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Rhythms of Architecture: Andrew Norman at BMOP


Santa Sabina interior

Composer Andrew Norman finds in “the rhythm of the brownstones” —  the stoops, the windows, and the doors that line the streets where he lives in Brooklyn — “music that is just waiting to be written.”

Boston Modern Opera Project (BMOP) had just announced that this young gifted artist will be the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence for two years, from now until 2013. His Air: Concerto for Theremin (2011), with Dalit Warshaw on theremin, will be performed at the January 27 concert at Jordan Hall. BMOP, the adventurous Boston music group, was one of five orchestras nationwide selected for an extended residency under a program of Meet the Composer and the American Symphony Orchestra League.

The young Norman (he is 32), who has already been a fellow in two European academies of music and has received a number of commissions, has absorbed his life-long interest in architecture with the compositional techniques to create his style — or, more accurately, multitude of styles.

Composer Andrew Norman (Christian Steiner photo)

“My music comes out differently every time. Musically speaking, a part of me is super-interested in mid-century extended techniques, Penderecki, crazy sounds. But I am also a lyric composer like Samuel Barber. A lyrical moment is something we can hold onto and remember. … We relate to lyricism because it is such a human thing. … Over the course of my life, I have been naturally inclined to be a lyrical composer, but there are other ways of approaching music. I am trying to embrace everything, an eclecticism of my music. I am interested in it as a composition tool. Sort of  Babbitt with Bernstein, or Barber with Xenakis.”

Completed work already includes three pieces for orchestra; five for chamber music with various combinations of instruments; three solo pieces, one for viola or cello and two for piano; and one vocal piece, a lullaby. His appointment as Composer-in-Residence at the Academy of Rome, in 2006-07, resulted in Companion Guide to Rome, with each of its nine movements intended to invoke the Eternal city’s lesser known architectural gems. The ninth movement, for Santa Sabina, was the only one composed while he still was in Rome and was actually played in the church. The rest of the movements — Santa Maria della Vittoria (which Norman calls “over-the-top Baroque), San Benedetto, Santa Susanna, Tempietto Bramante, St. Ivo, San Clemente, San Lorenzo Oltre Le Mure, and Santa Cecilia — were written in Berlin, where he also was a fellow at its academy. A similarly appealingly titled composition is Garden of Follies for saxophone and piano, commissioned by the Society of Composers, Inc. and ASCAP. “Follies” here, too, refers to the often extravagant architectural conceits in lavishly landscaped gardens of England, France, and Italy — subsequently imported, of course, to America. Another piece is Farnsworth: Four Portraits of a House.

Norman is a strong advocate for live performance, alluded to in his comment, “What is special about the kind of music I make is that it is live, and that this piece will only happen once. It will be there for ten minutes, and then it won’t be there any  more. And that kind of transience is really special to me, that element of chance, and surprise, that things will happen differently. This is what I find really interesting and exciting,  about writing music and about listening to live music.”

This is what Norman will be doing, and the audience will be hearing, in Boston, starting with a performance of his piece on the January 27th Jordan Hall program. His residency at BMOP will involve him in all its concerts; and he will participate in pre-concert discussions and out-reach programs.

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  1. Sound and Architecture is amazingly, no, insultingly-interesting moment. Different spaces have own harmonics and some spaces are so stunningly interesting sonically that it eliminates even the need to have music in the way how we understand it. Those spaces can light up a single note and throw a true firework of sonic sensations. Unfortunately here is Boston we do not have “interesting” acoustic environments. The celebrated Symphony Hall is mediocre at its best. The best hall in state – the Mechanics Hall is pretty much chamber-size hall…

    I do not know what kind music Andrew Norman writes. He might have architecture in his mind as program of his works but I would like people have more architecture in their mind when they perform music. I think in Boston, to have objectives to stressing architecture in Sound is very much as living in US and try to stress idiosyncrasies of Milanese, Fiorentina, Siciliana, Napolitana, or Alla Romana cuisines. In US use have dead, tasteless, radioactive veritable and fruits, gasoline inspired meats and poultry. All out produce are so radically contaminated and spoiled by byproducts or chemical industry, by barbaric agriculture techniques and corporate objectives that to think about any more or less natural or interesting cooking in US is laughable.  I think with Sound is very much the same, at least in Boston…

    Also, I am not a huge fan of Norman’s insistency of live performance. For sure, in what he say he is very right, however his position is missing another aspect– deficiency of general listening culture of recorded events. People mostly (and not only in US) do not have properly developed culture for listening experiences of records music, not to mention the in most of the cases music is being recorded horribly.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

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