Composer / Trombonist Vinko
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Vinko Globokar (7 July 1934,
Anderny, France) is a Slovene composer and trombonist. He lived in
France until 1947, when he moved to Ljubljana to study at the music
school and conservatory, gaining his diploma in 1954. In 1955 he began
studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won first prizes for
trombone (1959) and chamber music. He studied composition and
conducting with Leibowitz (1959–63) and composition with Berio in
He has performed the premières of a large number of works for
trombone by Luciano Berio, Mauricio Kagel, Karlheinz Stockhausen,
René Leibowitz, Louis Andriessen, Toru Takemitsu, Jürg
Wittenbach and others.
He has conducted his works with the orchestras of Westdeutscher
Rundfunk, Radio France, Radio Helsinki, Radio Ljubljana, with the
Philharmonic Orchestras of Warsaw and Jerusalem.
In 1966 Globokar joined a performing group for new music at SUNY
(Buffalo), and in 1968 he was appointed to teach the trombone at the
Staatliche Hochschule für Musik (Köln, Germany) and
composition at the Köln courses for new music. He founded the Free
Music Group in 1969 and a quartet, New phonic art, also in 1969, both
of which perform contemporary music, including many of his own works.
He also performed in Stockhausen's group, and from 1973 to 1979 was
head of vocal-instrumental research at Ircam (Paris, France).
From 1983 to 1999 he was teaching and conducting the 20th-century
repertoire with the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana based in Fiesole
(Florence). In 2003 he was made a honorary member of the International
Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM).
Vinko Globokar lives in Paris and Zuzemberk/Slovenia.
In November of 2000, Vinko Globokar was in Chicago and we arranged to
meet for a conversation. Besides just music, we got into what are
sometimes known as “heavy”
topics. He was frank with his opinions and shared his ideas based
on his personal experience and outlook.
His English was good, though it was laced with the expected mannerisms
that are found in many European-language speakers. I have tidied
things up just a bit, but have left intact many of his structures and
choices of vocabulary.
Here is what was said that afternoon . . . . . . . . .
You are both a trombone player and a composer. How do you divide
your time, or do you always combine those two?
For the trombone playing I need less time than for composing.
It’s clear that for trombone playing, certain gymnastics are necessary,
so for me, at my age, one hour and a half to two hours in a day is
enough. The rest of the time is thinking about the composition.
BD: This is
technical gymnastics on a trombone?
Absolutely, especially the problem of stamina. If I want to do a
recital from one hour and a half alone on the stage, completely alone,
the main problem is the stamina.
technical gymnastics. Is it also musical gymnastics?
musical gymnastics start in the moment that I understand the music
through the eyes of the composer. So when I play music, I first
analyze it and then I take the instrument to do it. I consider
the instrumental technique should be a domain which is like really the
kind of gymnastic. After that, you apply it to the making of the
BD: When you
write music, you write for yourself and you also write for
others. Is it different in your mind if you are going to
participate, or if you are not going to participate as performer?
VG: I wrote
very few pieces for where I participate myself. They are for
trombone, or for any kind of brass instrument where I can do a
version. There are perhaps six or seven pieces, but there are
about a hundred pieces in the catalog of my work.
BD: Why do
you not write more for yourself?
of the fact that to know too much an instrument provokes the danger of
clichés. I could do kilometers of music for the trombone,
but without interest. Because I think that the variation of an
instrument is very useful, and to variate the trombone, I know it too
well. [Both laugh]
BD: Are there
people who want you to write for their own instrument?
VG: I avoid
this. If somebody asks me to write work for an instrument
— for instance a clarinet — I never
want him to show me what he can do. So I write an abstract work
for a clarinet and then he has to find a solution to play it. I
never wrote a piece for somebody specifically.
BD: Just for
the instrument or just for music?
VG: Just for
BD: Are there
ever times that the player can’t get around what you have written?
VG: From time
to time. But you always find somebody who is able to do it later.
challenging each player?
VG: It’s not
a problem which I would say is important. I write what I think
should be written, and then it’s the problem of the performer to find
solutions. History shows you that always, something which was
thought as impossible, after a while is done.
Eventually, they will catch up to you? They will get good enough?
Yes. You have always performers who are challenging, and who are
trying to get a result. I would say the composer should never
take care of the practicality of the moment.
BD: Does your
idea about this change when you are the performer instead of the
VG: When I am
a composer I compose what I want. When I am a performer and
somebody would like to write for me, I do not show him what is possible
on the instrument. I tell him, “Write what you want, and when you
bring the score, if really it’s impossible I will tell you what is from
a physical or an acoustical reason not possible.” But I don’t
like to show, as a catalogue, this is possible, this is possible,
etcetera. That does not interest me.
BD: When you
are performing, are you showing the audience what you can do, or are
you showing what the composer has written?
clear what the composer has written.
BD: You make
Absolutely clear! The role of interpreter is to be absolutely
honest, and not to try to add something to make the piece more
interesting, or to make himself more interesting. The role of the
interpreter is to do exactly everything what is written. If he is
able to do this, then it is the maximum done.
interpreter doesn’t put anything of himself into it?
that. First of all he should do what is written, and then he can
add his personality. But not put the horse behind the chariot.
BD: Do you
always make sure that you understand the composer’s idea?
VG: Well I
BD: Do you
find that your interpreters understand your idea when you are the
VG: Some yes,
some no. But let’s say that I am lucky that I know in Europe a
lot of very good interpreters with whom I work.
BD: Is the
music that you write for everyone?
VG: This is a
very important question because it has a lot of ways to put this
idea. What can I do as a composer? First of all, I would
say, to take care of the audience is a very strange situation, because
what is the audience? The audience is a big amount of different
people. In an audience you don’t have two persons who read the
same book. You have not two persons who have the same cultural
background. It means you have in the audience only
individuals. This is clear, which I learned through years.
I do not consider the whole as a kind of “audience.” I see in
them only individuals — somebody’s a professor,
the other is a worker, somebody cannot read, the other wrote a hundred
BD: So there’s lots
VG: No, no,
no, no. Lots of individuals. Now as a composer, how do you
want me to take care of an audience? Because there are different
people, my point of view is that I am sitting behind a table to compose
a work, I am trying to be as serious as possible to the limits of what
I can, without being in a hurry. So to give out things which you
say, “Oh, I have no time, but I will correct them later” is not my way
of thinking. When it is finished, there is the sheet of music
paper. You like? It’s okay. You don’t like?
It’s okay. I cannot help it because I am already thinking to the
BD: If you
hand the paper to me and I don’t like it, do you then hand it to
VG: In any
case the music is edited by a publisher. So I am not knocking on
the door trying to say to somebody, “Would you play? Would you
play? Would you play?” No. The piece is done, and
then whoever likes to perform, he should do it.
BD: Does it
please you to know that there are a lot of people who perform your
BD: Does your
work get performed enough?
means enough? I can say that the interest is growing. It
depends on whether you have to be on all of the programs of all of the
halls of all of the world. No. That doesn’t interest
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] Why not?
as a person, if you have an honest point of view, it means that
— like in politics — you agree with some people
and you don’t agree with others. I would be very sad if all of
the world would like my music.
[Genuinely surprised] You’d be sad???
Absolutely sad because the music which I am doing is bound to a certain
message which the music should present. It should transport
people, and you have an amount of people with whom I do not sympathize
for political reasons. So I would not be interested that this
type of people likes my music.
BD: Do you
want them not to like
VG: No. The
music is transport for some ideas which are bound with sociological
problems and with political problems. You have, in the society,
people who are fascists and you have people who are democrats and you
have people who are humanists. If a fascist likes my music, I
would not like this.
BD: Would you
not be pleased if a fascist liked your music, and then was no longer a
fascist — he then became a humanist because of
[Laughs] This I would like very much!
eternally optimistic] So there is hope?
hopeless, I think. [Both laugh]
BD: So you
want the music to be for your political friends, but is music itself
VG: Not for
political friends, but let’s say you have a kind of moral attitude, and
this moral attitude can transport or transmit it in your work. So
this music is not done to entertain everybody. Hegel started this
kind of thinking — that music can have a
critical role. I know that in America, the music is considered in
general as a kind of entertainment, to try to please, to look for
applause, etcetera. But you have a lot of movements in Europe
— especially with the support of the Adorno philosophy
— where the music has a critical role.
BD: Are you a
part of this?
VG: I agree
with this, let’s say. In other words, it preoccupies me.
BD: Do you
write at all on commission?
again different. If you would like to write for an orchestra in
Europe, then you can do it only on commission. When you bring to
an orchestra a work that is already done, they are not
interested. I mean the administrator, not the musicians.
But normally the orchestras are dealing commissions, like big festivals
in Europe and so. So when I write for orchestras, I write under
commission, and then I am sure that it will be performed.
BD: When you
start to write the piece, do you know how long it will take to compose?
absolutely. There are not two composers who proceed in the same
way. When I compose a work, the basis of the work is always
something which has nothing to do with music. It’s a kind of idea
or a question which can be psychological provenance, political
provenance, social provenance, literary provenance. It means
something which stays outside of the music is the basis. I can
tell you themes — the theme of resistance, which is the archetype, or
the theme of immigration, or the theme of interrogation,
etcetera. I can tell you titles and titles, and these themes
dictate which kind of music I should write. It means these themes
also provoke the invention of different techniques and provoke the
selection of material. So that always is something which stays
outside of the music, or is a stimulant to do a musical work.
BD: Do you
decide on that stimulant, or is that asked for?
VG: No, no,
it is never asked for. At least in Europe, where I am working, I
can say that no one organizer of the music would dare to give a
wouldn’t say, “Write a symphony about revolution”?
BD: So when
you get the commission, you decide what basis you will use?
Absolutely. If you have a festival who gives you an offer to
write a piece, then, of course, I reflect in my ideas which I have at
my fingertips, let’s say. I decide if I need an orchestra or if I
don’t need it for this work. If I have no ideas about themes
which I would like to work on that need an orchestra, then I refuse it,
I turn down the commission. But I have in my books, scripts,
etcetera, always crazy ideas where an orchestra is necessary.
BD: So then
when the commission comes, you just use one of those?
BD: Are there
ever times you just write a piece because you have to get it out of
No more. I am 66 years old, and I went through the periods
through which each composer went. At the beginning I went
knocking on the doors saying, “Would you play my piece?” etcetera,
etcetera. After a while, you go inside of a world of friends
— administrators — which you know. It’s a
kind of world where it’s a common trusting between us, and then you can
choose what you would like to do, or not.
BD: You are
now at that point where you can choose?
Yes. I am in that, old.
[Laughs] You’re not too old!
VG: Not too
old, but enough. [Laughs]
BD: I assume
you want to write up until the very end, whenever that comes?
VG: I don’t
think of this.
BD: When you
sit down and start to think about the piece, how do you know when it is
finished and ready to be given to the performers?
when the piece is finished and that I can say okay, if it was one year
work then it is sure that at least one third of the time — three
or four months — is only based on noticing the
intentions with words. Then I slowly do a kind of formal design
of the work. Then time is spent selecting the harmonic material,
rhythmical material, etcetera, etcetera — all of the parameters.
So the starting of composing is after a long period. One third of
the time is preparation, when no one note is written, then two thirds
is the filling. So it means that when I start to write a piece,
everything is already prepared. It’s kind of like being an
architect. He is doing the design, and then one starts to build
BD: Are you
then just transcribing what you have already sketched?
VG: What I
wrote with words and with graphical designs, etcetera.
BD: Do you
know when you begin the sketching how long the piece will be
— what the performance time will be?
Absolutely, with variations of five percent of the time. From
time to time I would say it happens that during the work there are
deviations, and that something new came into my head, deciding
“boff!” I will change the direction of something. But it is
BD: Once you
have it all written out and you hear it, do you ever make changes or
few! In the rehearsals there are some changes from time to time,
especially of the dynamical level where you have things which do not
come out. So you try to ask that group to play louder. If
it does not work, then you try to ask that the other group who is under
play softer. But from time to time are things where you
miscalculated, but these are very small changings. It’s just a
dynamical adjustment or something, but I never correct a harmony or a
chord, never! Also, not a rhythmical figure. From time to
time, the correction goes on the dynamical level and on the tempo level
— more slowly or faster, accelerando or ritardando, etcetera.
BD: Is there
ever a time when the performer gets it all right?
Never! [Both laugh]
BD: That’s a
absolutely a good thing!
BD: Can I
assume that you are pleased with most of your performances?
VG: Oh, no.
When it’s a performance done by people who I select, then yes because I
trust them. I have some friends with whom I’ve worked a lot
through years, so I know that they can do it. I know their
character. Also, if they do something that is against my wishes,
I know that they will do it because I know them. But I am very
displeased when I come into a town with an orchestra or with a group of
people who are beginners.
BD: They need
experience to play your music?
VG: Yes, of
course. Of course!
BD: How do
they gain experience playing your music if they don’t play your music?
VG: This is a
problem. A school should provide this information. If
somebody comes in an orchestra, he must know about the new techniques
of playing. Let’s take the clarinet. A clarinet is able to
do different multi-phonic sounds, being able to play and sing at the
same time. There are a lot of techniques which developed in the
last years. If somebody is not able to do them when he is a
professional, it is the fault of the conservatory where he
studied. It is the fault of the professor who taught him.
One should understand that the musical language by composers changed
after Schoenberg started to change it. Especially in the ’60s,
there started to be a big interest in the morphology of the
sound. This means on timbre and on articulation. And
because you had the electronic music, which started to develop in the
’60s, one started to develop on the orchestral instruments which were
built two or three hundred years ago for tonal language. One
started to develop new techniques of playing. These new
techniques... it’s not a luxury or it’s not a joke; it’s a necessity
which the composer had to have for the new ways of expression.
Now, if an instrumentalist does not know these things, it’s the fault
of the institution where he studied.
BD: So he
should seek out people like you and others who can teach him the new
Yes. Not only me, but you have a lot of people today who are
aware of the responsibility of showing what is demanded by composers.
composers demand too much?
It’s a hierarchy. In the musical world the composer is the person
who invents music, and from this comes the chain of people who are
discussing music. This is the second degree of the primary
work. Without composers, all of the conservatories could close
the door. All of the performers could close their instrument
cases. So you have the composers who invent the music, and then
all of the line of people who depend on you. Also there is you as
a promoter of music. You are in this category! So in this
moment, one should know that everything a composer is inventing he’s
right. He’s the only person in the musical life who is right!
BD: So we
must defer to the composer?
BD: I hope,
though, that you are eventually pleased with many of your performances
that you hear.
depends. If they are good performers or good conductors, I am
pleased. If it is not a good conductor and not good performers, I
am not pleased.
BD: Are you
pleased with the recordings?
VG: It’s the
same. If it is a good performer, a good conductor, or at least a
good performer, and if it is a good technician, then I am
pleased. If it is bad, I am not pleased.
BD: In the
end, is it worth all the effort?
VG: But it is
not an effort. It’s not an effort; it is my life! I am not,
how you say, sweating. Not at all. No, I am doing my work,
nothing else, as seriously as possible. Here I would make a small
comment. There is a big difference between the States and Europe
when new music happens. In Germany you have sixteen states, and
each state has its own radio or its own conservatory. So, each
state and each radio does not take care of what is doing at the other
radio. Inside of Germany there is a kind of moral duty to support
the new art, the today art, and also the today composer. So the
orchestras are playing orchestral music done by young and old
composers, but it’s this kind of production. In the States the
new music happens only on campuses where everything is allowed.
You can experiment as you want, but the community is not present to
hear and to transmit this. So it’s a kind of small, incestual
thing. The composer is writing for his colleague composers, or
for the people who are on the campus. The music does not go
outside of the campus.
BD: What can
we do to get it more outside?
VG: I don’t
BD: Are you
VG: I don’t
know. I am only able to say what is the difference between the
BD: But are
you helping by performing others’ music on your trombone?
VG: No more, but I
did hundreds of first performances in my life, going from the known
— like Berio, Stockhausen, Kagel, Holliger, Wyttenbach,
Takemitsu, etcetera, etcetera — to completely
unknown people. [See my Interview with Luciano
Berio, and my Interview
with Mauricio Kagel.] But now I am older, and to play
trombone when you are 80 is very difficult. [Laughs]
protesting] But you are not there yet! [Laughs]
VG: [With a
shrug] No. [Laughs]
advice do you have for younger composers coming along?
VG: To be
patient. Not to be like a snake or a rabbit which adapts to any
kind of situation. To have a kind of spine. Think.
You don’t have to be like me.
BD: It takes
VG: What is
Absolutely. Art is not a joke.
advice do you have for audiences?
Nothing. I speak about new art, new music. The audience is
coming and is confronted by a product where he does not have the keys
for understanding. They are coming, but they do not know.
Okay, perhaps they read the program notes, but also this program does
not help a lot. So they are confronted to something new, where
they cannot have a way to compare this to something other. It’s
new. A certain amount of tolerance is necessary, a kind of amount
of curiosity to be confronted with something they don’t like. You
cannot give advice to an audience because, as I said in the beginning
of this interview, you have not two people in the whole who are
similar. If you would do a kind of psychoanalysis of each person
who comes out of the whole [laughs], you would not have two similar
Exactly. That’s what music does — it touches everyone
Absolutely, because it is the most abstract art which exists. I
would say it is a kind of challenge, at least for me. I am
absolutely unhappy that the music cannot mean something
precisely. I know that it is not possible, but all of my efforts
are done toward things where I would express, with my music, something
very precise. But I cannot.
BD: Why would
you rather not use words, which are precise?
VG: Because I
am a musician. I am not a photograph.
BD: One last
question—are you optimistic about the future of music?
absolutely. Absolutely! I am allergic, really allergic
about this thinking, “where the music goes” because the history shows
you that it goes on. Only the movements who were never something,
these have problems.
BD: Does it
please you that you are part of this line of musicians?
VG: I don’t
know if I am in a line of musicians. I don’t know. I
studied, I learned, and I am working farther. This is all what I
BD: Thank you
for all of the music you have given us, and for the conversation
VG: It was my
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© 2000 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Chicago on November 20,
2000. Segments were used (with recordings)
on WNIB one month later. The
transcription was made and posted on this
website in 2013.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.