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15 Questions to Bill Ryan/GVSU New Music Ensemble

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I'm terrific, thanks. I'm in my office at school, Allendale, Michigan.

What’s on your schedule right now?

The New Music Ensemble I direct at school just performed their fall concert. We're in our last week of classes, then finals. After that I have to finish composing two works due in six weeks.

What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?

Hmmm. I was always a creative, artistic person. I went to music school because I didn't get into journalism school. However, once I got there I had an amazing experience when I conducted one of my first compositions. After that performance I knew what I was meant to do.

With so many different recordings of a particular piece available – how do you keep yours fresh and different?
Our recording of "Music for 18 Musicians" is the fifth, but the first in surround sound. Honestly there was no calculated effort to make it our own, it just sort of happened organically. Initially we tried very hard to reproduce what was out there, and out of that our own personal stamp developed.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
A good performance of course has to be accurate. Beyond that, it needs to be sincerely presented so the audience is effected by the performer's enthusiasm. As a conductor, I try to empower my students very early in the rehearsal process, so they almost feel a sense of ownership in the piece and it's performance by the time the concert comes around.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
The hardest part for me is the schedule. Whether I'm physically doing something or not--composing, conducting, teaching, I find it hard to shut down my musical thoughts. I wish I could more easily, because I tend to be much more productive when I take time off occasionally.

Would you say the music scene is in a state of crisis? How hard (or easy) has it been for you finding peformance opportunities and audiences for your music?

I think we're far from a state of crisis, in fact, I think the opposite. Times may be difficult for performers of traditional classical literature, but there are an amazing amount of opportunities for composers and performers of contemporary music. At no other time have so many new music ensembles existed. And if you're creative, you can create even more opportunities.

How would you rate the importance of the internet and new media for classical music?

I think the internet is particularly valuable for classical music because now there are many ways to hear it, discuss it, and critique it without going to the concert hall. Live performance is still the best way to experience it, but let's be honest, iPods are not going away.

How would you define the term “interpretation”? How important is it for you to work closely together with the artists performing your work?
I love the interaction when the work is being created. Having a live performer there to read through and discuss my ideas is wonderful. On the other hand, I also enjoy hearing performances of my music when I haven't been involved in its preparation. I'm not one that's interested in having a piece exactly replicated time after time, and am very curious to hear how people interpret it differently.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Art should be the thing that it's creator or audience needs it to be, It can be a terrific vehicle for political or social commentary, but obviously, it can also be many other things.

Would you say that a lack of education is standing in the way of audiences in their appreciation of contemporary composition?
No. I think regardless of education, people recognize good music if it is presented accurately, enthusiastically,  and sincerely.

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience without sacrificing their soul?
Ha! By careful programming. You can't expect to appeal to a large audience by presenting music that is based on nothing they're familiar with. But, by giving them music with some thread that relates to something they may know, you can pull them in.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
You'll never, ever be able to please everyone.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
First, I accept. Festival, concert hall, this would be a dream job for me. For starters, I would program composer/performers Michael Lowenstern, Evan Ziporyn, Todd Reynolds, composers Marc Mellits, Belinda Reynolds, David Lang, of course Steve Reich. So many other ideas though...

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I do not. I hope my life's work is looked at as a sort of magnum opus, as opposed to one item. Everything--my compositions, my work as an ensemble director, as a concert producer. Oh yeah, and as a dad :)

As a composer:
Blurred (Innova) 2004
As a Conductor:
Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians (Innova) 2007


Bill Ryan
Bill Ryan at MySpace


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