Glenn Branca has had a deep and lasting impact on several music scenes, but he was never really a part of any of them. With Theoretical Girls, he created a new kind of punk rock music that came to be known as No Wave. Later on, he redefined what a symphony could be. Making music that was more visceral and louder than anything in the new music scene, he even frightened John Cage. Thirty years later, he’s still making waves.
While the myriad details that are crammed into Sebastian Currier’s scores are reminiscent of the elaborate layers found in the Romantic music of the 19th century, and his detailed conceptualizations for pieces seem as thoroughly plotted as those of a post-War total serialist, Currier writes music that very much belongs to our own less certain times.
Eight years ago, Ann Millikan, who was born and bred in California, relocated to Minnesota. While the change has not affected her music per se, it’s completely changed her working process and her sense of community.
Composer, sound artist, and performer Brenda Hutchinson is a natural storyteller. Her great love is documenting the stories and interactions of others, creating oral histories that reveal the transformative power of everyday moments.
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.
What unifies all of Wadada Leo Smith’s projects is what also makes them so different from each other—Smith’s commitment to every musician having an individual sound.
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.
It’s hard to believe that less than 25 years ago, a record label named Naxos sprang up seemingly out of nowhere offering quality recordings of most of the standard classical music repertoire for a fraction of typical retail cost. But what might be even harder to believe is that this global operation is basically the creation of one man—Klaus Heymann
Eve Beglarian’s omnivorous eclecticism has its roots in something that is arguably even more telling about her as a creator—it all emanates from a profound love both for language and for sound in and of itself. For her, language is sound, and sound is also language.
Though his formal education includes study at the New England Conservatory, Fred Hersch readily points out how the on-the-bandstand schooling he received in jazz clubs like Bradley’s in New York prepared him to be the musician is today. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about this journey and all that has come in its wake, but returned again and again to the idea of taking chances, trying things out, seeing what happens if—Hersch seemingly unbowed by the anxieties such open-ended performance situations bring into play. Later, he came at it head-on: “I think there has to be a certain element of danger in jazz, or it isn’t really jazz.”
Whether it is an orchestral work or a composition for chamber ensemble, Pierre Jalbert professes his affection for musical forms both large and small, and especially enjoys the back-and-forth of creating a work for large forces immediately followed by a smaller one. His compositions, which are vibrant and tautly constructed with thoughtfulness and precision often contrast slow music suggesting a sense of “suspended time” with fast, highly syncopated material that propels the work forward.
In addition to the megahit records (“Killing Me Softly”, “I Got a Name”), TV themes (Happy Days, Love Boat), and film scores (Barbarella, 9 to 5), Charles Fox has composed extensively for jazz and Latin bands as well as chorus, orchestra, and ballet. He’s probably the only person on the planet who can boast connections to both Nadia Boulanger and Barry Manilow!
Although Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has received more accolades than most living composers—the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first composer chair at Carnegie Hall, as well as the only living composer ever mentioned in a Peanuts® comic strip—she believes that the pinnacle of success is hearing a wonderful performance of one of her compositions.
Composer and drummer John Hollenbeck seems most content when faced with musical uncertainty. In this article he discusses his composing process, the challenges of organizing tours both in the U.S. and abroad, his thoughts on genre definitions, and the role of spirituality in his music.
Composer/librettist Stephen Schwartz and lead soprano Lauren Flanigan describe how they came to work together on Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Read the interview…
In many cases, the aural images John Luther Adams creates can be directly traced to the powerful natural world that surrounds him in his home state of Alaska, a landscape that has undeniably left its imprint on his work. More broadly, however, Adams uses composition as a way to explore and understand the world around him, regardless of borders real and imagined.
Gamelan Son of Lion founder Barbara Benary’s generous approach to music-making is akin to parenthood. Read the interview…
Mikel Rouse has been making extremely complex music using the language of contemporary popular culture decades before “bandsembles.” Read the interview…
The music of Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon is, for me, a satisfying challenge that requires the player to engage in intent chamber music—his own part is only a small portion of his concern, as at every moment an intricate contrapuntal structure is being advanced.