|I’ve often thought about what my answers to these questions would be, as well as how those answers would compare to other composers living and working today. I asked six composers as well as myself ten questions. The answers I got are as diverse as the composers themselves. I’ll start with a brief introduction of the composers. I would also like to thank Joni Scholl for contributing to this interview. Steven Gutheinz is a composer primarily working in film. Steve resides in Los Angeles, California. Jeff Harrington is a professional freelance composer who resides in Brooklyn, New York. Rafael Hernandez is a young composer currently making headway in the concert music world. He resides in Bloomington, Indiana. James Holt is also a young composer starting to make headway into his career. James resides in Bloomington, Indiana. Elliott Miles McKinley is a young professional composer making headway in the US as well as Europe. Elliott resides in Seneca Falls, New York. Van der Rohe is a composer that composes in two worlds – in the concert world and in the world of popular music. Van der Rohe resides in Rochester, New York.
GOM: To start with, since most people are probably not familiar with your music, could you briefly explain your own personal musical aesthetic?
Composers: Steve Gutheinz – I strive to express myself without inhibition and remain true to my musical self.
GOM: Is classical music dead? (Don’t write a thesis)
Composers: Gutheinz – I just recently saw Dawn Upshaw sing a concert of new music in Ojai, out in the middle of nowhere, to a packed audience. In my world, that is not a sign of something that is dead or dying. I care passionately for music and I want to see the art form last and flourish as much as anyone else out there, but I don’t think it is dead. There is always room for growth, though!
GOM: What impact (if any) has film music made on contemporary concert music?
Composers: Gutheinz – It is difficult for me to think of film music as a genre or style. It is music that accompanies picture and ANY style of music can do that! And pretty much every style of music in existence today has found its way into one film or another. With that said, the answer to your question is an obvious yes. Movies are a huge part of contemporary culture worldwide, and almost everyone goes to see them. So, a composer would have to be living in a vacuum to not be exposed and influenced in one way or another by films and the music that accompanies them. Something that I find exciting and fairly unique to film scoring these days: When scoring a film, it is possible to conceive of music that would not work on the concert stage. I’ve certainly done it and have produced film scores for real instruments that would never sound right if performed live. Think about it this way: in a film score you can hire 20 of the best trombone players in the world if you so desire and even overdub them and mix them in interesting ways. Then you can add say 15 harps or 20 clarinets, whatever you want. You just can’t do that sort of thing when writing for a live performance. The possibilities are limitless, especially if you have a big budget to work with! To me, this is the big difference between writing for films and writing for the concert stage.
GOM: Is it the responsibility of the contemporary composer to get people back into the concert halls? Is it the composers responsibility to build a new audience for concert music?
Composers: Gutheinz – It is the composer’s responsibility to write good music. period. If they do this successfully, people will listen. One other thing: I don’t think the concert hall is the only venue for classical music. That is thinking like the 19th century!!
GOM: What impact do you think the Internet is having on classical music and music in general?
Composers: Gutheinz – The Internet is a great tool, but I think it is over-hyped. For us unknown artists, it is a terrific way to distribute and promote our work.
GOM: What do you think the role of the composer will be in the 21st century?
Composers: Gutheinz – No different than the role of the composer in the 20th or 19th or 18th centuries. The role of the composer is to write good music, it doesn’t matter under what conditions he or she composes! Do people really care who commissioned the Messiah? Or who it was that was paying Haydn to write his music? Or Mozart? Or that many composers today teach for a living? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. I do think we will see more composers writing functional music for a living (like Bach and Haydn did), but that does NOT make it less valuable. It is all up to the composer to write good music, no one else. I don’t care if it is ‘pop,’ ‘jazz,’ ‘country,’ ‘classical,’ whatever.. if it is good, it is good. If the history of music has shown us anything at all, it is that good music does always find an audience and the best of it will transcend time and period.
GOM: Do you feel that most people are denied access to classical music because of the dominance of popular music? If so, what is your opinion on the zero to little knowledge that people have of classical music in today’s society?
Composers: Gutheinz – Not at all. If anything, access to classical music has improved with time, not deteriorated. It is very easy to go to a concert! It is VERY easy to pick up a classical CD and listen. There are thousands of them! It wasn’t this easy 200 years ago. We live in a time when the music of the world is literally within the reach of just about everyone. That is amazing when you think about it! (pt. 2 of question) – Education. I think we should make REAL elementary music education available to all children in public school, 5 days a week.
GOM: A lot of composers have dreams of changing the world with their music when they first start out. As a young composer, did you feel this way? If so, have your feelings or goals changed in any way? If so, why?
Composers: Gutheinz – Of course I felt that way! Yes, my goals have changed. I’m much more concerned with my own personal expression than I am with ‘changing the world’ with my music. Life is way too short for that!
GOM: In your opinion, is there anyone doing anything interesting or even revolutionary in concert music today?
Composers: Gutheinz – Does music have to be revolutionary to be good? Does that make it good? I don’t think so. I think Rachmaninov had a distinct voice, yet he wasn’t an ultra-modernist. So what! The music world today is eclectic, confusing, and chaotic. My tastes have become equally eclectic (and so is my music!), but out of everything that is going on, there are two composers I relate to on a very personal level: John Williams and Michael Torke. John Williams is an obvious choice for most film composers, and I’m no exception. Torke has a distinct and strong voice that speaks volumes to me. Master of orchestration, motivic development, and form: his music is very moving.
GOM: If you had to choose 5 pieces of music to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Composers: Gutheinz – I wouldn’t want to live if I could only listen to 5 pieces the rest of my life! Brahms: Intermezzo op. 118, no. 2 Brahms: Piano Trio in B (revised version) Beethoven: 3rd Symphony Barber: Violin Concerto Copland: Appalachian Spring That is what I would pick today. If you asked me tomorrow, it might be different! My list is long.
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