Jeremy Beck, composer
Rayanne Dupuis, soprano
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, Conductor



Pause & Feel & Hark
Jeremy Beck, composer
Emilio Colon, Heather Coltman, Elizabeth Sadilek, Gretchen Brumwell, Jean McDonald, Robin Guy, performers

I’ve listened to two albums from the composer Jeremy Beck, who grew up in Quincy, IL and trained at the old Mannes College of Music on E. 74th Street. My overall impression of his music is that it is fairly traditional, competent, pleasant overall to listen to, and expertly written for a variety of instruments. None of his music on these two albums breaks any new ground; hence, my sense that he is more of a traditional composer. I sense affinities at times with Copland, Barber, and perhaps even Roy Harris, all of whom are great composers to emulate.

I liked the music on Wave better than on the other album. Wave contains three works:

  • State of the Union 1992
  • Sinfonietta 2000
  • Death of a Little Girl with Doves 1998

Sinfonietta is my favorite on this album. Set for strings, it sounds much like the great string orchestra music of Copland. None of the movements exceeds five minutes, and the music holds together quite nicely. Not particularly distinctive or memorable, to be sure, but still a good work to listen to.

I loved the title of State of the Union, which was written as a protest against Bush 1. I think it holds true for Bush 2, but that’s besides the point. The music for full orchestra is well constructed and expertly scored. Again, it harks back to the 40’s and 50’s in many ways, but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing.

I found it harder to get into Death of a Little Girl with Doves, written for soprano and orchestra, but it is still worthwhile. It reminded me in some ways of Barber’s evocative Knoxville, Summer of 1915, but without as much emotional density.

The second album, pause and feel and hark, contains works for a variety of paired instruments, including cello, harp and flute. The music is again expertly written from a technical perspective and nice to listen to. But while the individual works (sonata no. 3 “moon”, songs without words, black water) are pleasant enough, nothing in particular grabbed me.

There is nothing wrong, to be certain, with writing music that is more traditional and status quo, particularly if it is expressive. Many of us on the new music scene still dig our dose of Copland, Bernstein, Piston, and other “standard” American composers of the past fifty years. But at some point, I think that people like Copland, Harris and Barber wrote great music by finding their own voice, even with the similarities among them. They also wrote for their time. Brahms wrote amazing music. But should a German composer in 2006 write music in the same style? I’m not sure.

So I think the music I’ve heard from Jeremy Beck represents music that is expertly written and evocative of a past era. The dilemma is that all I keep thinking about as I hear this music are works by other composers I really like from that time. And while I liked much of what I heard on these two albums, none of it sticks in my mind, and none of it took me to another plane. The best works of Copland, like his Dance Symphony or Piano Variations, grab me in a big way. These two CDs didn’t grab me in the same way, but did keep me listening attentively. And that’s not bad.    

3 Responses to “music by Jeremy Beck”
  1. Daniel says:

    I wonder if too much emphasis is placed on being a “breakthrough” composer.

  2. david toub says:

    It’s not so much a matter of being a “breakthrough” composer (whatever that means), but more a matter of individuality and style. In the business and IT worlds, we often talk about disruptive technologies, like the Palm Pilot or the Web. Few composers will be “disruptive” (in the IT sense, not their personalities). But that’s ok—we don’t need fifty John Cages, 100 Bachs, or 30 Schoenbergs. Revolutions need space between them.

  3. Jeremy Beck says:

    It is telling that this IT writer enjoyed listening to my music, even while he was unable to discern the underlying reasons for his pleasure. His invocation of the American tonal panopoly of composers I take as a compliment. And while he may correctly perceive that my lyricism, rhythmic energy and unique tonal dialect are borne, in part, of that tradition (no pejorative in my book), it is unfortunate his understanding of musical currents is so cramped. Far from being a mere reflection of the 1930s or 40s, American tonality is a living tradition, one which continually and successfully renews itself. Happily, we live in a diverse and vibrant era of music composition, one which grows ever further away from that period in American Music c. 1955-75 some refer to as the Age of Musical Repression. While some critics demonstrate a preference for narrowing the field of new music to that which may superficially appear to be “cutting edge,” I am delighted that those who buy my CDs and commission and perform my music are gratified by the breadth of its expressive nature and the broad range of its emotional landscape. And that, my friends and fans, isn’t too bad.

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