Frederic Rzewski Visits America

Performing

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, during that time in Europe you also came into direct contact with some of the leading figures of the free jazz movement such as Anthony Braxton. You even recorded an album with Steve Lacy. Part of what separated you from all these other composers from the beginning is that in addition to being a composer, you were always a performer as well, a pianist.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: That’s how I make my living.

FRANK J. OTERI: And you frequently play the music of other composers, not just your own…

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Correct.

FRANK J. OTERI: You’ve also recorded music by Tom Johnson and Henri Pousseur. I heard your recent recording of music by Cornelius Cardew; it’s wonderful…

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: I’m glad you like it.

FRANK J. OTERI: What started first for you?

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Playing or writing? I think they started more or less at the same time. It was so far back that I can’t remember it clearly. I started playing the piano when I was four or something like that. I still have some notebooks of infantile scrawls from age five, so the two things went together from the very beginning.

FRANK J. OTERI: To have that physical tactile connection to making music, rather than just a cerebral one, perhaps guarantees that you’re not going to exclusively be a scientist, but also a poet.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: There was a time when I entertained the idea of going into science. I was interested in chemistry, astronomy… Still am! I try to keep up with new work in the sciences.

FRANK J. OTERI: But your approach to music is not exclusively a scientific or a mathematical one, it’s more poetic…

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Oh no, I don’t know what it is. I just write down what’s in my head.

FRANK J. OTERI: I’d be inclined to group you with those composers you were grouping together before when you talked about musical cousins to the surrealists: Satie, Feldman

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: I would like to be in that league. I aspire to be in that league. I’m not sure I’m there yet.