Many ingredients go into Judith Shatin’s music. While it is informed by a deep sense of musical history, it is just as much a by-product of her profound desire to search for new sounds. It is also deeply inspired by history itself, but not as an artifact. Rather it is something that is malleable and very much alive, something that we in the present can continue to engage with to better understand ourselves.
When Zoë Keating takes the stage, her charismatic presence—a perfect balance of focused performer and welcoming MC—exerts a magnetic attraction. She is a composer who, with a chair, her cello, a bit of software, and some amplification, conjures an entire orchestra of sound out of the timbres of this one instrument.
All of Corey Dargel’s output could potentially appeal to an extremely broad audience, even his most outré experiments in empathy. At the same time, his seemingly simple early songs are filled with embedded complexities and reward with focused listening time and again. Like many other difficult to categorize music creators of his generation, Dargel consistently defies classification.
Sometimes a composer’s personality can speak volumes about the music she or he writes. Tranquility mixed with pointed curiosity fits both the outward persona of Janice Giteck as well as the character of her work. Her compositions, which focus on chamber music but also include orchestral works and film scores, combine the rigor of Western European musical training with a meld of Buddhist, Hasidic, Javanese, and African influences.
Bernard Rands navigates a variety of dualities both in his music and in his personal life. For someone approaching 80-years old, he is amazingly youthful and vigorous. Though he is steadfast in his routines, he’s constantly seeking and engaging with new ideas not only from music but also from art and literature. And all of this inevitably shows up in his own music.
David Borden’s formidable category-defying musical accomplishments are a direct precedent to today’s largely DIY contemporary music landscape. The skewed counterpoint and unexpected harmonic progressions in The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, his 3-hour magnum opus which he began composing 35 years ago, make it sound vibrant and fresh to this day, whatever instruments are ultimately used for its performance.
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.
Much is made in the music press of violinist Hilary Hahn’s stunning technique, impeccable poise, and unshakable intonation. In that picture of perfection, however, one of her most striking character traits—her seemingly insatiable curiosity—can get a bit lost. Still, though she doesn’t flaunt her boundary pushing with unusual concert dress or radical interpretive choices, she resolutely pursues her own interests with care and focus.