Tag Archives: composer

Glenn Gould

By Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

By Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

‘At live concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillian.’

Glenn Gould  — Holiday, 1964

Full Art of Piano documentary segment on Glenn Gould. Includes clips from: Bach’s Partita No2 in c minor (BWV 826); Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No1 in d minor (BWV 1052); and an interview on the roles of the performer, composer, and listener. Enjoy!


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Juan Manuel


Juan Manuel

What motivates you to compose?

Composing is, for me, an inner necessity: music is a fruit of the spirit that can sometimes lead us to the Absolute. When you compose, it becomes possible to fulfill the desire to create a world of your own, a personal microcosm where you set the rules and also make their exceptions. Along with my constant goals, there are everyday events that, providentially, act for me as inspirational triggers: I unconsciously absorb these stimuli before combining them spontaneously into the seed of a musical whole that may not necessarily resemble its primeval components.

Through inspiration, during an ‘inner vision’, one’s mind often hears and sees fragments of a new work before even writing its first note, as if the piece was already finished; knowledge and experience then help me to process them through work and intuition (something that reminds me the way in which alchemy processes the prime matter). And, somehow, this seems to be connected to a sense of duty: one is moved to compose what it needs to be composed (thus, avoiding superfluous initiatives), focusing on oneself as the first listener of a new own piece, but bearing in mind its future audience as well.

How would you describe your music?
My music is a faithful reflection of myself.
Within the frame of classical music, my output embraces many styles, techniques and genres while keeping an inner unity that can be often found in a sonorous discourse which dialogues with past and present towards future. You could say, in Chomskyan terms, that my music tends to manifest itself through varied surface forms which are often derived from a common deep structure. At the same time, some of my compositions are frequently nourished both by elements taken from Argentine folk music and urban dances-which I then incorporate into the classical music I write, often related to Viennese trends due to my relationship with Austria-and concepts like ‘numinous’, ‘anamnesis’, ‘unity in variety’ and ‘union of the opposites’, while containing references to fields that can range from theology to biology. By the use of different approaches and perspectives, including intertextual and ekphrastic ones, as well as by employing new technologies.
I always try to give my music a balance between emotion and thought.
Can you explain a bit about your cultural influences?
UNESCO reaffirmed in 2001 that “culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”.

Within that context, I have been always exposed to cultural diversities since I came to life, receiving influences from both my family (rooted in the present states of Spain, Italy and France, but recently settled in Argentina) and the countries where I lived and studied: Sweden (where I was born), Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Austria, Germany and Poland. At the same time, I must also add to this those influences coming from my multiple objects of study, which I gladly absorbed as a composer, in this case, and not a as researcher (thus, avoiding any possible positivist controversy).

How does cultural influences inspire your music?

I think the way that this happens is mainly due to the interaction of the previously mentioned cultural influences I have received during my life and the generative process related to musical composition I have just described in my answer to your first question.
Are you interested in any particular kind of world music?
 In 1994 Carl Rahkonen stated that “World music means different things to different people […]. It is not Western art music, neither is it mainstream Western folk or popular music. World music can be traditional (folk), popular or even art music, but it must have ethnic or foreign elements”. In that case, I must confess that my interest comprises every possible kind of world music available: from Greenland to Antarctica and Alaska to Kiribati; from the settlements near Mount Everest to those communities close to the Dead Sea. However, in my compositional output you may usually find those elements taken from Argentine folk music and urban dances I previously cited, which I often integrate into my classical music works (as I already said, frequently linked to Viennese trends, given my relationship with Austria) without neglecting, at the same time, those elements coming from the aforementioned different cultures I absorbed.

Simultaneously, I have been always fascinated by some world music historically linked to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions.

All this explains why some of my works are entitled “Chacarera meets the Puna”, “Pésame (Actus contritionis)”, “Huayno meets the Milonga”, “Pentecostés (Veni Sancte Spiritus) “, “Chacarera endebussyada”, “De coelesti hierarchia”, “Chacarera beatboxera”, “Dialogos between Moses, Demosthenes, Virgil and Turing”, “Milonga meets Malambo”, etc.

Who has influenced you as a composer and why?

A considerable source of influences came directly from the composers I studied with during my studies and courses at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Krakow Academy of Music, ‘Manuel de Falla’ Superior Conservatoire of Music Buenos Aires and other institutions: Krzysztof Penderecki, Kurt Schwertsik, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann, Wolfgang Rihm and Roberto García Morillo, among others.

Other classical music influences came through some of the many composers whose works I have studied, conducted, played and listened to: from medieval plainchant to current contemporary pieces of different trends, passing through Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century music. And, within this context, I must also mention the influences I also received from some folk and popular (including film) music I have been in contact with. All the influences I referred to previously were absorbed by me during a natural process of interaction; I consider them beneficial to me and hold them in esteem.
ABRAS-Photo-3You won the Grafimuse Prize (Brussels, 2011). Can you tell us a bit about this prize?
The Grafimuse Prize (Lachert Foundation Brussels, Deposito dei segni) is the latest of more than a dozen awards and scholarships that, thank God, I have won during the last decade (three of them in Vienna, Austria). Its artistic director was Piotr Lachert, the jury was headed by Joerg Gruenert and its organizers (IRIC Thracica was one of the partner organizations of the competition) stated that the “first contest/festival of Grafimuse is open to all musicians around the world, professionals and students, of all ages. The purpose of the contest is the creation of two-dimensional works of visual art”. The “winning works will be printed […] and will be exhibited in the following places: Chieti, Fermo, Kraków, Pescara, Sambuceto, Santos, Sofia, and Warsaw. During this exhibition, concerts/artistic happenings (instrumental, dance, vocal, and movement) will take place using the winning entries. The works will be treated as sources of artistic inspiration for improvisation, as well as graphic scores”.
Can you tell us a bit about your current composing?
I am currently working on a ‘birthday’ piece for the Ensemble Aleph (France), whose members kindly asked the composers who took part in the several editions of their International Forum for Young Composers (Program Culture 2000 of the European Union) to compose a work to celebrate the ensemble’s 30th anniversary, a composition which will be premiered in Paris during June 2013 at the Théâtre Dunois. At the same time, I am sketching a new concerto while giving shape to a number of symphonic, choral and solo works which are planned to be premiered during 2013-14 in Europe and the Americas. Last but not least, I also keep on working on various pieces related to one of my two ongoing PhDs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.
Any exciting plans for 2013?

Yes! God willing, moving back to Europe, where I was born and raised, to continue there my work and studies as composer, conductor and researcher. However, in order to do so, I must call a halt to my teaching activities in Argentina, where I hold five chairs, in total, as Professor at the National University of Lanús (Techniques and Chamber Music of the 20th-Century) and the Superior Conservatoire of Music of the City of Buenos Aires ‘Astor Piazzolla’ (Analysis, Performance Practice, Contemporary Stylistics, Classical-Romantic Stylistics); and the same applies to my activity as researcher at the ‘Carlos Vega’ Institute for Musicological Research of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Nevertheless, I hope that going back to the Old World will contribute to consolidate and widen my current international career. May God grant it!

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Kareem Roustom


photo credit: Elias Roustom http://www.emletterpress.com.

What motivates you to compose? 

I’d have to say that the musicians for whom I’m writing a piece for are a very motivating factor.  It is very difficult for me to write a piece of music in the abstract, without a performance date or no person in particular.  When I connect with a performer and begin to understand what makes him/her excited and challenged and we can share that energy, that is very motivating.  Also, the setting of the premiere can also motivate.  Perhaps the most motivating factor is a deadline.

The other motivating factor is simply trying to get “it” right.

Composers are, by nature of their craft, tinkerers. Like watch makers always working with intricate parts trying to make the watch tick accurately but also being pleasing to the senses.  The ever elusive target of achieving fine craftsmanship, is also a motivation.

Lastly, it is simply feeling a need to say something with the utmost sincerity.  If I cannot find that feeling at the outset of writing something, it is very likely that the piece won’t see a final bar line.

These are my motivating factors for concert music.  In film, if the project is inspiring it is easy to move forward and find the right motivation.  When the film is not so good, that becomes more difficult.  Luckily, it has been a long time since I’ve experienced this difficulty.

How would you describe your music?

This is also a difficult question, as whatever I might think of it may not have any relation to what someone hears. 

I suppose it is fair to say that my music has roots in Arabic music but has branches that can go in any number of directions.

Here is one example of Arabic music roots but with a very free harmonic interpretation  <http://vimeo.com/24823869>

Here is an example of a very traditional type of writing based on a folk dance called Dabke’ <http://vimeo.com/46102825>

Do you have a preference? Film work? Concert hall or television?

I really enjoy the variety. However, concert music is the only place where I feel I can ask the really big and difficult questions in life.

It is one of the few creative outlets where I feel I am able to meditate on and contemplate the human condition in a thoughtful and mindful manner.  The constraints of commercial music (stylistic demands, deadlines, budgets etc.) aren’t there.  There is a great deal of freedom in concert music, but that freedom can also be intimidating.  Film, however, allows for a composer’s work to reach a large audience and if the film and the music have a really good synergy, it can be a very rewarding artistic experience.

Can you explain a bit about your cultural influences? How does cultural influences inspire your music? Are you interested in any particular kind of world music?

I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria and then moved to the USA for 7th grade on.  In the last decade and half, or more, I’ve been actively trying to find a way to make meaningful and thoughtful connections with the music of the Arab world, specifically the Near East. For a time that meant performing traditional and Classical Arabic music at the highest level available to me in the USA.

I’ve since moved on to really think deeply about how this music, and culture, moves me and inspires me. My work is based on finding ways to incorporate these elements into my writing in a natural way.

Rather than add these elements as a mere spice to be sprinkled on the top of the meal, I like to have these elements be part of the broth, so to speak.  In other words, I will use these elements for the foundation of a work rather than just as a coloristic after thought.

My background also includes jazz and concert music as well as a lot of other styles of music.  One has to be flexible to survive so I’ve had to wear many stylistic hats.  At times though, people want to paint my work into one corner, or say that I’m not a serious (for lack of a better term) composer because I’ve worked with artists like Shakira.  I’ve confronted this attitude from both concert music performers, other composers and non-musicians.  There still seems to be a habit to Orientalize composers or musicians who come from the Arab world. However, those performers who have taken the time to learn and perform my music have always given me very positive feedback, whether students in a university choir or world class performers like clarinetists Kinan Azmeh or Ricardo Morales.

To demonstrate what I’ve been talking/writing about, here is example taken from my chamber piece Buhur (2008).  The work is based on the poetic meters of classical Arabic poetry (called Buhur).  My goal was to see if I could re-imagine poetic meter as musical meter and this, the final movement of the work, is the result <http://vimeo.com/46109431>.

Another example is Abu Jmeel’s Daughter, which is based on a folk tale.  Here the, musical language supports the drama of the text and there are elements of Arabic folk music, avant-garde writing techniques and even influences of Ravel.  The piece was originally co-commissioned by a French ensemble so I suppose that just came through at times.  <http://vimeo.com/47662443>

Who has influenced you as a composer and why?

Anything in life can be an influence to a composer.  I suppose that this is what it means to aspire to be an artist, the we have to respond to things and people around us. I aspire to always do this with sincerity and with craft.  That said, I’m drawn to traditional music from the Arab world and beyond.

As far as Western classical music the work of Benjamin Britten is a constant source of inspiration, as is that of Witold Lutoslawski, Henryk Gorecki and many other Eastern European composers. Somehow, I find much more depth their music than in what a lot of what is happening in America these days. I suppose I’m drawn to the drama, the angst and the dazzling colors in their works.

The music of Giya Kancheli and Valdimir Martynov have also been very inspirational to me of late.  Of course, there is a wide range of other music from the Arab world (the songs of Umm Kulthum for instance) that is a constant source for inspiration.  Over the years I’ve also been involved with Early Music and I love exploring those sounds as well and finding the early connections between the East and West.

Can you tell us a bit about your current composing projects? Any exciting plans for 2013?

I’m very excited, and challenged, by a commission project to write a work for three string quartets: the Kronos Quartet, the Providence String Quartet and the latter’s students at the amazing Community Music Works program in Providence, R.I. USA (<http://www. communitymusicworks.org/>). The work is being commissioned by CMW and will be premiered in November of 2013.  Also in the works for 2013 is some piano music: a sextet for clarinet, piano and string quartet as well as some solo piano pieces that I’ve been wanting to write for some time.  These last two projects are still in development so I’ll announce them as soon as they’ve been finalized.  I recently completed a work for solo cello and solo clarinet.  These are shorter (about 6 to 8 minutes) pieces that are part of a series of pieces I’m writing as reflections on the ongoing war in Syria.

In June of 2010 you were awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Sundance Film Composers Lab held annually at the Sundance Institute. Can you tell us a bit about this and what it meant to you?

This was such an honor and a really fun and rewarding experience.  It is very difficult to get into this program so I was very excited, after applying for several years, to be accepted.  The program provides an opportunity for composers who are interested in film to compose music for various film cues and to have this work critiqued and guided by established film composers from Los Angeles and elsewhere.  The setting, the mountains of Utah, was stunning but most of our time was spent in little trailers writing into the wee hours of the night.  It was just a wonderful time and I was able to make some good friends in the process.

Kareem Roustom


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David Ianni

(PART 1)

What motivates you to play piano?

My love for music has shaped my whole life, and it literally draws me to the piano almost every day.

I think about music most of the time, I hear music in my head, even if I am not playing the piano or listening to music. Music is holy to me and I consider it a blessing to be able to play the music by the great masters and to compose my own music.

What motivates you to compose? 

Performing classical music is a wonderful thing, and I couldn’t live without it. However, since I started to play the piano, there has also been this strong urge to create my own music. I wanted to play a kind of music that I could not find in piano literature, so I made it up myself.

My music tries to express the deepest and nameless realms of my soul. There is a sacred space of peace inside every person. I suppose that this sphere of the human interior is a common experience to every human being. That’s why people can connect to my music quite easily. There is a sense of yearning and of fulfillment at the same time.

In essence I feel that my music is prayer. If it helps my listener to communicate with God (or whatever they may call their Creator), I will feel myself all the more richly rewarded.

When did you start composing and why?

I learned to play the piano at nine and started to compose at the same time. It came very naturally. I knew that I wanted to be a composer. Improvising was not enough for me: I was fascinated by the architecture of music and I wanted to evolve and refine my musical ideas in a way that is only possible through composition. The marriage between content and form in music is absolutely fascinating. The emotional impact that music has on us, does not only come through melody and harmony, but mainly through its structure.

The musical ideas that I first hear when I write a new piece, are always part of a bigger architecture, and it is my mission as a composer to “discover” the whole piece. Usually beautiful and perfect proportions will reveal themselves if I only work and listen long enough.

David Ianni








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