Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

New Music for Early Music Ensembles

FRANK J. OTERI: Quite a few of these early music ensembles are now playing new music. What has been your experience in working with Anonymous 4 that has been different than working with other kinds of ensembles?

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh, oh, well, they’re wonderful. I mean, the thing is that Anonymous 4 has been singing together for ten years and basically, a lot of that time, they’ve been singing Gregorian chant, which means that because of their aesthetic, they really do want to blend the voices as much as possible. And of course, musically and performance wise, they want to, you know, make sure they’re together and in tune as much as possible. But they sound like one voice, a mammoth hyper-voice in a certain sort of way. And so they come to pieces like Carnival of Miracles or Voices of Light with that and they plug that right into it and it’s amazing. Basically, there are several different kinds of musical groups. There are groups that can play anything and then there are musical groups that have developed their own style and do that style. And when you write for a group like Anonymous 4, you could play within their style, you know, but what you can’t do is suddenly ask them to do something that is far beyond their style.

FRANK J. OTERI: One of the most fascinating CDs I’ve listened to in the past few years is a recording of John Cage‘s choral music by this Danish early music group, Ars Nova. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful recordings I have ever heard. They bring their early music sensibility to this very out-there music, really clean phrasing and pure tone singing.

RICHARD EINHORN: Suddenly it’s layered. It’s like that famous Pokrovsky Ensemble recording of Les Noces. A lot of the groups I knew and that I was involved with in the seventies and the eighties, you know, you’d go to the concerts and you’d hear one of these incredibly dry, dull performances and you know, you’d think that was the music in some sense or another. But I was also thinking when you were talking of this wonderful recording by Martin Goldray of the Babbitt piano pieces, you know, which is totally awesome; it’s, you know, like this most beautiful, beautiful record to listen to. And I remember meeting Martin and saying to him, "Listen, I have to ask you a question." I said, "When did you analyze this stuff? I mean, did you go and look up the analyses?" And he said, "No." I said, "Well, how did you play it, how did you decide to play it?" And he said, "What I did was, I just played it the way I felt it. You know, I did everything he wanted, but I played it the way I felt it and I made it have musical sense, in whatever that meant, rather than anything else." And I thought, "Well, sure, that’s perfectly obvious." But it wasn’t obvious for many years. I think to a great extent, you know, getting back to the twentieth century conversation we were having, you know, composers were ill-served by the performance tradition that came out, that had been developed in the middle of this century.

FRANK J. OTERI: So maybe in the twenty-first century there’s a lot that composers could gain from working with people who have an early music approach to new music.

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh yeah, definitely. First of all, there are the stylistic things that are so attractive to us. Second of all, there are also the instruments. I mean, not all of the instruments, I mean, god, you don’t want to write too many pieces for natural horn or natural trombone or whatever, but the gamba is one of the most exquisitely beautiful instruments around. All the different kinds… There are all these instruments that need to be rediscovered and that deserve an exciting repertory. And I think also we, meaning us composers and instrument designers, could also start thinking about what a twenty-first century gamba might consist of.