Part 2, Interview with Jonathan Leshnoff about his Double Concerto for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra: the influence of Stephen Albert, rhythmic vitality in the Concerto, and memorable moments. With Terry B. Ewell. Featuring a performance of the end of the first movement by Michael Rusinek (clarinet), Nancy Goeres (bassoon), and Jonathan Leshnoff (piano). BDP #232. www.2reed.net.
Terry B. Ewell: I know that early in your career you were influenced by Stephen Albert, a well-published American composer. Does that influence continue today?
Jonathan Leshnoff: Absolutely. The influence that Albert’s music has on me was his insistence that 20th century music has lost the concept of harmony. Why isn’t harmony done? There are wonderful creative things that happened in the 20th century but why was harmony jettisoned since 1945 or there about? So, he created his own harmonic system, his own harmonic world. I was fortunate to know him just a year before he died and to hear from his own mouth about his harmonic system and how he found proof of it from repertoire in eras past. So, my early works have a harmonic resemblance to him. My very early stuff. Since then I have diverged from his area of harmonic symphony in terms of the technical aspect. But in terms of believing that music should have a harmonic component in addition to form and counterpoint and that, I fervently believe that. So even to this day I feel very connected to him and grateful to him for that.
TBE: Where did you first meet him?
JL: In the 1990s I first met him at Peabody when I was a student there. They had a thing back then where they would bring in a Pulitzer Prize winning composer specifically every year. This was not only to give a lecture but also to work with students in masterclasses and compositions. There were some very incredible composers who came through and Albert was one of them. I heard him, and I went after him and spoke with him. We were just beginning a relationship. He gave me his home phone number and then he died tragically in a car accident on the way to Cape Cod. Everything since then is what I have gleaned from his lectures and studying his works.
TBE: Are these lectures published?
JL: No, just the lectures that I heard at Peabody. He was working on a thesis, a publication, which was proving his harmonic theory from Gesualdo to Liszt to Beethoven through Bartok and Stravinsky. His widow has those manuscripts. I think that actually those manuscripts are at the University of Maryland.
TBE: You have given me a little preview of the Concerto, which I appreciate, thank you. I have heard a little bit of the second and third movements. What struck me the most, Jonathan, was the rhythmic vitality. I seemed to depart a bit from your earlier compositions. I don’t know if that was just me. I was a part of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra that recorded your Violin Concerto and I have heard many of your other compositions. Particularly the choral works are quite different in mood that this. Can your comment on this and is my observation of any validity?
JL: Oh, it is quite valid. As I get older more and more. I have found some very interesting rhythms. Known to everyone but me. But I think it is a discovery. I found something that interests me. If I keep a steady meter…especially in music such as 4/2 or 3/2. Then I start adding accents within this steady meter. I find very interesting pops and bubbles that come out…. In other words, if I keep this meter coming along and I start adding these submeters or sub groups of what is going on. I find this to be really exciting. So, I think that my music as evolved with working on that. I am now consciously working with that. I am finding out which patterns of smaller figures fit within these larger and different numbers.
TBE: I think that the audience is going to love it. I love the way that works.JL: As long as they are “rocking along.” [Music from the concerto, 1st movement]
TBE: So, tell me about some of the most memorable moments in the Concerto.
JL: So, two come to mind. One of them is more bassoon centered. I will share that with you. There is also a clarinet centered one. But because of you, Terry, I will go to the bassoon one.
The second movement is a fun movement. It is comical. It is not long. It is like a drunken waltz. It is like a bear tripping on some stones looking for honey. The bassoon is the one that is leading off this escapade. It is a tilted melody that starts off in the bassoon which makes us of the low rumbly register. It jumps around and moves in different places. Then the clarinet picks up. Again, it is not a long movement purposely. But towards the end the melody comes back and of course it is not just with one bassoon, but I add the orchestral bassoons and even the contrabassoon.
JL: Three with the soloist. Who knows how many, three, four..who knows how many? Three, four bassoons moving around
TBE: We love it. Thank you!
JL: I am looking forward to that. When you write this stuff, you need to have a sense of humor. The first movement is very serious. The third movement as you pointed out is very rhythmic and has a lot of energy and hops in it. But the second movement is just plain fun.
The second area that comes to mind as a memorable moment is the third movement. There is interplay between the clarinet and the bassoon. There are they ascending scales—very quick. They land at the same note. The clarinet will go… and then the bassoon will quickly follow it… It continues on and on in a chain. And then I cross a rhythmic space between them, so it cycles around. I put the bassoon in the higher register there and the clarinet in the mid register. So that there would be some semblance of balance. Of course, I have to carefully orchestrate it. As of today, with this interview, I have not orchestrated it. I have to be very careful not to cover the bassoon. We will see if I can do it or not.
TBE: I am sure that you will!
JL: I hope so.[Music from the Concerto, 3rd. Movement]
Copyright (c) 2018 by Terry B. Ewell. All right reserved.