Saturday, January 24, 2009

John Corigliano in Conversation

Partial Conversation with John Corigliano with John Clare...

Clare: How did you know you were a composer? How did it come about that you decided to write music?

Corigliano: Actually it was because I grew up with my father as a performer and I would go to the NY Philharmonic and hear him rehearse a piece. He was the concert master at the Philharmonic and played solos at least once a year and I would hear him rehearse a piece and I would see how tense he was and then go through rehearsals and the concert. I would actually sit in the green room of Carnegie Hall as a little boy listening on the speakers because I was too nervous to sit in the hall because I knew every note of the concertos and was hunched over until he was done. And then the next morning got the seven news papers and read what they said about him and the idea of standing on stage and performing was impossible for me because I grew up with my father doing it and it seemed over whelming. I loved music and improvised at the piano. My mother was a pianist, very fine pianist who never played in public but she taught, but not me because I had two lessons and we, you know, that didn’t work. So I picked up how to play more or less by myself. I improvised a lot and the way I felt I could go into music was in composing because it, I didn’t have to be on that stage at that moment doing that thing. I could be at home, I could solve the problems. I could write them down and then it would be on stage and someone would play it at that moment. So it really had to do with my childhood and how I grew up more than anything else.

Clare: It’s funny, I sometimes see patterns of musicians where the sons will be doctors and doctors’ sons will be musicians. Were they ever saying it’s hard to be in the classical world?

Corigliano: Oh, absolutely, in fact they were very discouraging, both of them, about my going into concert music or any music. My father wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor or something and of course, when you’re a kid that’s all the more the incentive to do it. So I didn’t take it as a discouraging thing, I took it as a kind of daring for me. But also that was the world I loved and I was fascinated by. When I was a kid in high school, the LP record had just been invented and the LP record really was a break through much more than stereo was to the LP, the LP to the seventy eight was a huge breakthrough in terms of sonic, the wideness...a kind of way to capture sound. When I was a little boy I had at time you know in high school a fifteen inch Klipsch speaker with a horn and a corner cabinet and my set and I started listening to Capitol full dimensional sound recordings. I specifically remember a demonstration disc in which the gun fight scene Billy the Kid was performed and of course I put it on at first because it had a bass drum that plays very prominently in it. And there was my fifteen inch woofer, you know shaking the walls and I was in my house and I thought that was thrilling. But then I kept listening to the way that Aaron Copland got these incredibly interesting and originally sounds by playing simple sound chords with new spacings. And so I started going over the piano and trying those spacings out and seeing how you could get a simple c-major cord to sound fresh just by spacing it differently. And then I went out and got the music to it. And then I started Stravinsky and Copland and all these composers and being fascinated very much through recordings and, my father’s live performances of course. But the recordings were very instrumental in my being fascinated with the contemporary composer because in those days you know it wasn’t like now; I mean you couldn’t go into a record store and get some twenty-five year-old composer’s recordings because only the big labels recorded. It was a tremendous amount of equipment necessary to record. And so you had Stravinsky, and you had Copland and you had Bernstein, Piston, and Hanson and Bill Schuman. But you didn’t have the kind of variety we have now. But it did give me a chance to hear a lot of music that I had never heard before, and about that time Columbia MasterWorks started issuing its’ American Music Series - which was extraordinary! Goddard Lieberson put this together, an extraordinary series of pieces like John Cage...things I would have never had an opportunity to hear before. And in hearing those I became so fascinated with one can do, today compared to the past, that I just wanted to compose and that’s very much why I became a composer.

Clare: Do you think the musicians at the caliber that they were, the Bernsteins that your dad was not just a section violinist or violist or accordion player, he was a concert master of the New York Philharmonic, do you think that had an effect also in your musical up bringing?

Corigliano: Well I think so, I remember meeting a lot of these people. I remember meeting Fritz Kreisler and Pierre Monteux as a little kid, so I certainly did meet them and get to know them. I remember we used to have lunch with Dmitri Mitropolis at La Scala Restaurant my father and I. He would bring bring fava beans and he would ask for tartar steak and he would mix in with this bottle of fava beans he had and eat it and he would talk. So one of the things it did was humanize the great musicians of our time because my father knew them personally. But I think the real thing that gave me was the idea of, especially in the concerto, was the idea of the soloist and the ensemble and the drama of the concerto - because there was my father with an eighteen inch piece of wood, there was a ninety-five to a hundred and four piece orchestra playing and he had to rise above that - and in some way because the composer wrote it so that he could do so; he had to surmount you know fifty other string players plus another forty brass wind and percussion players and I think the drama of that was something I grew up with. So writing concertos in particular I feel a kind of naturalness about engaging in that dialogue because I grew up with it. And the idea that he played, that he could dominate that by his musicianship, the sound and the passion of his playing was something that I took as a natural thing.

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