While Joseph C. Phillips Jr.’s music sometimes incorporates improvisation and his ensemble features several prominent jazz musicians, he does not consider himself a jazz composer. An adept multitasker who balances creating music for film, dance, symphonic bands, and his own 25-piece ensemble with teaching music to kindergartners, Phillips creates very clearly 21st-century music—incorporating a broad range of styles while being ultimately beholden to none.
Late on Saturday afternoon I completed the remaining song of a twelve-part song cycle I have been working on for most of this year. But since then, I’ve been wondering if the piece is actually done. No one’s heard it yet. Some might argue (along the lines of that tree falling in the forest) that until other people hear it, it doesn’t really exist.
While the myriad details that are crammed into Sebastian Currier’s scores are reminiscent of the elaborate layers found in the Romantic music of the 19th century, and his detailed conceptualizations for pieces seem as thoroughly plotted as those of a post-War total serialist, Currier writes music that very much belongs to our own less certain times.
Over the years I’ve heard Gene Pritsker’s music both in symphony orchestra halls and clubs. In another era, it would not have fit comfortably in either setting but now it’s at home in both. And yet Pritsker’s chamber opera, William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, recently released on Composers Concordance Recordings, still manages to sound unsettling to me.
One of the biggest differences between performances of standard works and premieres is the opportunity for performers and audiences to probe deeper into interpretative issues rather than trying to suss out a completely new experience. It’s very nice to have a profounder understanding of something, and it’s very gratifying when that something is a relatively new work, which was my experience when I attended my third live performance of Einstein on the Beach.
Some pieces of music that now seem impossible to perform will be child’s play in the future; others are purposely written that way to create a specific type of interpretation—one that audibly conveys the struggle of getting through it. But then there are pieces that are just unplayable; I might have written one.