Classical Music is Dead*

Amped/Electrified PHOTOS!

Posted in events, photos by The Nouveau Classical Project on 03/26/2011

Thanks to MATA for this opportunity–it was truly a significant concert for NCP. HUGE thanks to Frank Wang, he never lets us down with his photography skillz! And special thanks to Jonathan Cohen for his thoughtfulness in styling us and to his business partner, Sarah and his interns for coming to help out. The concert was a success and the house was packed despite the rainy weather. MORE photos on our Facebook page.

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!

MATA Post #2

Posted in our shallow deep thoughts by Sugar Vendil on 03/04/2011

via MATA’s blog

INTERVAL 4.3 BLOG #2 FASHION AND MUSIC IN NCP: OR HOW I ACCIDENTALLY MADE A MANIFESTO

Friday, March 4th, 2011 – 1:55 pm

“Dressing well is kind of good manners, if you ask me. When you’re standing in a room, your effect is the same as a chair’s effect, or a sculpture’s. You’re part of someone’s view, you’re part of that world, and so you should dress well. I find it’s a show of respect to try to put on your best face and look as good as you can.”

-Tom Ford

I remember being at NYU and wearing to my performance of Schumann Piano Quintet an outfit that would be considered a regular, stylish outfit by most people. And if not stylish, not a big deal at least. It wasn’t ‘slutty’ or revealing, but it was thoughtful. I was really excited about performing one of my favorite pieces and I wanted to ‘put on [my] best face.’

And therein lies the problem (to use a phrase I’ve read in many a scholarly paper).  I don’t think that it was the non-saturation of black that led two professors to say to me, ‘Is this [gesturing to my clothes] appropriate?’ AND compel one of them to pull me aside the next day to talk to me about getting taken seriously, never mind that I practiced 8 hours a day. It was the fact that what I wore was remotely noticeable, making me more noticeable. And not noticeable like, ‘Oh, what a nice appropriate red gown that one can also wear to a party at the Russian Tea Room,’ but more like, ‘WHY is she dressed like a young hip person in her age and demographic group?!’ I was simply not generic enough.

I give this idea the proverbial finger, the idea that a concert is all about the sound rather than the complete experience, which performers just happen to be a part of. Just as I shun (see Dwight Schrute with chopping hand gesture) the idea that nail polish is distracting–you must have some heightened level of OCD to get distracted by something that occupies maybe 2% of our entire bodies–and the idea of wearing plain black to hide oneself, I do not condone the mentality that the musician should be the least noticeable thing in a performance. After spending numerous hours on one hour of music, I think it should be okay to wear whatever the hell you want besides attire that looks like you’re either a stagehand or, in my case, simply not myself. Also, I just want to note that I love black, the fashion world loves black, and classical music has somehow managed to ruin this sleek, beautiful color for people.

The reason I bring this up is to segue into the question of ‘Why fashion?’ The best answer I can think of is, ‘Why not?’ For me, fashion is a form of expression, and additionally, an effective form. Here in New York, it’s a dynamic and prevalent form of expression. We’ve all heard this, to excuse our inclination to want to date people we find attractive: ‘You can’t see someone’s personality.’ So think about all those posters outside Carnegie Hall and think about how any young person who doesn’t attend music school will be interested. Look at the Met Opera posters, and hell yes! They’ve got it down. Also, the art and popular music world seem to be at home with fashion, why not the classical music world?

I think The Nouveau Classical Project is my answer to that question. Not really a solution, but more like a ‘Here ya go.’ For Amped/Electrified, Jonathan Cohen is the perfect fit. ‘His woman is bold, elegant, and equally rebellious,’ just like the music on our program.

For the most the part, the music on Amped/Electrified stems from a tradition. The music demonstrates adeptness in structure and skill but asserts a desire to deviate from ‘schooling’ and in many cases, a desire to be modern. It seems to me that today we are at crossroads where classical music is really meeting face to face with contemporary music—a lot of us love musicians like Kanye West, Arcade Fire, whomever—and a lot of us are grappling with the idea of wanting to be present in, well, the present, and displaying the classical tradition from which we stem. I know we can’t stop talking about it, but Jay Wadley’s Things My Father Never Told Me was derived from this idea, in addition to the unexpected struggles both artistically and professionally.

I hope that this may have clarified any questions as to the ‘why’ of the Nouveau Classical Project. As with most things in life, when you whittle things down, the answers are so much simpler than you thought. Fashion was the simple answer, for me, to bringing a shred personality to classical music. Yes, a lot of us see this personality because we studied it in school. But I mean something, a little thing, that would show people we aren’t just geeks, we’re hot geeks. Think whatever you will of that statement. I don’t think fashion is the end all be all answer to getting more listeners for classical music (news: there is none!) but it’s what I’m interested in and it’s what our fans are interested in, and to put it simply, I just want to be creative and have fun (gasp!). That’s right. The reason for the Nouveau Classical Project’s existence is fun.