Classical Music is Dead*

Composer Interview: Danielle Schwob

Posted in music by The Nouveau Classical Project on 02/25/2010

1. When did you start composing? When and how did you realize you wanted to be a composer?

Well I’ve been writing songs and coming up with bits of music since as far back as I can remember.  However, I came to concert composition later in life than a lot of composers I know, having previously focused on jazz guitar performance.  I’ve always known that I wanted to compose seriously, but for some reason composition always ended up taking a backseat.  I eventually made the switch when I was forced to take some time off from playing due to an injury– something that, in retrospect, was the best thing that could have happened.  During the time off I thought considerably about what I wanted to do in music, what I admired most about my favourite artists etc. (lots of very touchy feely stuff), and realised that writing was more important to me than performing.  After that I jumped straight into composition and have never looked back.

2. What do you love about making music?

That’s an impossible question to answer!  I love so many things about it!  I’ll give it a try though… I suppose that at the most personal level I find writing music to be quite cathartic.  I feel very stagnant when I’m not writing.  I’m sure most musicians would say the same thing.  On a day-to-day basis I also like that music allows me to communicate with people, and to collaborate on projects where many individuals work together to create something unique.  And then in the most philosophical sense, I think that music adds colour and vibrancy to the world, which, let’s be honest, can be rather a bleak place at times. I truly believe that being a musician is one of the most meaningful professions a person can have, and if that’s not a good reason to enjoy making music then I don’t know what is!

3. What did you enjoy the most about form/figure on Friday?

That I got to wear a cape!  No, my favourite thing was seeing the performers dressed in such unusual clothing.  I’ve never understood why classical musicians are expected to adhere to such a staid dress code when performing.  There is something to be said for dressing nicely out of respect for the art and musicianship being showcased, but why this calls for players to dress like conservative clones of one another I still can’t grasp.  Isn’t performing supposed to be about expression and individuality?  I thought the aesthetic of form/figure was refreshingly contemporary and shone rejuvenating light on music that some people (wrongly) perceive as stuffy or outdated.  Seriously though, I really did love the cape.  In fact I loved it so much that I spent a good portion of my last Syzygy blog post waffling on about it…

4. What inspired you to write ‘Music for Releasing Ghosts?’

The piece is about loss and endings.  I began writing it in remembrance of several relatives who have passed away, and at the most literal level their passing is certainly what the piece is about.  However, I hope that the themes behind the piece can be applied to any type of “ending,” both literal and figurative.  Compositionally I looked to several different other composers for inspiration, including John Corigliano, Justin Dello Joio, Ravel and Shostakovich, since their string and piano writing is extraordinary.  Obviously they’re big names and I don’t flatter myself by thinking that I’ll ever come close to being as skillful as any of them, but hopefully some of their influence comes through.

5. What composers do you look up to?

In the concert realm I am blown away by Arvo Pärt, John Corigliano, Steve Reich and, of course, greats like Stravinsky and Ravel.  However I’m equally as captivated by people like Björk, Radiohead and Pink Floyd.  I’ve also really started getting into Harry Partch recently.  Not only did he write brilliantly innovative music, but he had the guts to break with almost all Western musical conventions.  I admire his fearlessness and conviction.  I’ve got incredibly eclectic taste (both a blessing and a curse), and don’t really have a favourite composer.  I admire lots of people for different reasons and my ear is always evolving.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

I have a few things on the burner.  I’m working on some projects with the Syzygy New Music Collective, a group that I co-founded and serve as Director for, as well as writing a new piece for our next concert.  I was also just asked to write a piece for percussion trio, the howl (theory), which I’ll begin working on soon.  I’m also beginning to think about writing a piece for the Harry Partch instruments, which I’m really excited about doing.  I’m currently participating in the Harry Partch Ensemble and have been studying the theory behind Partch’s tuning system as well as learning how to play some of the instruments.  It’s been a complete eye-opener.

7. Anything else?

Just a shameless plug for Syzygy, if you don’t mind!  We have several events coming up, including a fundraiser next month and a concert on April 23rd at the Nabi Gallery.  You can find out more about the group and listen to audio samples at, or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, go directly to our Kickstarter page.

Photos: Natti Vogel


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  1. […] the string quartet arranger for my soon-to-be-released song “Post Toast.” Danielle is a true visionary, an absurdly young and accomplished, award-winning concert music composer who is – mark my […]

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