Archive for the “Judith Lang Zaimont” Category

Just in time for Halloween comes the eerie coincidence to read at one sitting Richard Taruskin’s (TNR) article  and Lawrence Dillon’s recent comments on the composer’s dilemma:  What  choice of outlook to adopt  for new-made music?  Either give the public what you believe it already wants, or write to push the high-art envelope in terms of innovation.   

Calculated? – yes.  Valid? – no.  [ Unless you're writing jingles. ]

If our work has any integrity, it already speaks inimitably as we speak. We don’t ordinarily have such decisions to make – there turns out to be one right way for the piece to manifest, and that’s the one right way it should come to life. 

Artists can (if they wish) make taste.  And there are, among us,   composers who see their place as being neither revolutionaries nor panderers,  but evolutionaries.   These are folks who do not put on new coats for each piece.    Their music knows and respects what came before; presses innovation forward when the moment calls for it;  and   cares not too much if – at first hearing – all of the piece is revealed to all the listeners.  

These composers know that art is a mirror and a lens – they presume a piece will have future performances which continue to reveal its contents, flavor, and character across time.    And they count on being able to reach listeners  repeatedly over years with various works, each of which is meant to have lasting resonance in some way.

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Gloss: It’s the Words, not the Music  
October 29, 2007
 
Reading Taruskin’s  “this is the way it went” summary of classical music’s 20th-century tribulations in The New Republic, I was uncomfortable: naturally – I’m in this business, and would like to know it’s a going concern.  But I did have to nod finally when I remembered the following:
I’m a big science-fiction fan.   Recently, I read a compendium of short fiction culled from the early golden-age (the pulps period), including some early Asimov, and then moved right on to  Richard Morgan’s Thirteen.  Music references couldn’t be more different:  Space explorers of the future in the early stories routinely reference purely instrumental music, citing composers quite up-to-date for their day — Bartok, Shostakovich,  even Stravinsky and Barber  — and sometimes talked about what the music did along the way, and how it made them feel.  Yet similar characters in newer sf  refer only to texted music, even in made-up titles — and the music is exclusively rock (not even jazz). 

This exposes a trend I’ve  noticed in the last decades:  We  now need  the presence – the “crutch” – of words, no matter the artform.  ( Think Jenny Holzer in visual art.)   

Whatever happened to the ability to revel simply in sounds, without engaging the sense side of our brains?

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Recently Frank Oteri wrote to describe a current  project of AMC and ACF to prepare an updated statiscal portrait of today’s composers –  where we live, what genres we address, where our financial support comes from, etc.

     I’m more interested in who we are artistically. Do we still write complex music?  Are our fabrics rich or thin?  How have today’s habits of listening looped back, affecting the content/style of what we produce?  How have general financial constraints — coupled with the beckoning finger of the educational market – affected decisions as to what we produce?

    So I ask again (as in my August post) Pete Townshend’s question:   Who are YOU?  

 

 

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The phenomenally gifted Harlem Quartet  offered the first three performances of  my new  String Quartet –  eight, seven and six days ago back East  (Cornell, Eastman, Syracuse).   I was able to be present only for the very first performance and without question  believe it to be  the best world premiere  to date of  any of my works. Yes, the audience response was prolonged and effusive – but  what  most touched me was the superb close attention to – and love of – my notes on the part of this great quartet.   This was the real deal:   They absolutely the music, and made it their own.    I was personally sure about this piece  once I had wrestled it into final form on the page –  but now, thanks to HQ,  anyone can hear it  just the way  I imagined it would sound.  Hats off to Ilmar, Melissa, Miguel and Desmond! 

Ed. Note:  The Harlem Quartet will be appearing at Carnegie Hall this Tuesday night, September 25, as part of the Sphinx Laureates Concert.

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Coming up this weekend is the premiere of my new String Quartet – The Figure, performed by the excellent Harlem Quartet.  ( 9/ 15 – Syracuse University,   9/16– Eastman ,  9/17 – Cornell) 

The 16-minute Quartet was composed in January and February, during  which time I felt almost as if  I was working in a trance:  the materials grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.    It is traditional in no way  –  not in its forms, nor  its sounds nor  its character.   It’s cast in 2 movements,  but only as I was about half-way through the second did the a title  suggest itself.   (Playing on the fact that the term “figure” is  meaningful in visual arts and literature, as well as in music.)

Everything in the Quartet derives from the materials of its tripartite figure.   And since these are revealed differently in the two movements – obscured in the first;  in the second initially outlined harshly, but then interrupted  increasingly by a softened, melodic version of  itself –   I  titled each movement accordingly:   1 -  In Shadow ,    2 – In Bright Light.
 
Overall  the Quartet is  dramatic in its character, but woven in its form.  It changes on a dime from inward to outward musics,  from  romantic sweep to  angular exclamation –   at one point  (at the height of  Shadow’s  central sprint),  I ask the players to stamp their feet,  several times,   for unison emphasis – and the movements  interrelate .    Example:  There’s a shard which appears only once in the first movement that  in the second becomes  seriously meaningful.

The Harlem Quartet is very interested in the piece, and we’ve already had some spirited rehearsals (by electronic means); we meet in person at Syracuse on Friday.

[Five other of my works will also be done at Syracuse across  the two  Saturday concerts. ]

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During September and October  in addition to first  performances of  three brand-new pieces there’ll be a  sort-of first performance of a fourth.  This  ‘sort-of’ premiere  (at Syracuse University, September 15th 8:00 PM)  is of my Serenade  for Violin and Organ. 
        
At times composers can’t accurately predict  what will spark performer interest.  I know it’s a surprise to me  sometimes: More than once when I’ve written a piece just for myself to play that  caught on with other pianists,  developing  a hardy  after-life.  

Serenade was composed in one day in March of 2006, originally for piano.  A  close relative’s serious illness had me brooding, so I sat down to write music  she would enjoy hearing.   She loves the kind of lush jazz chords typical of ‘40s big-bands, so I began with the same major-7th chord as  David Raksin used in  “Laura”  and progressed from there in  sustained quiet affect.    The resulting  five-minute movement is something of a lone-wolf  — it stays  in one meter throughout with a  circular melody that never resolves;  and  the music begins and ends almost without definition.  Because  its background rhythm is a consistent  slow syncopation, I included it on the Prestidigitations CD as  coda.

When the Syracuse concert came up,  the organ professor wanted to play, so I  suggested he adapt Serenade ( a melody with  worked-out harmonic support ) and sent along the music.   He really liked it and slated the transcribed version for the mid-September concert (I’ll be there).

The music is mine, but this version is his.  Vested interest is spread, and anticipated pleasure in the offering is shared.  (A report on the transcription  will follow later this month.) 

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