Vail Bravo!: Joan Tower answers 7
July 19, 2010
VAIL – Since 1991, the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival has commissioned a new piece of music to be written specifically for its festival musicians and performed on the Bravo! stage. The list of past commissions boasts internationally-acclaimed composers, including Libby Larsen, Jennifer Higdon, Kenji Bunch and Mark Neikrug. This year, the legacy continues with one of the most celebrated female composers of all time, Joan Tower, who’s commissioned Piano Quartet, which premieres Tuesday night.
1. Vail Daily: When did you know you were heading toward composition? What are some of the biggest influences for your compositions?
Joan Tower: At 18, I was asked to write a piece for a class at Bennington College and I was struck by how miserably I had failed. I had to see if I could do better, which never stopped.
2. VD: You were co-commissioned by Bravo! to write Piano Quartet. What were your first thoughts upon this request?
JT: What fun it would be because I had the piano present and a variety of really good players to work with, not up mention the beautiful settings they would be played in!
3. VD: You’ve said you enjoyed writing Piano Quartet, which is not necessarily the case with all your pieces. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
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JT: Writing music is an extraordinarily challenging activity and I am constantly humbled by its demands on so many levels. Even so, the rewards are quite profound and I am so lucky to be doing this!
4. VD: Do you believe it’s harder to get an audience to listen to new compositions opposed to music they are familiar with?
JT: Only in their preconceived heads. Why should a new piece be any different? It has all the same parameters of harmony, rhythm, texture etc. The language might be slightly new but do you close the door on a new neighbor simply because they speak with a new accent?
5. VD: You speak very seriously about the importance of education at an early age in the arts. Could you expand on your ideas about this?
JT: Children need to be put in what I call a “non recipe” environment where they are challenged creatively to make complex artistic choices that come from inside them. That is the real discipline for them.
6. VD: Aside from composition, you are also a renowned pianist. What is your most memorable experience as a performer?
JT: Too many to mention but I think it is important for composers to “live” their music in real time. Most of the 19th century composers did that and we have separated too far out as performers and composers.
7. VD: What are you most looking forward to about playing in Vail?
JT: So much – I am thrilled to be here and working with these extraordinary players!
Megan Norman is the internship coordinator for the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. This is her fifth summer working for Bravo.