Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I’m really into writing pieces, taking a break from them, and revising them. I mentioned my piece Dawn earlier, which at this point has about 8 different versions between the original chamber version, newest chamber version, original orchestra version, newest orchestra version and everything else in between. I feel that time gives me a more objective perspective that allows me to make less emotionally-informed composition decisions, which ironically have the effect of making the piece more emotionally effective.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I think improvisation is a great daily exercise for composers that frees the brain to just do whatever and go wherever things take you. For me, it’s great for generating ideas and beyond that, it’s actually part of the compositional process later on. After I’ve developed what a section needs to do, I’ll improvise on the piano to figure out what I’m hearing for that section. Moulding that into something that seamlessly fits the narrative of the piece is the composition part.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
I think that for some composers, the idea of process is important, but every composer is different. I’m of the mind that the only thing that makes it important is if the composer of a given work feels that it’s important to the experience of the music. For me, it’s not important at all. In terms of ideas, distinct musical ideas and what happens to them throughout a piece are certainly important, but not how those ideas are constructed musically.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
This is an area where I really look to Charles Ives [composer], who like me is from Danbury, Connecticut. He was all about music in the community and the world around him and that is deeply felt in Danbury. I think that the twentieth century brought us wonderful diversity throughout classical music. I try to pull from a lot of these different styles and aesthetics to create music that is a reaction to our world and culture. I think this could mean utilizing elements of popular music, writing music in response to events in communities, or creating non-programmatic music that is simply wholly original in some way. I also think bringing what we do directly to communities are incredibly important, which is why in 2015 I launched the Danbury Chamber Music Intensive in my hometown which includes a concert series that heavily features the work of living American composers.
How would you define the term “interpretation”? How important is it for you to closely work together with the artists performing your work?
It’s very important for me to work closely with other artists. The artists I bring to the festival in Danbury I referenced in the previous answer are people who I’ve formed a closed personal and professional bond with them through their performance of my music. Letting go a little bit and letting them shape my music has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve learned a lot and each piece always improves the more I let go and let the performers into the creative process a little more.
The effect of a piece doesn't merely depend on the performance of the musicians, but also on the place it is performed at. How do you see the relationship between location and sound? In how far do you feel the current system of concert halls is still the right one for your music – or for contemporary music in general?
Largely concert halls are still the right one for my music, though I can’t speak for anyone else’s music and thus can’t speak for contemporary music in general. However, I do think we all can and should explore other venues. I think it really depends on the piece and the composer. For my music, the current system of concert halls works, but I’m interested in exploring beyond them.
What's your view on the role and function of music as well as the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today - and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I think composers have a moral obligation to be aware of the world around them. Not every piece (or any piece) by any given composer must actively engage with some element of our society. That would be just as dogmatic as saying music should never engage socio-political themes in society. That being said, I do believe contemporary music has a role to play in making people think about the world around them and making them feel a little bit too. My work Dawn is an example of the way I do this. Dawn’s story is one that I wanted to tell in music and one that I think is important for people to hear when they consider the topic of gun violence and gun safety, which obviously delves into politics.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven't been able to realize for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
Yes! This is a crazy idea of mine that also might be a terrible idea, who knows? Anyway, any New York baseball fan will remember the first baseball game played in New York after the September 11th attacks. In that game, the Mets played the Braves and the Mets were down 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning when Mike Piazza, their star at the time, hit a two run homerun to put the Mets ahead. It was a huge release for New York and known as one of the greatest baseball moments of all time. I have this dream of writing a piece for orchestra that uses the Mets theme song as musical material that recalls this dramatic event and also incorporates multimedia featuring footage and audio from that moment in the game. To have this played at Citi Field before a game on a future September 11th commemoration is a dream of mine. I haven’t been able to realize this for several reasons. The Mets would have to agree to do it at Citi Field and I would have to get the rights to the footage and that’s before the financial issues even come into play. It’s something I’m keeping on the backburner, but fingers crossed for it happening one day!