Waking Up to Alvin Curran

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
1:30-2:30 p.m.

A Conversation with Frank J. Oteri at the American Music Center
Videotaped by Randy Nordschow
Transcribed by Jonathan Murphy
© 2004 NewMusicBox


Curran
Alvin Curran
Photo by Marion Gray

  • Curran’s “Common Practice”
  • Mentors
  • Beyond Academic Battlegrounds
  • Improvisation
  • Playing “The Whole World”
  • Being American
  • Being Jewish
  • Beauty

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    Over the past couple of months, I’ve been waking up to parts of Inner Cities, a massive composition for solo piano by Alvin Curran which seamlessly blends elements of post-minimalism, free-form atonality, neo-romanticism, contemporary jazz improvisation, and numerous other ingredients into a remarkably cohesive whole. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found thus far to be transported from a dream state into the reality of getting ready to go to work in the morning.

    I don’t mean to imply here that it’s a good idea to listen to just any music by Curran first thing in the morning… I doubt there are ruder awakenings than his amazing Crystal Psalms, which is nothing less than an audio nightmare. But how else to capture as nightmarish an event in human history as Krystallnacht? Then there’s the remarkable string quartet VSTO inspired by his mentor Giacinto Scelsi, which probably works best really late at night, preferably over port.

    I can think of no other composer whose music works in so many different settings while managing to transcend all of them. Just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going on in one of his pieces it totally changes direction: a Feldman-esque harmonic landscape turns into a Thelonious Monk cover, a formal trio for violin, piano and percussion turns into a chaotic free-for-all with toys and theatrics, and on and on…

    After speaking with him, I can also think of no other composer who is as respectful of his forebears. Few things said to me in conversation were as moving as what Alvin Curran said to me about Elliott Carter, with whom he studied and with whom he maintains a close friendship to this day.

    Curran’s music will defy your efforts to put it in a category. After speaking to him at length, I realize that’s exactly how he wants it.

    -FJO

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