Paavali squeezed in some time between rehearsals to answer a few questions on the upcoming programs.
What is it you love about Crumb?
Well, we could almost ask the same thing about Beethoven. Crumb is an incredibly important voice and someone whose music speaks very directly to the listener, as well as to the performer. He writes very well for all the instrumentalists and his music is pleasing both to the expert and the amateur (like Beethoven, and perhaps also Messiaen and Mozart). So his music is very approachable and it’s intrigue will not become uninteresting after you’ve heard the pieces once or twice. So I just love his music and I thought combining it with Beethoven might be an interesting pair.
He seems to create sounds that are very connected to the natural world, but are also connected to our deepest communal memories. Does that make sense?
I think it makes perfect sense, in fact, I wish I’d said it myself! I think there is a similarity also with Beethoven, although his references aren’t so much written out, so his pieces are called symphonies, concertos or sonatas, even though the musical content is similar in the way that it is worldly. When we listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony it is a journey from darkness to light on a grand scale. And in the end we see the components of society joining in a celebration of brotherhood and so on. It is right there, even though the piece is called a symphony. With Crumb’s Makrokosmos III the journey is more intricate; we are in the middle of an African jungle, and then we are in the middle of some sort of spiritual celebration, and there’s ambiguity in the beginning. So I think there’s a likeness there as well. Of course, their musical language is very different, and their harmonic and motivic approach is different. But going into a deeper, worldly, human experience and an inner journey, are things both these composers certainly share.
Even though a lot of Crumb’s music can sound improvised, he is completely specific about what he wants. Does this make it more difficult to learn Crumb, or does it actually help you?
In this case I think it’s very helpful that Crumb has been so specific about the practical aspect of his music. Crumb is a very interesting phenomenon in that he’s so isolated, but at the same time he is very worldly. There is no other composer who sounds like Crumb. It’s a bit of a mystery where his musical style came from. We know about his growing up in a very musical family that played western music, but then he was also surrounded by the folk music of his area in western Virginia, bluegrass and this sort of thing. But somehow his musical language is like nobody else’s. Even some Crumb students ended up imitating his style but they never sounded like Crumb. Beethoven on the other hand, while being unique, is part of a lingua franca of his time. There are many composers who we can mistake as sounding like Beethoven. Even his famous peers, Mozart, Haydn and Schubert sometimes sound like Beethoven, so the practical aspect perhaps isn’t so important. But in making Crumb sound truly like Crumb, it is very helpful that he is so specific about the practical aspect of his music.
I have not personally met with Crumb, but that might actually happen later this year. I am close to a couple of musicians who have worked with him for decades, so there is a link. He is still working and I hear he is going well.
Visit anam.com.au for more information on Paavali’s concerts at ANAM.