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15 Questions to Elizabeth Brown

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m well! I’m a New York City-based composer and performer, currently in Boston playing some chamber music concerts.

What's on your schedule right now?
An October 30th concert at TheTimesCenter in New York, on the Interpretations series, of music by Elizabeth Brown (me) and Frances White (my colleague and dear friend). The concert features music for live performers with electronic or recorded sound. I’ll have 4 pieces on this concert including one premiere, and will play flute, shakuhachi, and theremin. There will also be violin, violas, viola d’amore, guitar, baritone (Tom Buckner), and video.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the country you are currently living in?
New York City is vibrant and diverse and there are more interesting concerts going on, constantly, than you can begin to attend. Increasingly, this is true in other parts of the country as well – but NYC is the place to be.


The "Interpretations" series is celebrating its 20th season this year. In which way does this bring back personal memories for you?
The Oct. 30th concert  will be my first appearance on the Interpretations series, and I’m delighted and honored to be part of it. When the series first started, I had barely started composing (I didn’t start composing till I was almost 30), and I couldn’t have imagined being included on the series someday.


What, to you, makes "Interpretations" stand out from the cornucopia of contemporary music series?
This is hard to express, because there are so many musical styles represented – Tom Buckner is extremely open-minded, and enthusiastic about quite diverse forms of musical expression – but the musicians on this series share a steadfast, ongoing commitment to, and passion for, the truest, strongest, truest musical expression of a singular artistic vision.

In which way, would you say, has "Interpretations" been marked by its location – is there something typical New York'ean about it?
Well, NYC is certainly a cultural crossroads. Everybody either lives and works here, or passes through – so the place is a fertile compost of ideas and sounds. NYC is also a city of extremely hard workers and obsessives; the city can really fuel you up if you’re that type, and no matter what your passion or how strange you are, there are other people with your interests. So you can work and hone and rework and rework, crystallizing your vision, and there will be people who will want to hear it. Interpretations is a steady procession of this kind of music.

Speaking about your own music: How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?



How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
My music is all notated, though sometimes I want it to sound improvised.

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your work?

I’m originally from rural Alabama. It’s possible that the musicality of the spoken language there still affects me. I work intuitively, and have not tried to analyze how my background affects my music. I’m just trying to write the best music I can.

Russian composer Alexander Danilevski said: "The musical innovations of the 21st century will not be intonational ones; they will be based on developing a new musical form and dramaturgy." What are your thoughts on this?

I’m not sure what he means by this.

How would you define the term "interpretation"? How important is it for you to work closely together with the artists performing your work?
Right now, it makes me think of the Interpretations series!

Would you say that a lack of education is standing in the way of audiences in their appreciation of contemporary composition?
That’s too broad a statement. It depends on the music, and on the person. I meet highly educated people who feel they don’t ‘get’ contemporary music, so don’t go to hear it. I also meet relatively unsophisticated yet open-minded people who are great listeners. I should admit that a fair amount of contemporary music baffles and/or bores me. I used to be afraid to admit this, but now I am braver. As an audience member, I’d much rather hate something, or have a strong reaction to it, than be bored. I wish booing was acceptable in concerts. Probably one of the big reasons that  many people would rather go to see sports than concerts is that they can actively, vocally react.

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience without sacrificing their soul?
I wish performers and presenters would make programming and commissioning choices based on music they are passionate about, rather than trying to second-guess what will sell, or what is fashionable, what makes the strongest grant proposal.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
This can seem true if you’re getting rejected yourself! I think many committees making musical choices, government or otherwise, are playing it safe by supporting what is already sanctioned as worthy. I can’t answer true or false here without writing an essay.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

Short programs of beautiful music.

Picture by Peter Schaaf

Blue Minor: Chamber Music by Elizabeth Brown (Albany Records) 2003

Elizabeth Brown


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