Composer-performer Missy Mazzoli had a few minutes to discuss her wonderful accomplishments as a composer, including the world premiere of her quartet You Know Me From Here that the Kronos Quartet will feature in their program on Friday, May 3rd at 9 PM at Zankel Hall at Carnegie. Click up here or on the link on the bottom for tickets and/or info.
CM: Please talk about the Kronos Quartet piece that’s being world premiered this week.
Missy: You Know Me From Here was commissioned by Carol Cole, for the Kronos Quartet, in honor of her husband Tim’s 75th birthday. Additional support was provided by Duke Performances/Duke University. When Carol asked me to write this piece I immediately imagined a twenty-minute musical journey homeward, a trek through chaos (I. Lift Your Fists) and loneliness (II. Everything That Rises Must Converge) to a place of security and companionship (III. You Know Me From Here).
This is, at its core, music about loss, but in the most positive sense; it speaks of the loss of our old selves, the jumps into the unknown, the leaps of faith we all must make and the beautiful moments when we find solace in a person, in an idea, or in music itself. The music itself shifts constantly from earthy, gritty gestures to soaring, leaping melodies that rarely land where we expect.
CM: You operate both as a composer-performer (along with the band Victoire) and as a composer only. Both of these things exist side-by-side. Would you say one of those things is primary over the other?
[Pictured left: Victoire]
Missy: I don’t see them as one thing from the other, I don’t even see them as separate things, it’s part of my output, and I feel the work that I do as a composer is really fed by the work that I do with Victoire, and they couldn’t really exist without each other–I started out as a performer and I needed that sort of outlet in order to exist with the musicians. Obviously I could only work on one thing at a time, sometimes Victoire is a bigger part of my life and sometimes I’m really focused on writing for other people. Things just come and go, but everything is always in my life at the same time.
CM: Can you talk about Songs From The Uproar–The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt and what inspired you to write it?
Missy: It was really just reading her story, it just suggested “opera” to me right away, and I felt that the thing that attracted me was that we don’t know about every single little thing that happened to her, and it was very attractive in a day and age when we seem to know everything about everybody else, and everything you do is documented, blogged about and reported. Here’s this woman who left behind this very detailed journal, but there’s huge gaps in the narrative, so that allowed me to let my imagination go, and imagine what she felt if she was riding through the desert, and it really set me free artistically.
I also felt that there were a lot of parallels to the sort of things that people think about today, particularly women, there’s the struggle between the need to have a stable home and the need to have adventure, and there’s a conflict with a relationship with this intense commitment to this one man, but I reconciled that with her reckless nature. The quest to become oneself, even though you’re born into a place that doesn’t really want you to do that, as if one were born at the wrong time–These are things that many people wrestle with, and I feel like she articulated it in this very beautifully modern way. I was really struck by that from day one.
CM: Can you talk a bit about the solo violin piece Dissolve O My Heart you wrote for Jennifer Koh? I know that it’s based on Bach’s 2nd Partita…
Missy: Right! Jennifer asked me to contribute a piece to her Bach and Beyond project, and she suggested I base it on the Chaccone from the 2nd Partita, which is one of the most famous pieces of violin literature out there, and this was the first piece I’d written for solo violin–I was like “Are you kidding?”, it was a huge challenge to write a response to this extremely well-known piece. She was so convincing that I trusted her as a performer and as sort of a curator, so I went with it. I embraced the idea that the piece would inevitably fail in a way, so I constructed the whole thing as a “failed chaconne”, a chaconne that tries to take off from the ground, it tries to stick to its chaconneness! [both laugh]
But it comes from it deviating off into different directions, and as an homage to Bach, I used the first chord of the original Chaconne, and it keeps going back to the chord in my piece, but the similarities stop there, and it pans out into different ideas from that famous chord. I wanted something that you would recognize from the Bach, but then I wanted immediately from the second note to go into different directions.
Missy Mazzoli: Dissolve, O My Heart (Jennifer Koh, violin–From Jennifer’s CD Bach and Beyond)