Thursday, April 18, 2013

Discovering Musicians: Caroline Shaw

"Discovering Musicians" is an occasional series here at the Music Salon. Whenever I run across a musician that seems particularly interesting I put up a post. Usually it is someone that I have just run across myself, but sometimes it is someone that I think tends to be neglected. Today's musician is Caroline Shaw who just won a Pulitzer prize in music composition even though she scarcely thinks of herself as a composer. Here is the New York Times' story where you can hear the first movement of the winning piece Partita for Eight Voices. It is a fascinating piece that uses brief spoken phrases, medieval sounding harmonies and other elements that work together better than one would expect. Here is Caroline's website. At the moment there seems almost nothing on YouTube, so we have to rely just on the single movement we can hear on the New York Times site.

Apart from the sound of the music, with its slightly archaic feel, a number of other things interest me about this composer. First of all, her steady involvement with music performance--I think this is a real benefit in avoiding the excessive abstraction of some contemporary music. We really don't need any more Pierre Boulez, do we? Also, I like that she is doing an update on the Baroque suite: allemande, sarabande, courante and passacaglia. The amazing thing is that the whole suite has not yet been performed in public, though there is a recording. Another thing that interests me is that Ms Shaw is writing a song cycle for soprano and guitar. Reviving the Baroque suite and writing a song cycle for voice and guitar are two projects that I recently completed myself! Maybe I  should be living in New York, because the other music that I have heard recently that most reminds me of my own stuff was a piece by Judd Greenstein for violin and piano called "Be There". He is also based in New York. Here is the Minnesota Orchestra string quartet playing his "Four on the Floor":

I like what both these composers are doing because it seems very much rooted in what music has shown it can do over the last thousand years instead of trying to create an incomprehensible "private language" of pure abstraction. Both composers seem to be rooted also in the concrete performance of music, in the sounds themselves.

The only thing that bothers me is that, even though I make no effort to be up to date with what is happening in contemporary music, what I am doing and what these two young composers are doing is kind of in the same aesthetic ball park. Odd, huh?

Not to give anyone any ideas, but right now I am putting the finishing touches on an overture for chamber orchestra that sounds influenced in equal parts by Rossini, Shostakovich and flamenco hemiola patterns... 

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