Notes on REVERB I, April 6, 2022
Over the past few years, I have developed a great interest in musical borrowings: how ideas from other places, other artists, and other time periods have had the effect of creating new and surprising works.
After all, as musicians, borrowing is part of our lineage. Whether it’s Renaissance composers making a “parody” mass (literally copy a chunk of someone else’s mass and pasting it to their own work), Debussy discovering gamelan music to inspire his own resonant piano works, or hip hop artists sampling older music to make new beats, the result is the same: new things are made out of old ones, and as a consequence, a powerful sense of lineage and history emerges from such new combination.
Every piece on this program either borrows or is borrowed from. Oliver Knussen and Nico Muhly take music from Perotin and William Byrd and make it new with their vibrant orchestral colors.
Cassandra Miller’s Just So riffs on a Bach Chorale Harmonization turning it into a kind of wild avant-garde fiddling experience, while Ted Hearne “samples” a hip hop artist Kenzo, The Shizz, a fun, silly song from the early 2000s.
Angélica Negrón’s Marejada was originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, but as the 2020 pandemic encroached she had to get creative and so she wrote a piece meant to be performed over Zoom — internet lags and all. Tonight, we “borrow” that lag here as we try to recreate the glitches of internet speed in real-time.
Michael Nyman was asked by the director Peter Greenaway to borrow from Mozart’s famous Sinfonia Concertante’s second movement to create the film score for the movie Drowning By Numbers. The first movement, one of my favorite, “Trysting Fields,” literally takes every appoggiatura (an expressive sighing gesture) that appears in the Mozart, puts them in order, repeats them three times, and somehow, magically, it works. (Much like The Shizz, “Wheelbarrow Walk” is a made-up dance that appears in the movie.)
My new piece, which concludes the program, The Age of Wire and String, has a number of borrowings. It borrows its title from a book by the writer Ben Marcus and uses his creation of a “wind gun” as an inspiration to open the piece with a gunshot of air from the brass. I borrow musical materials from a project that wasn’t meant to be, but whose materials I really loved, and fashioned it into a six-part orchestral suite. As the work proceeds, it begins to borrow more and more from itself, until all of its elements come together in the final “chapter.” The Age of Wire and String was generously commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting and is dedicated to my good friend Tito Muñoz who has been such an incredible champion of my work.
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