One of the most important tools for a composer to develop is an intuition about material, about its possibilities for manipulation and development. But now that I’ve had enough practice turning off that intuition, I can see and hear how it’s not necessarily the material, or even the choice of material, that makes or breaks a piece of music.
Elliott has been a wonderful example of the composer as a knowledgeable, educated person with a broad-based understanding of things. That a composer we respected as a leader would come to a workshop with young students, ask questions that told us what he didn’t know, and take notes, was very impressive. My guess is that at that time in his career, he had achieved a level of self-confidence and comfort with what he was doing musically that allowed him to display without embarrassment what he didn’t know.
Five days after the death of colleague and friend John Cage, I produced and hosted a two-hour tribute broadcast on the New York City radio station WBAI-FM. Only a few of the many, many friends who were also close to him could be invited and the emotions of the moment were still raw. Now, all this time later, it’s hard to believe he’s no longer with us.
Sometimes, the thoughtful and respectful recreation of a work is the deepest form respect. Other times, taking that work, using it as a diving board to bounce on and leap from, and landing in a cannonball to splash the snoozing pool-side adults is a much more fitting nod. I think Cage would prefer the latter.
Producing my opera The Face outside of the world of traditional opera companies has been both challenging and freeing. Major companies have a significant infrastructure and financial resources, but they also tend to focus on a full season of standard favorites. A new music ensemble or small independent production company can dream and create independently.
When Marvin Hamlisch was inventing music, his focus and concentration were extraordinary. He would look at the words I had brought in for 30 or 40 seconds and hear something in his head. His hands would then take over. After that initial “idea” phase in the composing, there seemed to be no time-lag between his continued musical impulses and his ability to simply play them.