Listen to America

Speaking about of the American scene is not easy if you move away from names that are “classics” such as Charles Ives or George Gershwin. The contemporary world, in all the arts, is obscure and difficult to decipher. The ambition of the project Listen to America is to be able to provide the musical portraits, a survey of some current forms of musical composition. What is made today in America? How do they face the musicians their hard work? What are the composers that we should know? These are some of the questions we can ask about American music today. We thought the best thing was to stay the critical judgement and to ask them how they live the craft, such as their professional expectations and what they feed their imagination.


Interview with Mason Bates

masonbates-by-ryan-schudeThis is the last appointment of the project Listen to America. We talk to Mason Bates, a young composer who’s changing the way of composing orchestral music. Bates’ stylistic personality is as firmly rooted in the world of pop music and electronica as it is in the more rigorous realm of classical music. Read more


Interview with Alexandra Gardner

alexandra_gardnerOur project dedicated to American contemporary music continues with this interview with the composer Alexandra Gardner. The musical world of Gardner is inspired by mythology and contemporary poetry, subjects who become part of her interest in electronic music, percussion and the evolution of electroacoustic music. Gardner’s compositions have been featured at festivals and venues throughout the world. Recent performance highlights include the world premieres of Just Say Yes for the Seattle Symphony. Current commissions include a wind ensemble piece for a consortium of university bands, and a new work for pianist Jenny Lin. In addition to her work as a composer, Gardner is active as a digital media specialist and arts advocate. She has worked extensively in audio production for organizations such as NPR and Soundprint, and is currently associate editor of NewMusicBox, a program of New Music USA. Read more


Interview with Joel Hoffman

Joel HoffmanEighth round with the project dedicated to the american composers today, Listen to America. This time we interview Joel Hoffman. Hoffman is Professor of Composition at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He has been a resident composer at the Rockefeller, Camargo and Hindemith Foundations, the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Hoffman is also an active pianist, having appeared as soloist with, among others, the Chicago Symphony, the Belgian Radio and T.V. Orchestra, the Costa Rica National Symphony and the Florida Orchestra. His music has been frequently heard at summer festivals such as Caramoor, Portogruaro, Korsholm, Evian, St. Nazaire, Newport, Chamber Music Northwest, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the Seattle Chamber Music Festival. Read more


Interview with Missy Mazzoli

missy_mazzoli_cThe composer Missy Mazzoli tells us what it means to be a composer today. Her musical activity is divided in recent years between the band Victoire (their debut full-length CD, Cathedral City, was named one of 2010′s best classical albums by Time Out New York), recent guest at Carnegie Hall, and orchestral composition. Missy Mazzoli’s music has been performed all over the world by the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, the American Composers Orchestra, New York City Opera, the Minnesota Orchestra, cellist Maya Beiser, the Albany Symphony, the South Carolina Philharmonic, Dublin’s Crash Ensemble and many others.One of her most recent work deals with the problem: “How can I create a work that sounds like it was written in the 21st century, while using that forces were codified in the 19th century?”  It ‘s a question that, in fact, through the whole of her most recent work. The sound landscape that can offer her music is broad and does not exclude a close dialogue between rock music, classic and contemporary. With a focus on John Adams. Read more


Interview with Julia Alford-Fowler

alford-fowlerComposer, teacher, activist and accordion noodler, Julia Alford-Fowler tells us about musical influences and her way of composing music. She  combines the techniques of serialism with the raw emotion of the expressionism, but she also believes in the need to make the music as accessible as possible to the public.  Two trends are difficult to reconcile: “Success in our society (in the United States, at least)” she said “tends to be based on who is the best at making connections, the best looking product, and over all selling themselves in the best possible light.  It leaves me wondering what amazing composers will never be heard because they are not good at playing the game”. Read more


Expression and Texture: interview with Douglas Knehans

douglas_knehansDouglas Knehans speaks about his origins as a musician, his instrumental studies (flute) and early career in the art of composition: chamber music, choral and orchestral music mix in an interesting repertoire that also includes works with electronics and stage works.  These works include a commission for cinema, like the soundtrack of the short film ‘A Song of Air’ commissioned by the Australian Film Institute and aired at the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. He has had pivotal interactions with some important composers such as Pierre Boulez and Witold Lutoslawski and is a huge admirer of the music of Kaija Saariaho. In this exclusive interview we tried to investigate some of the composition aspects related to choral music:  Knehans often has devoted his attention to choral music: Shoah Requiem (2005), St Luke Magnificat (1986), Missa Brevis (2010) or operas like The Ascension of Robert Flau (1990) and Backwards from Winter (2012) are just some examples of the works you can listen to on the web site of the composer. Read more


Color and Rhythmic Dexterity: interview with Arlene Sierra

aesierra2The artistic profile of Arlene Sierra is an eloquent example of how a certain European tradition may merge with influences from American contemporary music. As she says in this interview, Stravinsky, Bartok, Copland, Lutoslawski, Berio, Ligeti, Messiaen and Boulez have left a mark in her work but this is, in some way, also true of some American composers. Sierra explains her stylistic itinerary through the works and gives us a portrait of the twenty-first century composer who knows how to distill tradition and innovation in a personal way. Sierra’s catalogue includes more than thirty works ranging from song cycles Streets and Rivers and Neruda Settings to operas Faustine and Cuatro Corridos. Chamber works include the piano album Birds and Insects, two piano trios Truel and Butterflies Remember a Mountain, ensemble works Ballistae, Cicada Shell andColmena, and a new series of scores to Maya Deren films. Urban Birds, for three pianos with electronics, percussion and sampled birdsong, has been featured by BBC News and has performances scheduled for London’s South Bank Centre and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Read more


Garden of delights: interview with Nicholas Urie

nicholas_urie2Along the way proposed by a project such as Listen to America was inevitable encounter of musicians from jazz: the new American music was deeply influenced by the jazz (as well as jazz contains his great compositions for orchestra, just thinking about Duke Ellington or George Gershwin). Nicholas Urie is a young composer who is able to modulate the classical tradition (Debussy, Ravel) and contemporary (Dutilleux, Lutoslawski, etc.) With his training as a jazz artist. The connection between these two worlds sound is so real that he can say: “For me the connection between Bach, Webern, and [Thelonious] Monk feels obvious and essential”. But jazz is not only a stylistic choice for Nicholas Urie, but rather a question of sensitivity which also applies to the interpretation of a score. He said: “I think my jazz sensibility allows me to get some distance between the idealized version of the music in my head and what is happening on the stage. What I try to do is work with performers who have a sympathetic artistic vision and the openness to travel somewhere new and unexpected with me. When that relationship is at its best, there is a kind of symbiosis that develops”. Read more


Shades of Memory: interview with Pierre Jalbert

jalbert_pierreIn his biography can be read: “Jalbert’s music is tonally centered, incorporating modal, tonal, and sometimes quite dissonant harmonies while retaining a sense of harmonic motion and arrival. He is particularly noted for his mastery of instrumental color: in both chamber works and orchestral scores, he creates timbres that are vivid yet refined”. The music of Jalbert also owes much to his experiences with the orchestras: recent orchestral performances include those by the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood under Sean Newhouse, and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra under Marin Alsop. Other major works for orchestra include Shades of Memory (2011), commissioned by the Houston Symphony; Autumn Rhapsody (2008), commissioned by the Vermont Symphony, Fire and Ice (2007), commissioned for the Oakland East Bay, Marin, and Santa Rosa Symphonies through Meet the Composer Foundation’s Magnum Opus Project;big sky (2006), commissioned by the Houston Symphony and performed by the ensemble at Carnegie Hall; Chamber Symphony (2004), commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Symphonia Sacra (2001), written for the California Symphony; andLes espaces infinis (2001), commissioned by the Albany Symphony. Read more


Through a glass darkly: interview with Lawrence Kramer

lkramerIn this exclusive interview, the American composer and musicologist Lawrence Kramer tells how he became interested in music, the role that literature plays in his work and decisive encounter with the Masters (Schoenberg, Carter and others). In this interview, Kramer reconstructs his artistic journey through the history of music and shows us some peculiar aspects of his way of conceiving the musical phenomenon. In his case, a key role has it also literature: his first meeting with Elliot Carter, in fact, is under the sign of John Ashbery. He also wrote an extended cycle, The Wanderer and his Shadow (texts adapted from Nietzsche) for voice and solo cello. Read more 

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