Composer John Harbison says that he is trying to “defeat the idea of style.” That is, he tries to approach every new composition with completely fresh ears and eyes, working with totally new musical material and strategies well apart from anything that preceded it. He possesses a deep understanding of music, but the richness of his music is also a byproduct of his broad interests beyond music—such as poetry and history—as well as his untiring curiosity about the world in which we live.
The seeds for some interesting discussion were planted over the weekend when I mentioned to a couple of composers that I had heard their works performed on a concert in California. They were surprised because they hadn’t been notified about the performances! This happens more often than one might think, and while some consider this a good problem to have, it makes others wonder how much they aren’t collecting in performance royalties.
The nature of long distance musical relationships is not unlike their romantic counterparts—time spent together is fleeting and intense, there is less of a shared daily routine, and extra effort is required to maintain communication during time apart. It’s definitely more complicated than having a musical life primarily in one’s own backyard.
It seems perfectly natural that cellist Matt Haimovitz, who in the very early 21st century moved the Bach cello suites out of the concert hall and into what were at the time “alternative” performance spaces such as bars and nightclubs, would join forces with pianist Christopher O’Riley, who has created his own piano arrangements of songs by Nirvana and Radiohead to name just a few.
As you know, one of the things we do here at NewMusicBox is produce video profiles of composers and musicians. The most difficult part of the endeavor is obtaining performance footage—not because it is difficult to get permission to use it, but because very few composers have high quality (or for that matter, any at all) visual documentation of performances!
What would happen if Sun Ra, Link Wray, and Stockhausen made a recording together and had King Tubby do a dub mix of it all? Well, it might sound a little like the musical universe of guitarist and composer Roger Kleier.
Last week I had a very interesting conversation with another composer that arose from a comment he made about having to be careful that his music doesn’t look easier than it really is. Given that this was an extremely successful composer whose music doesn’t ever sound “easy” to me, I was very surprised to learn that this has been a concern of his.