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|Bedroom composers all: Musicians are making art in a pandemic|
Meredith Monk in Cellular Songs, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, March 14, 2018. With performances on hold because of the coronavirus, what creative projects are musicians working on? Richard Termine/The New York Times.
NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Many classical artists have had barely a week off in their careers. But with performances now on hold worldwide for months to come, what creative projects are they working on? These are edited excerpts from conversations with The New York Times.
Mitsuko Uchida, pianist
When I play music, I can forget about the virus. I am continuing with Beethovens Diabelli Variations, which I was meant to record at the end of April; every day, I do a run-through so I can keep it close to me. I am also making programs for the next seasons: Mozart, Kurtag, late Schumann.
The other day, I read through Janacek and Bartok. If this goes on for a long time, I will go back to Chopin that I havent done in years. Composers are very jealous. I have been too involved with German music, and Chopin was very cross the last time I tried to play his music. So I will try to take some effort and love with him.
I am perfectly happy just playing alone. Most people need the public; I am actually very happy without. And I love to be able to play badly.
Barbra Streisand, performer
Ive been writing my memoir for five years. Usually I do everything to postpone it. But this is a good time to work on it. There is so much quiet. The phones hardly ring. Thats the only part I like. I hate whats happening to the world, the country, the people.
Ive written maybe 300 pages, and Im not even half-done. I sent it to the editor, and he likes it. But I really want criticism. I like constructive criticism. Its funny, because I skipped around. I did my childhood in one fell swoop, because Id written it in my journals years ago. I like to discuss my movies, the creative process that led to them. And I completely forgot about my music career. So now Im just catching up on some of my albums.
I havent been singing, but I can think of several albums I have in me that I want to do. One Ill probably call Songs I Forgot to Sing. Oh, and Im going to have a Zoom Passover, with my friends Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
Daniil Trifonov, pianist
Jennifer Koh, violinist
I feel Ive gained wisdom from my parents about what it was like to be refugees. But I dont have the wisdom for this. It feels like everythings changed.
I came up with this project, Alone Together. A lot of composer colleagues have salaried positions. Others are freelance, and vulnerable. I started calling colleagues with positions and asking them for help with our community, asking them to recommend freelance composers to write solo violin pieces. I guaranteed the money personally: $500 per 30 seconds of music, a respectable rate.
Im going to play the 16 pieces from my apartment, over Instagram, and Im donating my time and work. All the money is going to these composers.
John Adams, composer
My wife and I, were in our 70s; were hunkered down. Im just so humbled by these stories of the health care workers. A friend of mine sent me a photo of tents going up in Central Park, and said how it reminded him of my setting of Walt Whitmans The Wound-Dresser since that memory Whitman had was of tents that were erected on the National Mall.
In terms of any potential artistic response, what comes to mind is a quote from Wordsworth, about poetry being emotion recollected in tranquillity. I think people imagine that artists are combing the headlines for an idea. But I think, at least in my case, if I have a response, it would have to come at a time when I feel that tranquillity.
Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and director, Jazz at Lincoln Center
We developed a digital season. Every Wednesday morning, were going to pull from our vault a show that has not been seen since the concert, available on YouTube. And we are posting musicians concert streams, and reading through government funding to advise clubs and jazz organizations of where there may perhaps be some desperately needed funding.
Our orchestra wrote a blues last week. The working title is Collaborative Blues. We have a whole score now, with each of us writing a chorus. We announced that our April 15 gala would be a streaming Worldwide Concert for Culture. I called the greatest musicians I know around the world: Chano Dominguez in Spain, the WDR Big Band in Germany, Cecile McLorin Salvant. Everyone said: Were going to do this recording, with appropriate distance.
Ashley Fure, composer
I have a stack of things I should or could be doing. But I just couldnt do that stuff. For the first eight days I was in a daze. Once that cleared, I was trying to ask what it meant for my practice and what I had to offer the world right now. So much of what I do is full-body listening experience, so I started doing these experiments.
Its been really exploratory, but Ive made full-body listening recipes for objects around the house. Theres one where I do this very slowly evolving physical choreography with two big glass jars, like classic Mason jars, around my ears. Im just about to finish the video score of it now. The sound piece is made for computer speakers. The artist Leah Wulfman is working on the videos, abstracting them and denaturing them a bit. Id like the turnaround to be fast, so it might be a little lo-fi.
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor and composer
This week, Im trying to finish a happy song. Ive got this song in progress, which is based on one my father and I used to perform as a duet when I was 5 or 6. When either of us were feeling down, we could play this. It didnt have words; youd whistle it. Ive tried to add encouraging words. Were in the home, home on the range period: where seldom is heard a discouraging word.
Julia Bullock, singer
Im just starting to read up on Ethel Smythe the writer and composer and thinking about programming around her and Virginia Woolf with Alice Sara Ott, a pianist. Im making music at random points of the day with my husband, Christian Reif its a privilege to have a piano in the house and someone who loves to make music. He and I so rarely get to just play through things. We are either working on material together, or assisting each other as we prep for an engagement. So its so nice to just enjoy the time without external pressure or purpose.
Emanuel Ax, pianist
About four years ago, I played Schuberts Opus 42 A minor Sonata, and not very well. So Im trying again. The notes are unbearably difficult, and the concept, too. And Yo-Yo Ma and I are hoping that in the next few weeks we might have the possibility of doing some streaming of Beethoven sonatas. My wife, Yoko, and I are big opera buffs, so we are really taking advantage of this wonderful Met Opera streaming initiative they are doing every night. It takes three hours of liberation from the newspaper and the news. People die in opera, but never of coronavirus.
Nadia Sirota, violist and host
What do I get out of being a performer, host or curator? Yes, it is the music. But another thing is community: bringing people together in a joyful way surrounding art. That was missing all the sudden.
How can we still provide that for people? We ended up doing Living Music (which was originally planned as a podcast, then debuted early as a Facebook Live series). Just having this event and having people talk to one another, and playing and having drinks at the computer every time weve done of these shows, I have been given that community-based high that I crave and love. So were going to do Living Music for as long as this quarantine goes on.
Jaap van Zweden, music director, New York Philharmonic
It is wonderful to have all the time in the world for new scores. One I am learning is the Kurtag opera, Fin de Partie, that we are giving the American premiere of next season. And then I picked up a violin somebody loaned me. Im planning this week to practice and get a little bit in shape again and play the Bach partitas. Not only is it incredible music, and fantastic for your technique, but the healing factor is there. Whenever I play Bach, he makes me the most happy person in the world. Somehow he has the ability to clean you inside.
The third thing is that I am starting, very carefully, to write a piece myself. If the piece is ready, maybe I can call it composing. Before that I want to be extremely modest: I first want to see if what comes out is OK.
Philip Glass, composer
Im staying home and writing music and not doing anything. Im working on a piece called Circus Days and Nights, an evening of opera, theater and circus. It doesnt connect very much with whats going on the streets of New York or elsewhere. We dont need any more of that.
Lang Lang, pianist
I am learning a lot of new repertoire. I am looking into the whole collection of Beethoven sonatas; I just play one after the other. With Debussy also, I have a three-volume collection, and I am trying to learn it all. I never had the time to practice weeks and weeks without being pushed to play the repertoire that Im supposed to perform. Now I can just read through everything with no time pressure.
Davóne Tines, singer
A thing thats been keeping me busy is collaborating with Zack Winokur to create something for the digital space centered around our show The Black Clown. The development is being supported by the Lincoln Center at Home platform. There will be conversations between myself, creative team and cast members and various literary and artistic guests. There will be footage from the show, live performances by myself and cast members, and a living library offering a multifaceted look at the production research, archive materials and resources that expand our conversation.
Benjamin Hochman, pianist
Im making music more than ever. It was so unexpected to have all this free time on my hands. Ive been spending a lot with Bach and Beethoven. Bach, because everything starts and ends there, so Ive been playing the Goldberg Variations; the toccatas; a beautiful Busoni piece, Fantasia on J.S. Bach. And Beethoven, reading through all the piano sonatas, especially spending time with the Hammerklavier and Opus 111. Ive been getting to know more recent music, too: works by Rebecca Saunders, Unsuk Chin, Enno Poppe. Im learning Berios Sequenza, which Im scheduled to play at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival this summer, if it happens. Ive also been studying the Brahms symphonies, and the Wagner operas the Ring, Tristan partly through the Met broadcasts. I played through the score to Das Rheingold at the piano. How great is that?
Meredith Monk, composer and singer
It did take me a while to settle down and get my routine and discipline. Little by little Im quieting down, working on material. Im vocalizing every day; Im doing physical exercises every day.
Im working on a gigantic new piece, so its giving me some time. in a way its the third piece of a trilogy about our relationship to nature. The working title is Indras Net; its concert music slash music theater and also an installation.
Once I got over having my meltdown about being all alone, I was grateful. Even if youre grieving, you can create and there can be moments of joy in the grief.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
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