Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music: Composers’ Forums

Favorite Composers

TOM HALL: Alberto, let me ask you what might be an unfair question, one which I will ask everybody. Who are your favorite composers working today? Who do you like to listen to today, and whose music moves you in a particular way, besides your own?

ALBERTO GRAU: I feel very lucky to be very versatile, and enjoy everything from Gregorian chant to a good salsa. And I can also sit at the piano and play Johann Sebastian Bach. I am fond of many types of music. And [during] the times that I have to write, many of my talents and all these elements come to me, and I give all these elements a very personal touch.

TOM HALL: Jorge, how about you? You are a conductor as well as a composer. You do a lot of music. Are there people writing music today in particular that you are drawn to?

JORGE C"RDOBA: You asked me about the composers. I think there are too many. Béla Bartók, Francis Poulenc, Gorecki, Arvo Part. I like very much the composers that set a choral reality. I am a singer and choral director, and sometimes when I approach a certain kind of music, I see that the choir is suffering. The singers are suffering. And I really like all these composers who think about the choir, about the singer.

TOM HALL: You, as a co-founder with Libby Larsen of the ACF, have done just phenomenal work for many years in supporting many, many American composers in particular. This may be a particularly unfair question, but who are the composers that you are interested in?

STEPHEN PAULUS: I obviously have been greatly exposed to the works of my colleagues here in the States as I have worked and lived here. Also through the Composer’s Forum, I have become familiar with literally hundreds of composers’ music. Also through two residencies, one with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and one here with the Minnesota Orchestra. When Libby and I were here with the Minnesota Orchestra, we were sent works by probably 700 composers, and we functioned as a little screening committee of two, before the sacred, smaller number made it to Neville Marriner‘s desk. So we became familiar with all kinds of people. I have been fascinated by the work of several of my colleagues; people outside the Minnesota area would include music of Joe Schwantner, Bob Beaser, Aaron Kernis. I told Aaron this story—Four or five years ago I didn’t really know much of his music; I don’t know why. We have a little boombox in the kitchen. I think it is fair to say it is not a very sophisticated piece of equipment. But it is a kitchen. Minnesota Public Radio was playing something, and my wife had just asked me to take out the garbage, which I was doing. I put down the garbage, because you know how it is when you really want to hear the end of the piece, who the composer was. I was that fascinated with who the composer was, and it turned out that it was Aaron Kernis. And I thought that is the ultimate compliment when you stop doing something else. You often hear people say, “I was traveling along in the car and I heard this fascinating piece and I was five minutes late for the party. And this being America, I think I am like most Americans, I have very eclectic tastes and you can go down the radio dial and listen to seventeen different styles of music. I was in New York supervising the production of a new opera that I had written, and I ended up eating in the same restaurant on several nights in the row. At the late hour we were finishing, sometimes there were not so many options open to us. And they were always playing the same CD at around 11:30 or 12 at night. And I finally said, “Who is that?” because I had no idea, and it turned out to be Norah Jones, who is sort of a jazz singer. And after a while, I noticed that Barnes & Noble, everybody in that Lincoln Center area was playing the same CD. Finally, I’ll go to the point, I didn’t want to be embarrassed by it, but after a while, there was a twinge of country-western thrown in with jazz and something else that I couldn’t figure out because that is not my area of expertise. There is something fascinating about the way the text is set, sparsely accompanied, and I have since learned that she is quite a hot ticket, she is Ravi Shankar‘s daughter and is writing all of these great interesting little things. So I think a lot of American composers are influenced by some of the popular music around. It is not as if we would incorporate it, but it all feeds into the same tube and somehow comes out as a piece of music.