the human scale is even more striking than the divine.  Many people say that Beethoven was the greatest composer.  Why?  Because we know how much he struggled, how much he yearned.  He was always striving upwards.  Whereas it seems that Mozart came down, as if he really were divine.  There seems to be no struggle. - from this interview.
 

On the modern composer's toolbox: 

Mahler lived in a differend world and he had one incredible instrument, which was the symphony orchestra, which he know better than anybody.  He was able to use it to express the entire range of human experience at that time.  In the hundred years that separate us, there was the electric guitar, jazz, rock: the world has been enlarged, and I don't think that the symphony orchestra is still able to contain the entire universe, which was Mahler's dream.
 


Ear Tease: The sound world of Oscar Bettison

When I listen to Oscar Bettison's music I am always fascinated by the variety of new sounds he is able to create by using traditional instruments (and some non-traditional ones!) in new and innovative ways.   This Ear Tease is going to focus on Bettison's Gauze Vespers.  Composed in 2007, it is scored for 5 players - clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello - all of whom double on some unusual instruments, in this case Flexatone, toy pianos, melodica, and pitched metal pipes.  From his website: "I have a penchant (some would call it an obsession) with junk percussion and more generally with what could be called cinderella instruments (i.e. instruments that really shouldn't be the belle-of-the-ball but I make them so.)."  

Though none of these unusual belles stands out above the others in Gauze Vespers, their use together and in conjunction with other more traditional instruments creates a fascinating, and for me unique and totally engaging, sound world.  

Continue reading "Ear Tease: The sound world of Oscar Bettison" »


Composers in their own words, pt. 7: Magnus Lindberg

Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg is set to become the next composer-in-residence of the NY Phil (w/ video), and has a performance at this year's Cabrillo Festival, but aside from these recent developments he hasn't received much play in America.  This succinct description from Jeremy Eichler is a good starting point: "He belongs to a generation of composers that inherited the solemn rites and rigors of post-war modernism and struggled to transform them into a personal language that could speak beyond the ivory tower."

On orchestras:
 
"For much of the last century, what you might call the 'critical mass' of the orchestra has tended to be dismissed as an institution belonging to the past. I don't share that view, above all because there's no real equivalent for the mental and physical energy you get from an orchestra playing at its optimum level, and creating its own collective 'sound image'."
 
 

Continue reading "Composers in their own words, pt. 7: Magnus Lindberg" »


Hilary Hahn gets it

If we've said once we've said it a thousand times.  By changing elements of the traditional concert experience you change audience expectations by letting them know - even before the music's started - that their preconceived notions don't apply.  When audiences are freed from their expectations and preconceived notions they are freed to experience the music in a deeper way.  In this 2008 blog post Hilary Hahn accurately describes this from an artist's point of view, and articulates why the term 'crossover' really doesn't apply.  Here's a quote.

The latest collaborative trends incorporate little of the crossover inclinations of the past. The label "crossover" refers to mixed genres: classical plus bluegrass, rock plus classical, or plugged-in, amped-up, alternatively decorated versions of standards, to name a few.  Those experiments are now considered old hat, and much of the controversy surrounding them has died down as they have established themselves in the mainstream public's awareness. Recent developments, on the other hand, are neither mainstream nor genre-driven; instead, they are organized by the artists themselves and favor pursuits that show each participant at his or her perceived strength. If anything is mixed in such projects, it is the best qualities of the performers. Through those elements, the audience is led full circle to the initial source of inspiration: the art itself.

 Yes!  If you're going to go through the trouble of smashing your audience's preconceived notions you had better take advantage of it and hit them with some awesome music.  An example of the artist-driven collaborations Hahn is referring to would be her concerts with singer/songwriter Josh Ritter.  The concerts were most like a double bill, with each of them doing their own thing and collaborating on just a few pieces.  You can read about their collaboration here and here (w/ audio)

Minimalist archaeology

A fascinating series of posts by Kyle Gann chronicling his work on the reconstruction of Dennis Johnson's epic 1959 piano work November.  Johnson was involved with  the emergence of minimalism, and it turns out that November anticipates some of the movement's key characteristics before several of the more famous "origin" works.  Regardless, it's a beautiful piece of music.  You'll read all about it in the posts below.


Audio clips of the original recording can be found here and here.

Kyle does great work like this all the time, and you can learn all about it on his Arts Journal blog.  For me, he has opened up a whole world of minimalist and post-minimalist music that I didn't even know existed.  As a result, I am only now just beginning to understand the context for some of my very favorite pieces of music, and discovering wonderful new ones in the process.  Kudos!