Consider this: Christopher Rouse does not compose every day; he starts every piece in full score, on measure one; he doesn’t use a piano much, because he can hardly play; he finds the entire process of composition miserable from start to finish and perennially aspires to artistic levels he believes he cannot attain; he only hears the bad things when his pieces get performed, and he is waiting for the day when people wake up and realize he’s no good.
Rouse is, as in his music, unafraid to air his honest thoughts. He can appear neurotic and contradictory one moment, pragmatic and confident the next. He was so thoroughly interesting, I couldn’t resist trying to switch him before interview’s end to my own favorite topics: music and education. But we still had music to discuss.
Rouse has two upcoming world premieres: a Requiem (commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria, Inc.) and Wolf Rounds (commissioned by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music). The former takes place March 25th at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the latter at Carnegie Hall on March 29th.
Rouse has been thinking about a Requiem for a while and all along the idea of interspersing the Latin liturgical text with secular poetry has inspired him. In his new work, he uses the secular texts to tell the story of a man’s encounters with death: a Seamus Heaney poem describes death from the perspective of the man as a ten year-old boy; a poem by Michelangelo mourns the death of the man’s father; a Siegfried Sassoon poem relates the suicide of a comrade in the trenches of World War I. These poems – and others – are sung by a solo baritone; the Latin is reserved for the chorus. Musically, Rouse organizes the work into an instrumental palindrome, building up from the opening unaccompanied baritone solo to the tutti “Tuba mirum,” and closing again with the solo baritone.
In Wolf Rounds Rouse gets the chance to rock out. The 17-minute work for symphonic band attempts to capture the rhythmic vitality and virtuosic energy of Rouse’s favorite rock music – most notably Led Zeppelin. Over a driving beat, instruments take up variations of the same melodic line; the close, quasi-canonic counterpoint calls to mind the circling of wolves around their prey. There are even some flutter-tongue trombone growls: mimesis, but also a nod to John Corigliano’s Symphony No.3 – another work for symphonic band.
Near the end of the interview, Rouse told me he was worried about his stage bow at Disney Hall. It takes 90 seconds to reach the stage from the balcony, and it was possible the applause might not last that long. The performers have assured him they will stretch the applause in the unlikely event such measures are necessary.
P.S. He’s also on MySpace.