Classical Music is Dead*

Schwob on Mehr Licht, Cormac McCarthy, and More

Posted in interview, music by The Nouveau Classical Project on 03/10/2011

Once you hear the sublime and moving Mehr Licht you’ll definitely want to know more about the music and it’s composer, Danielle Schwob. Now you can read this first and enjoy the concert instead of digging your nose into your program! Which probably won’t happen anyway, given how engaging Schwob’s piece is. Anyhoo…

What was your source of inspiration when you wrote Mehr Licht?
The adage that served as the motto of my first school, “Mehr Licht” (German for “more light”), has always held personal significance for me.  As a young student, I was told that it meant that enlightenment could be reached through the pursuit of knowledge, and the idea has remained with me since.  My piece is intended to portray a journey from obscurity towards clarity, away from ignorance and towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  The sound world itself, however, was inspired by two pieces of artwork: Cildo Meireles’ Missions/Missions (How To Build Cathedrals) and John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Both pieces have a luminous quality to them, and, to me, seem united by a quiet, meditative tone that transcends their aesthetic differences: the former is a contemporary installation incorporating a pit of softly lit coins, black curtains and a ceiling of dangling bones, while the latter is a nineteenth century painting of two nightgown clad children carrying lanterns.  I chose the sound palette of Mehr Licht in an attempt to translate the visual elements of these artworks into music.

A lot of young composers in New York (perhaps elsewhere) seem to be torn between being defined as a ‘classical composer’ and writing music that sounds sort of like pop or electronic music, genres that have master artists in their own right. Has this been a struggle for you at all? Why or why not? If so, how do you deal?
I can’t say that it has been a struggle for me at all!  I write both concert pieces and songs, and so the issue of what box people might want to put me in has never really bothered me.  While obviously the two idioms are very different, I tend to approach them in similar ways and am sort of genre-blind while I’m actually writing.  I’m also getting to an interesting point creatively where I’m starting to hear my concert writing tendencies seep into my songwriting and vice versa, and discovering what can happen as my two worlds converge naturally is very interesting to me.  I’m much more excited to see what sort of music this can yield than I am about worrying which camp I belong to.

What qualities do you seek in a performer?
I look for performers who are interesting, focused artists with a strong sense of self, artistic integrity and an honest stage presence.  Obviously professionalism, technique, musicianship and interpretative abilities are very important too, but I think the difference between a good performer and a great performer has more to do with who the person is than how they move their hands (or vocal chords) or how glossy their résumé is.  I believe that interesting people make interesting music.  I also think that a performer’s basic motivation for playing is extremely important.  There seems to be so much emphasis in the music world on winning accolades, getting ahead and looking impressive on paper that I sometimes wonder where artistry factors into the equation.  I like to work with grounded performers who are in the music world for the right reason: to make art, not just a name for themselves.

Which composers do you look to the most for inspiration, or which composers have had the most significant impact on how you think about/write music?
This changes so frequently that it’s difficult to say!  A few years ago, when we did the last interview, you asked me a similar question and my thoughts on the subject were very different.  At that point, since I was in the middle of my undergrad degree and had concert music tunnel vision, I think I mentioned Reich, Pärt, Dello Joio, Stravinsky and Partch.  I’m still very much inspired by these people, however at the moment I’m not listening to them as religiously as I used to.  Since I’m currently in songwriter/performer mode and am finishing my debut EP, Overloaded, I’ve been listening to a lot more popular music.  Top of the list are Radiohead and Björk, followed by Pink Floyd, The Smiths, Tori Amos and Elliott Smith. I think these people are true creative geniuses, and deserve as much recognition as the best artists in the concert world.

Music Recommendations?
How about a book recommendation instead?  The last thing that I read and was completely entranced by was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I enjoyed it much more than a lot of things that I’ve read recently (or listened to, for that matter) and would definitely recommend it.

Hear Mehr Licht tonight at Amped/Electrified!

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