Composer  William  Neil

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


The music of William (Grosvenor) Neil (FAAR ’83) has been performed on both sides of the Atlantic and has been featured at the Festival of Music in Evian, France, the Electronic Plus Festival in New York, the Pontino Festival in Italy, and the New Music Chicago Festival. He has written works for celebrated musicians including Concerto for Piccolo Clarinet for John Bruce Yeh and Chicago Pro Musica, recorded on the Newport Classic label, Fantasia for guitarist Michael Lorimer, published by Melbay, Violin Rhapsody for violinist Sharon Polifrone recorded on Albany Records, At the Edge of the Body’s Night for Duo Sureno recorded on the Liscio Label, Out of Darkness Into Light for Pro Musica recored on the Ravello Recordings, Spiritual Adaptation to Higher Altitudes for clarinetist Corey Mackey, recorded on the Mark Masters Label, and Six Preludes for pianist Martin Jones recorded on PnOVA Recordings.  His songs set to poems by D.H.Lawrence, The Waters Are Shaking the Moon, for soprano Barbara Ann Martin, were premiered on WFMT radio in June of 1996.


Major Performances and Commissions

In 1984 he was appointed the first composer-in-residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. His first opera, The Guilt of Lillian Sloan, was premiered in 1986. His orchestral works have been performed by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, The Chicago Chamber Orchestra, the Opus One Chamber Orchestra, Concertante di Chicago and the Czech National Symphony. Commissioned works include, The Waters Are Shaking the Moon, Rhapsody for Violin for Concertante di Chicago, Scherzo at the Speed of Light for Northern Kentucky University, Project Phoenix for Chicago Pro Musica, and  Super String Quartet for the Arts Association of Denmark, At the Edge of the Body’s Night for Duo Sureno, Out of Darkness Into Light for Pro Musica, and Sinfonia delle Gioie for the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Platt.

Residencies and Significant Performances

In 2007 Neil served as a McKnight Foundation Visiting Composer-in-residence for city of Winona, MN where his Oratoria for chorus and soloists was premiered by the St. Mary’s University Chamber Choir.  In September of 2012 he was in residence at the D.H. Lawrence Gargnano Centenary Symposium in Gargnano, Italy, performing his song cycle The Waters Are Shaking the Moon and a commissioned work, Where There is No Autumn.  The following year, Trio Malipiero premiered his piano trio, Notte dei Cristalli, at the Teatro alla Specola in Padova.  Recent commissions include, Out of Darkness Into Light and Love Poem with a Knife for Duo Sureno and Pro Musica premiered at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC.  Italian pianist, Giacomo dalla Libera premiered Nocturne No. 1, Prelude No. 3, and Tango No. 2 at Morely College in London in 2018.  In the spring of 2020, Neil served as an Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park.

Sound Design & Radio Production 

Neil is the artistic director of TheComposerStudio.Com, LLC that specializes in film and sound design for theatre.  Recently, he has produced sound design for the In Tandem Theatre Company production of Beast on the Moon and The Glass Menagerie in Milwaukee, WI.  He has also worked with the actor-director Phil Addis in designing sound for Nosferatu for the Viroqua Community Theatre.   Recent film scores include the Community Conservation documentary Conservation of the Yellow Tailed Wooly Monkey.  Neil regularly co-hosts Symphony Sunday on WDRT in Viroqua, WI, a three-hour classical music program that features interviews with local musicians and live music.  He is currently producing a ten-episode program featuring interviews with the American composer, George Crumb about his American Songbook series of recordings. 


He also actively performs with Project FourthStream as pianist, composer with jazz musicians Tom Gullion and Karyn Quinn.  The group has recorded and produced two recordings: This Music in 2010, followed by Out of Darkness Into Light in 2017.  In June of 2016 he performed a solo piano recital of his own piano music, Verde, Bianca, Rosa Concerto at the Academia della Musica in Sofia d’Epiro in Calabria Italy.


Neil earned the Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music & Case Western Reserve University where he studied with composer Donald Erb. He pursued advanced musical studies with Joachim Blüme at the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik, Koln, Germany and holds the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Composition from the University of Michigan School of Music, studying composition with Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Eugene Kurtz, and  William Albright.


His creativity has been recognized by awards from the McKnight Foundation (2008), the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1982), a BMI composition award (1981), an ASCAP award (1981), a Fulbright Fellowship (1978-1979), commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978, 1984), an Illinois Arts Grant (1988), and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (1983). In 1988 he received the Armstrong Award for jointly producing Music at Hight Noon along with WFMT host Kerry Frumkin as part of the 1988 New Music Chicago Spring Festival.  Neil was also awarded a 2008 Visiting Composer’s grant from the McKnight Foundation for the city of Winona, MN.

==  Biography from the composers website (with slight corrections)  
==  Links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

This conversation with composer William Neil was held at the end of June, 1986, very soon after the performance of his opera The Guilt of Lillian Sloan.  At that time, he was about to complete his term as the first composer-in-residence with Lyric Opera of Chicago.

We met in his studio, which was upstairs in the Civic Opera Building . . . . .

neil Bruce Duffie:   When did you decide to become a composer?

William Neil:   It was part of being a musician.  I was playing instruments since I was in third grade.  First it was the clarinet, but even before that I was a listener.  My father was a record salesman for Angel Records, Columbia, and RCA in Detroit in the
50s, when the big hi-fi boom was going on.  Of course, he kept most of the excellent samples, and was playing them constantly.

BD:   Was this serious music, or pop music?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with Frank Abbinanti.]

Neil:   Very serious music, and some jazz.  He was himself proud to be a swinger, but he was seriously interested in classical music as a listener.  So, I was exposed to a lot of serious sounds as a child, but I began formal training on the clarinet because it satisfied both purposes in my parents’ eyes.  I could play in a symphony orchestra one day, or I could be like Benny Goodman, who turned out to be quite a model.  When you look at him as an American musician, he is the embodiment of the seriousness of the American jazz and classical music.  He was quite a player.  He did chamber music of all kinds, so I remember that exposure.  I was very faithful, and I liked the instrument.  I went to summer camp with it, and so forth.

BD:   Did you go to a music camp, or did you just take the clarinet with you to a regular summer camp?

Neil:   This was a program of Washington, DC.  It was a summer school in the city, but all you did was play your instrument and drink Coke!  It was a big thing.  We’d have forty-five-minute lessons with excellent players.  Some of them were from the National Symphony, and some were from the Alexandria Symphony, a lesser-known orchestra in that area.  We’d have two forty-five-minute lessons, whether it was an ensemble or a solo, and then we’d take our dimes and have a Coke.  I remember that was much fun.  I went through sixth grade on the instrument, but I was always creating in an improvisatory way.  We would learn things on the clarinet, but I would constantly do my own inventions, and express my own melodies.  I remember that distinctly.

BD:   Would you write them down, or just play them?

Neil:   I wasn’t writing them down, but I would very often rapidly notate them in brief form
it starts like this, and ends like this.  I was only nine years old, but I continued on to sixth grade.  Then I became a teenager, and it just wasn’t cool to play clarinet at all.

BD:   Even if it was like Benny Goodman?

Neil:   Even Benny Goodman was square as it could be, and suddenly I was exposed to pop music, rock, and The Beatles, and I just became a fanatic for early rock music.  I was too young.  It was an era before me.  It was the early
60s when I was in first grade, so when I was in sixth grade I became hooked on rock music, and pop music, and I went back to find where this started.  I went back into a self-history lesson of rock music, starting with The Beatles.  Elvis Presley was just totally nowhere for kids our age, so I started with The Beatles, and I’d update myself musically.  That was an interruption, because then I dropped the clarinet and picked up the guitar, but mind you, it was the classical guitar.  I was very interested in the acoustical guitar.  I saved my money and bought a wonderful instrument.

BD:   Did you want to be another Andrés Segovia?

Neil:   I became very interested in all the guitarists of the time, including Segovia, and especially Flamenco guitarists because it was such a flashy act, and it was very exciting music on the guitar.  I was very quickly bored with rock music itself, but I loved the instrument, the guitar.

BD:   You liked the theatricality of the Flamenco style?

Neil:   Yes, indeed.  I remember that.  That got me through adolescence, and then suddenly my parents nailed me.  They said,
If you want to be a serious musician, you’ve got to learn the piano.  I said okay, and I fell in love with the piano.  Like going from one to the next, I started out working with a jazz pianist, and I did the same thing with pop music.  I did the whole history of jazz, and all my peers thought I was absolutely nuts.  Jazz was what our parents did.  It was square.  Fortunately, my father had this extensive library, and I went through the whole history of jazz, right up to Miles Davis’s latest ‘Bitches Brew’ album.  I wore that one out.  I was constantly improvising, and would often write charts and melodies down.  Then I got real serious, and got a classical teacher who was to prepare me to go to conservatory.  I fell in love with the piano literature.

BD:   While you were studying all of this, did you enjoy listening to concerts?

Neil:   Yes.  I was able to go to concerts in Washington DC.  We had the National Symphony.  There were the Watergate Concerts before
Watergate was a bad word.  It was this floating shell on the Potomac, and they had all kinds of visiting orchestras.  It was much like Grant Park [the free, outdoor summer festival on Chicagos Lakefront], and of course the radio stations were excellent for serious jazz, and public broadcasting stations had wonderful classical music.  Anyway, it was just a period of exposure, playing all these records from Ravel to Stravinsky, to all the symphonies of Mozart.  He was lacking in Mahler.  I remember that, and I’ve made up for it since then.

BD:   All of this is instrumental music.  Was there any vocal music in the mix?

Neil:   Oddly enough, I was satisfied with folk music.  This also was the era of James Taylor.  I was growing up in high school in the late
60s and early 70s, and the wonderful art of folk song was satisfying that vocal urge.  But I was more interested in the immediate world of the piano.  I remember preparing myself for the conservatory, and I finally got in at the Cleveland Institute of Music.  Once I left home, it was a whole different world.  It was somewhat isolated from all those other eclectic worlds of pop and jazz, and was classical only.  This is what this conservatory was about, as most are.

BD:   Is that a mistake for a conservatory to limit itself so much?

Neil:   I don’t know.  At the early stages, no.  You need to isolate a student to get him musically literate and skilled.  I spent the whole first year pretending that I was a great concert pianist
or would beand studying all the literature.  Of course, I had a favorite, and that was the piano works of Dmitri Shostakovich, because it linked the classical literature that I liked, and also was a more progressive voice.  All the other pianists were playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff, and things that I couldn’t technically master, because they had spent their whole life doing that.  So I pulled the works of Shostakovich out of the library.  I remember looking at his piano works.  He wrote Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues, and that was a very interesting time for me.  I remember beginning as an aspiring pianist, but I wrote my first work before I got there, which was my audition work.  It was a very impressionistic work called Rain.  It was a little piano piece that was a demonstration of the poetics of a summer rainfall.

neil BD:   Just a little post-Debussy?

Neil:   Exactly.  Then there was another work that was very heavy on the Rachmaninoff influence, and then there was another interruption.  This creative urge was constantly being interrupted because I had to master the skills of being a musician
ear training and sight-singing.

BD:   You were still thinking you might be a concert pianist?

Neil:   Yes.  This is a very important time, because I was very disillusioned.  I knew I could never be a pianist, except possibly a jazz pianist, but I was cut off from that.  There was no jazz at the conservatory.  No person of my age was even slightly interested in jazz.  It was just an odd thing.  So, I was cut off from that, and I regret that, but I kept it up because improvisation was a valuable technique, at which I still am quite gifted.  Classical improvisation of piano music, and also of jazz, is a wonderful method of working out ideas, and many of the classical composers used this method, including Beethoven, Mozart, Scriabin, and Chopin.  Any composer who had any skill at the piano used that technique to work out an idea before they went to the desk and fleshed it out.

BD:   When was the first time you came in contact with the voice in your writing?

Neil:   The voice came through the back door.  I had a parallel love of poetry and literature and theater.  I was in many theater classes at the conservatory.  We had to take electives, so instead of taking English or psychology, I would go for the theater courses, and it really opened me up as an individual.  It also satisfied my appetite for the drama in my life.  That’s always been assimilated in some way, and finally, when I was at junior or senior at the conservatory, I was able to bring things together, and I wrote my first vocal work.  It was a setting of one of Robert Frost’s Birches poems.  My interest in composing has always been overshadowed by a project that involved a text.  I always write chamber music because I had an interest in that, but my main focus was always something to do with the text.  My second work was the Jorge Luis Borges poem Límites [for mezzo and chamber orchestra, 1977].  I remember spending a whole year studying the poem.

BD:   Reading it again and again, or putting it aside and coming back to it regularly?

Neil:   Actually, I translated it myself from the Spanish.  I worked with a native speaker who was American, and who was an instructor at the Case Western University, which was a university affiliated with the Cleveland Institute of Music.  I was going to go about it in a very artistic manner, thinking that I would begin from the very bottom.  I remember spending almost a year working with the poem, and then I began writing.  It is one of the most successful works I’ve written to date, even compared with things I’ve done now.  There’s a lot of period design in its approach.  I remember there were no problems with it.  I just sat down and composed the work straight through, because I had such an understanding of the text.  After that, I knew this format of creating a polemic world around myself and then writing the work, led to a great success.  So, I’ve done that off and on.

BD:   So that’s your early hit?

Neil:   My early hit, and it is performed quite frequently professionally, and it’s been broadcast.  It’s something I always go back to.  When I begin a new work, I use that as an inspiration.

BD:   You play it through and get it in your ear?

Neil:   I revel in the pure undogmatic atmosphere of the style.  It has all the naïvety of a young composer, yet it has the sophisticated penetration of poetical thought that Borges had provided.  I am no way a match for that brilliant man who was a scholar to the nth degree, and knew nine languages.  All of that is reflected in his work.  I was a student of the poem, and as a student of music at the time I just let the world of each stanza blossom musically.  So, I go back to that pure technique.

BD:   It’s been performed a number of times.  Do the singers feel that it is written well for the voice?

Neil:   I
ve never had any flack from them.  It’s a difficult work because it uses Spanish, and Spanish is not Italian.  It’s an unfamiliar language to most singers, oddly enough.  Most of the tempos are slow, so it’s not that difficult.  The rhythms aren’t that difficult.  It’s set very naturally.  Of course, Spanish like any other romance language, is quite easy to musically set, because of the vowels and the phrasing.  It’s not like English and German where there are many consonants that allow you to lose your wind, so the phrasing is very difficult.  The trouble is getting it programmed because of the Spanish text.  That’s the biggest deal because a lot of the chamber orchestras are not as involved with Spanish-speaking audiences.  It just doesn’t fit, but I did have some success.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [Continuing the story of Neil
s development]  At this point you’ve studied piano, clarinet, and guitar.  Have you had any voice lessons?

Neil:   No, only what I’ve picked up from being here at Lyric Opera, the nuts and bolts of the voice.  It’s a whole wide world of technique.

BD:   Do you think you should take some voice lessons?  Or should you have taken some voice lessons before you started the opera?

Neil:   I don’t know.  Most composers learn by imitation.  When I’m writing a line, I’ll imitate a tenor, although I’m more of a baritone, and the techniques of a tenor are completely different from those of a soprano.  I can’t be a soprano, of course...

neil BD:   But you can understand their techniques.

Neil:   I can understand technique, and it’s been word-of-mouth so far.  It
s what I’ve heard from them, and coaches, and what I’ve read.

BD:   You composed these chamber works.  When did you want to write a big full-blown opera... or was it decided for you?

Neil:   It was decided for me.  That’s the nature of being a composer who wants to be professional.  I was at the American Academy in Rome, reveling in that atmosphere, which had the tradition of Samuel Barber and other great American composers.  I even had his studio.  He stood up to compose.  He had a podium.  He didn’t have a piano.  He’d stand up and write his manuscript, and then he would sit down and play and improvise.  I was writing chamber works that fit the atmosphere, and I was working on an orchestra work in my second year there.  I was about to spend the rest of my life living in Rome.  It was absolutely the most artistic city, yet compatible with everyday life.

BD:   Is this because of the history?

Neil:   It
s just the atmosphere in the way the Italians live.  They’ve got music in their culture.  And, of course, the logistics didn’t work out that way.  I had two jobs teaching, and I had one commission.  I was running around left to right, taking buses everywhere and trying to rent a studio and an apartment for my family.  We were living on pasta carbonara... that’s just pasta with eggs and ham.  It was just real cheap pasta, and no extravagances, but we were running in the red.  Slowly but surely, I was living on a time-bomb.  I thought we would reach a point about three years into our life there, where we would have no money, and no way to get home.  This is the story of most composers who go there.  It’s not sour grapes I’m laying on anyone.  This is the tradition of the American Academy.  Then, a call came to be the first composer-in-residence at Lyric Opera.

BD:   Had you applied for the position?

Neil:   I had been asked to apply, and I just wrote it off as being one of those quirky things that come up now and again, and I’d never been considered for.  I just figured they would have somebody right there that they wanted.

BD:   Or they might have someone in mind who had already written half a dozen chamber operas?

Neil:   Yes, a student of Menotti, perhaps.  Who knows?  I assumed it was the same old politics, and, of course, everybody thought that too.  But no!  This was a straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip competition that Ardis Krainik had cranked up, and they pulled me up because they liked my music.

BD:   Who actually made the decision?

Neil:   Gunther Schuller, Bruno Bartoletti, Ardis Krainik and Lee Schaenen.  A few of the other conductors had heard my tapes and my vocal music, and said that this guy would be a perfect subject to start this program.  They didn’t know what they were going to do, and it was very open-ended.  I had to fight my way through the press conference because I didn’t know what I was going to do, but we talked a little bit about style, and Great White Hopes, and so forth, which was the mood at that conference.  Then, the rest is what we laid out.  We went through it together and planned it.

BD:   How did it change once you got started?

Neil:   Originally, it was to have me write a scene, just to learn from the experience of being here in a year’s time.  So I wrote a scene was using The Devil’s Stocking, and Ardis Krainik pulled all the stops with her publicity.  She invited all the patrons, and made it quite an event to display that one scene which I had written while I was here.  That was the whole idea, and it impressed them.  I was impressed myself at my great interest in the theater, and in recreating the drama and action on stage.  I was just wholly taken up by The Devil’s Stocking, and this one scene resulted.  Everybody was impressed, and she announced there right on the stage,
I would like to produce an opera by William Neil!  Of course, everybody applauded and I fell on the floor.  [Laughs]  After that, we sat down and negotiated a contract which gave me two and a half years.  We had already had four months, so I had roughly three years, and the idea was to write something that they could produce within the three years.

BD:   Did they expect to produce it on the main stage with an international cast, or on a small stage with the Opera School cast?

Neil:   It was very open-ended.  It was never pinpointed, but the feeling was that it needed to exploit the talents of the Ensemble, the Lyric Opera Center for American Arts, and they would fill up the cast on the main stage.  Some of them are tops, people who were ready to go, for example Joan Gibbons.  So I went through a whole group of people.  As I was writing the opera, we had two workshops, and at these workshops we used different singers.  The Ensemble changed each year, so I would have to say goodbye to some of them.

BD:   Was that a blessing in disguise, because then you would know that if your opera was successful, it would then go to different casts and be done with different people?

Neil:   I think so.  People thought it’s nice to write for singers you’re living with right here, and I disagreed.  I can’t custom-fit this opera to meet the needs of these young singers.  Their voices change over time.  Some of them have a limited range, and when I called for a more professional extended range, it was a mistake.  Although I had to get to know the voices in a general sense, in the third year they would audition people who could fulfill the mainstage requirements, but at the same time could handle my work.  We were very lucky to get Joan Gibbons to agree to come in to be in the ensemble, and put her career aside because she had many offers.  She accepted the training, and the exposure of being on the main stage, and also took the challenge of the lead role in my opera.  So, I knew who I was writing for, and then we were able to keep Donald Kaasch.  He stayed on, and was the other excellent voice we had that matched for the two important roles.  In many ways I was very lucky to have them, and to work Don for two years, and Joan for a whole year with the project.

BD:   [Sizing up the noisy studio]  Looking around this room, when you’re working, are you distracted by the noises that we hear coming from outside?

Neil:   No, I have a personality that has grown in the last years that’s able to work inside and outside of my mind.  This is something that every composer should learn in our day and age.  There are distractions everywhere, and the idea of locking yourself up in an ivory tower is not practical.  You need to do that every now and then for particular moments in your music, but to demand it, you’d just be totally frustrated and go nuts.  I can be at home where people are talking and screaming, and I can completely concentrate on my music.  I’ve developed a sense of concentration over the years, and living in Chicago is a great cure for being over-sensitive to distractions.  [Both laugh]

BD:   We have too much going on around us all the time.

Neil:   Yes, I’ve learned to hear it, and let it pass through, so I can go about my business.  It’s something that I was relieved to learn.  My traditional mentor was Shostakovich, and he was a composer that would work anywhere.  He had a family, and would move around with them.  Different things were going on, and he would work at the dinner table or in the park, and look at the magnificent results.  It’s this uncanny element of concentration you develop, and I hope it will continue to develop.  It has to do with my earlier interest in meditation and inner-development, as opposed to a superficial development.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Now that the opera’s been produced, and you’ve seen it, what was the biggest surprise that you had?

Neil:   The biggest surprise was that the end worked.  I remember the first read-through.  We designed the opera so it had a twist at the end.  The dramatic impact had to be there, and the music had to be one hundred percent convincing or you don’t have an opera.  You can have a first act, and maybe a second act, but if you don’t have a correct ending on an opera, no matter how beautiful the work is, it’s silly.  So no matter how much we worked with it on the piano, and with the singers individually, it was when we first put it together with the entire cast that I knew that it worked.  That was a welcome surprise.  Other surprises include the sense of poetic depth and coloristic magic that took place when we had the orchestra added to the project.  When we rehearsed for the first time with orchestra and singers, I had all kinds of comments from the singers about the beautiful textures and atmosphere.  Of course, that’s what I set out to do.  One of my most pleasurable experiences composing is when I open my book, which is a notebook of orchestration ideas, and go about writing a scene with those ideas in mind.  I’m very interested in the coloristic atmosphere approach to writing opera
not just orchestrating music, but creating an ambiance and an atmosphere for the emotions that are laid out with the voices and the text.  The reactions that I got were very pleasant.  The unwelcomed surprises were the two scenes which didn’t work, so we eliminated them.  To our astonishment and surprise, the opera worked without them, although people were arguing about that.


BD:   Why didn’t they work?

Neil:   They weren’t stage-worthy.  The ideas were part of the drama.  One was a domestic scene
a quarrel with the husband, a sailor.  It played out pretty well, but it didn’t have the dramatic excellence that’s required.  You can’t deliver anything half-baked on the stage.  It has to be a hundred per cent, or people see right through it because it’s weak.

BD:   Who decided it was weak
was it Frank Galati (the librettist and stage director), or you, or everybody?

Neil:   It was a simultaneous gesture, and it was without words.  We were standing there... I always stand up when I hear my music.  I stand, I don’t sit down.  I take everything standing up, and they were reading through those two scenes.  I was looking at the score, and I didn’t look up once, and my face turned bright red for about ten minutes.  Frank was sitting down, and was just flipping pages back and forth as if he was looking at a disgusting piece of pornography!  [Both laugh]  You could see the expression on his face, and the singers didn’t know what was going on.  They thought it was wonderful, and they kept going.

BD:   The singers thought it was wonderful?

Neil:   They didn’t know.  They were busy working, rehearsing, and they’re not really conscious of the ultimate effect.  So afterwards, Frank was very worried because he thought perhaps I would be the ‘l’enfant terrible’ and not want to cut any of my wonderful creations.  He came over and said,
Don’t you think it would be wonderful to go directly from the first scene to the forth scene?  I said it would be absolutely the right thing.  The next day everyone was shocked.  They didn’t understand, but it's something you know in your bones immediately.

BD:   What happened to those pages of music?  Were they thrown in the trash can, or filed away?

Neil:   They’re up there somewhere in my office.  I’ll look at them again, but I don’t think there’s anything to save.

BD:   [Pondering the future]  At some point, years from now, some people are going to do like they did with Don Carlos, and they’re going to try and find things you threw away.  They’ll find these deleted scenes, and they are going to try to force them back into the show.

Neil:   [Laughs]  Well, I know where to hide them.  There are nooks and crannies in this opera house that nobody will find.  [More laughter]  Seriously, I’ll destroy everything.  The only memory will be the branded artistic embarrassment in my mind and in Frank’s mind.  It’s what builds character in artists.  You know you can fail, and you know how you did it, so remember that the next time you embark.

BD:   Are these things that you might use elsewhere, or it is something you just scrap and create something new?

Neil:   There’s one aria for the Owen Evans which I was very fond of.  I’ll keep the tune and the orchestration, and put it away in a journal somewhere.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Now that you’ve done a full-fledged opera, and it’s been on the stage, and you have received the notices both good and bad, do you want to be an opera composer?

Neil:   I have said that before.  [Laughs]  In my second year here I became hooked on drama, and I’ll say it again now.  I would like to be an opera composer.  I’d like to be America’s number one opera composer, because I feel I have what it takes, and I’ll relay the experience to you.  After two years into the project, I went to see my first strictly classical concert.  It was symphonies by Franck, Roussel, and Dutilleux [conducted by Leinsdorf].  I sat down, and from the first opening bars it was a wonderful concert.  But I asked myself why are these people playing?  Why is this music being performed?  There’s no action, there’s no drama.  This world that I have set up for myself has expectations which are very addictive, and they’re very fulfilling.  They fulfill the complete artistic personality that I have.

neil BD:   Is this to say that chamber groups have lost their composer now?

Neil:   No, this is to say that the full potential of my artistic being can only be realized in operatic dramatic musical drama.  Of course, there’s this challenge that is put forth, and anyone can identify whether they’re a composer, or a business man, or whatever.  The challenge is that I’ve written something that’s been successful in terms of being musically stage-worthy.  I know where my faults are, and I want to make good on them.  I always want to write, and go after a better result.

BD:   So you want to keep growing?

Neil:   I want to keep growing, and the end can produce magnificent results.  People talk about whether something is a masterpiece.  One critic said this is not a masterpiece.  People throw that word around as if it comes out of a coin-machine, where you put the money in and pull it out.  Think of Verdi.  If he had not continued writing, we would not have had Otello, which is an absolutely brilliant work.

BD:   But this was after a long career, filled with successes.

Neil:   After a long career of writing, and knowing his craft, and knowing the stage.

BD:   I would think at your stage of development it would be like saying suppose he had quit after Nabucco, or Ernani.

Neil:   Right, and in our days we have this ‘fast food’, like fast products.

BD:   Is it wrong for the public to expect a major production like yours to be a masterpiece?

Neil:   [Thinks a moment]  Well, a first opera is a gamble.  You’re throwing the dice, although I had comments.  For example Dominic Argento said this is the best first-opera he ever heard, so a foot-hold is definitely there.

BD:   Does that put you under more pressure for the next one?

Neil:   No, it’s sense of relief, because largely what I was acting upon was my intuition that was certainly overshadowed by the exposure here.  It was a process of osmosis, being here and watching the artists put together things like Otello, or Madama Butterfly, or Die Frau Ohne Schatten.

BD:   You had free access to everything that was going on?

Neil:   Absolutely!  I went to first rehearsals, which were very interesting.  They were in a shabby room upstairs, with great artists like Frank Corsaro and Mignon Dunn.  It was fantastic to see them when they were first putting the scenes together, looking at the score and seeing it grow to the opening night with the multi-media approach they used.  I was able to see the inner spokes, and how they were aligned, and later see them go out to the enormous wheel, and the grandeur of the outside rim of the production.

BD:   Did you follow it beyond that, to the third and the fifth and the ninth performances?

Neil:   I saw the dress rehearsals, and opening nights, or the second and third performances.  I didn’t go repeatedly.  My schedule didn’t permit it.  I did see the last performance of Madama Butterfly, which was more of a spiritual experience.  After a production, it’s a world of rejoicing backstage, and that was interesting.  So this exposure took action on my intuition, and I acted upon that when writing.  For example, the first scene in the second act as a classic structure of beginning, middle, and end, designed after some of the masterpieces I have seen and know about, and it works very well.  I see what works in relation to tradition, but I’m also very interested in the new.  It’s something that can easily be discarded in opera, because the audiences are so finicky.  They expect a traditional approach, and it is fiercely not a place where great compositional innovation is accepted.  Mind you, some of the productions themselves are outlandishly bizarre, but never the core, the music itself.  So this balance is interesting that I’ve been able to set up with the first piece.  It was successful, and now I can go in both directions.  I keep learning from tradition, yet at the same time I can inject the new ideas that I’m so keen on when putting in music.  To me, it was about confidence.

BD:   Would your opera work as well, or better, or worse with the cast of international singers, such as Sutherland and Domingo and Milnes?

Neil:   I don’t know.  That’s something which was briefly talked about.  At one of the workshops, everyone was very enthusiastic, and everybody was brainstorming in silly ways... how about putting this on the big stage, or on WTTW [the PBS station in Chicago].  Everyone was just going their way, and each was a very happy way.  I was pleased, and of course the immediate response was to ask if we could afford to bring it to an international cast.  That was the bottom line, but no, I didn’t think about it.  The young talent that we were able to get was just right for the production.  Joan Gibbons has a world-class voice.  It’s still growing, but the quality of her range and her musicianship matches any young star on the big stage.  We were very fortunate to have her, and I was very comfortable with size of the orchestra.  It was a touring-size orchestra, and she was very used to working with that size group.  It fit like a glove, so I was wasn’t worried.  A lot of people assumed that it would be blown up in subsequent performances and put on the main stage, but there’s no desire for that on my part.  There are too many other companies that use this size orchestra where it would fit.

BD:   Is it going elsewhere?

Neil:   I’m getting a few nibbles, so we’ll see.  That’s what I hope for
the second performance which is completely divorced from the people who have known me, and known the germs of the ideas.

BD:   You want it to stand on its own?

Neil:   Yes, to take up the score, and have it stand on its own, and have it inspire a whole new production team.  That’s something which is very important for me and the work.  We
ll see what happens.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What is next?  Do you already have an idea for a next opera, or a next piece of music?

Neil:   [Laughs]  Oh, I have lots of ideas!  My God, I have to beat them off!

BD:   Do you have some commissions?

Neil:   I have no commissions yet, but there are a few possibilities.  There are a lot of operatic opportunities flying around, even in musical theater.  Traditionally, on Broadway you are expected to walk in the door with the next project, then the producer may or may not gamble on you.

BD:   Would you ever accept to do something for the Broadway stage like Stephen Sondheim?

Neil:   It’s possible, because there’s not so much blood you have to give to get the point where someone would consider producing the work.  You could put a book or libretto together with some songs, and perhaps interest a producer who would say to go back and work on it.  Broadway’s watered-down classical music to the nth degree.

neil BD:   Are you tainted, now, being an opera composer?  Would you be accepted on Broadway?

Neil:   I don’t know, but I’m very facile.  The future of music theater is a marriage of the techniques.  But, the idea of putting on musicals is less time-consuming, because you basically are writing with melody and accepted harmonies.  You can easily
chart up a musical, and then go in and hack it through for a producer, so that he jumps up and down with dollar signs in his eyes.  Then you have to go ahead and do the orchestration, and so forth.  That avenue is actually less of a risk than writing a completely new opera, even a piano vocal version, and then trying to sell it.  But my opportunity, which I was very fortunate to have, cuts through a lot of that.  I have a first work that’s been produced, so people can gamble.  People can perhaps throw out an opportunity with money and say they’d like me to do another opera.

BD:   Was this the way to do it
to plop you down in an opera house for three years, and just let you be there and grow with it in your studio?

Neil:   For a young composer, it’s ideal.  You have to go back with a sense in history.  The production of opera is a tradition.

BD:   Do you feel you are part of that tradition?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Paul Freeman, and David Baker.]

Neil:   I have been, and there are things I’ll take with me.  I do feel part of that tradition, but the techniques of putting on an opera are evolving, and have been developing over the last years.  So, you have to pay homage to those.  You have to know about those, and you can’t read about them in a book.  You have to learn as an apprentice.  Either you study with a composer who is actively involved with the theater, and follow him around
and there aren’t too many, unfortunatelyor you do this that I have done.  Now, I’ve learned this professional skill in this area, so that when someone asks me to write an opera, it all comes back.  The shadows of the theater, and the backstage echoes are all here to remind me of how I am to go about mounting a musical drama from my mind to the stage.

BD:   You are now being kicked out of the nest?

Neil:   [Wistfully]  Everyone’s contract ends.

BD:   Are you ready to leave?

Neil:   Sure!  I still have six months left on my contract, and we will use that time to prepare the opera to be circulated professionally, and find some other projects.  Either I can reach out for things outside of Chicago, or I could dig in.  I haven’t decided yet which to do.  It’s a very interesting city.

BD:   Before we get to those possibilities, let me ask this question.  Say we’re sitting here in your studio six months from now.  You’ve got your bags packed, and you’re leaving.  I’m a twenty-one-year-old guy who’s been made the next composer-in-residence.  [Shaking his hand]  
Hi Bill.  What advice do you have for me?

Neil:   [Laughs]  I’d have to sit down with you for hours!

BD:   [Continuing the scenario]  
But your train leaves in twenty minutes.  What advice have you got for me?

Neil:   I would pass on the advice of Gunther Schuller, and that was to take your time, and don’t let anybody push you, BUT meet your deadline!  That may seem very unartistic, and cold-heartedly professional, but that generates the juice which has to flow for you to write a good work.  You can’t casually go about drifting in and out of your studio with roses in your mouth.  You have to get into the feel of being a professional person writing for the theater.

BD:   Did you come in as a professional?

Neil:   I came with the mindset, and with the attitude, yes.  But with the actual knowledge, no.  I gained considerably.

BD:   So you’re leaving as a professional?

Neil:   I’m leaving as a professional, yes.  So, I would put that in his head, and the idea that his inspirational and artistic matters are his own.  If he doesn’t have them, that’s just a disadvantage.  You have them or you don’t.  That’s the thing, but professional advice is something that is not too often given.  People are stingy with it, very selfish with it.  They don’t want others to succeed, but I am of the school where ideas should be shared.  You have to do what you say you’re going to do, and there’s a commitment that when you make it to other people, you make it to yourself.  You tell yourself you want to write an opera, and you will do it.  If you want to write a scene, you will do it.  When you want to write a beautiful aria, you will not stop until you have.  You will do a lot of throwing out.  You don’t settle for mediocrity.  You put the pressure on yourself to produce something that is the highest quality you can at the moment.

BD:   This brings up one of my favorite question for composers.  Where is the balance between inspiration and technique?

Neil:   It is something that happens when the technique and the inspiration wear one another out.  It’s like a husband and wife when they first get married.  There’s a lot of arguing and breaking in, and that process can take years.  If they abandon one another, it’s too bad, but if they stick with it, they rub each other the wrong way so many times that they start to fit.  So the balance is something that takes a fair amount of time.  You don’t give up one, or you don’t give up the other.  You don’t compromise on either.  You pursue one another, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a long career, down the road that element of time will produce this elegant balance.  There are many people who bear witness to this.  For example, Benjamin Britten.  Early in his career he was able to strike a balance.  That’s because he was, using his own word, a ‘hack’.  He would write for anything and everything, so he had all those commissions and he was speeding up the element of time.  He was writing, and writing, and writing.  Stravinsky was another one that, in his later career, was heavier on technique than inspiration, but he had to swing with the times.  He had to deal with the post-Webern era, so he took on an extra load of technique at the end of his career that he had to work up.  The
30s was a wonderful time for him.  For example, The Symphony of Psalms was the fruit of twenty years of technique and inspiration working together and balancing out.

BD:   Do you feel that you are part of a lineage of composers?

Neil:   I won’t be so arrogant as to put myself in their realm.  But if am I allowed that privilege, this lineage is very Spartan, in the last part of our century, and for many reasons.  World War Two took care of a lot of that.  The avant-garde tradition of the
50s and 60s, what was an open-ended experimentation, cast a tremendous shadow, and dumped a lot of debris in the way of what you call ‘lineage’.  It was out of fashion to associate yourself with someone like a pre-War composer, so, in a sense, it was out of fashion to put yourself in a lineage.  But going back to my early years at the conservatory, those composers I was most drawn to were Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten, and they represent a line of pre-War composers.  Both went through that War, and died in our time.  I’ve always extended one hand in hope that I can learn from them.  On the music-front, composers are not identified with their eras until much later, but perhaps when the air clears, the lines will be more distinct.  But how can I speak in terms of inspiration?  Those composers that have inspired me to write music, are a few that themselves have been part of a tradition.  So, it’s probably a force of nature, with all this mess of eclectic styles, that continues to draw creative people.  So, we’ll see.

BD:   That’s really a question you shouldn’t answer for another forty or fifty years.

Neil:   Right.

BD:   We’ll have another conversation then to see where you are.

Neil:   I hope so.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What do you expect of the public that comes to see a new work of William Neil?

Neil:   If they’re coming to hear an opera, I hope that they’re in for an evening of good musical drama, primarily, and secondarily, perhaps they’ll get a few soaring numbers that show off the voice.  My primary purpose is in the musical thought, or drama, and that comes from Wagner’s work, and even Menotti, who presents wonderful dramas.  Being alive today, the theater has grown so rapidly in the last fifteen years, and the dramatic statement on stages are very important.  I’m very humbled.  Traditionally in opera, a very silly and nonsensical subject is of no consequence.  There are people
directors, conductors, patrons, general managerswho will tell you that.  Opera is stars singing, but they don’t realize that there’s a big audience of people who are interested in theater, whether it’s on television or live theatre, and their hunger for good musical drama is going to have them satisfied, and they’re not going to be satisfied with silly operas that happen to have a few wonderful voices.  Good voices come and go, but drama creates a statement that lives on forever.  So my primarily interest is paying homage to that, and of course Frank Galati had a great influence on that.  I have the deepest respect for his work, and that led me down that path.  Lyricism is possible on the musical stage, and the clarity of statement that can be brought about by wonderful singing is number two for me.  Of course, they rotate in importance.  It goes back and forth by the hour or by the scene, depending on where you are in the drama.  You can shift these things around.  That’s the wonderful thing about music drama.  When you are writing for opera, you can move the visual, the sonic, and the dramatic around like a carousel, and you can stress the importance whenever you like.  That’s another alluring factor of the theater, and that’s why I want to be an opera composer.

BD:   Do you want to take advantage of all of the possibilities that are there
all the colors that you can use, new production techniques, new musical techniques?

neil Neil:   Musical techniques I can always speak about.  Production techniques are something you can get involved later on in your career.  If you’re able to be a powerful musical figure, you can start moving your way around and say you want this or that.  For example, Philip Glass has that option open to him now.  Wagner did it to an hysterical extreme.  Think of it, a festival devoted just to his music, and a theater designed just for his music!  [Both laugh]  It’s only when the ego is able to grow with considerable funding beneath it that they can occur, so I don’t consider myself with that.  I like the idea of having a work done, and letting people get excited about it.  Let them evolve their talents, and not impose my ego on them.  So musically speaking, yes, I’m eager to try out new techniques, and also those I have seen being tried in recent times, as well as those techniques of the past.  There’s a tremendous supply of techniques that Verdi used, or even Monteverdi used in his operas, as well as those of Lully and Mozart that can be employed.  Techniques are such that you have to file them away, or use a computer to keep them in store.  There are so many techniques, and they all must serve the poetry of the drama and the music.  They’re not just to be laid up there for their own display.  They are techniques that serve the ultimate spectacle.

BD:   Do you think you’ll ever write your own text?

Neil:   I did a little bit in this opera, but I don’t quite trust my dramatic background enough.  I made too many mistakes doing that.  I do trust my ability of creating scenes from existing dramatic material.  For example, when Frank gave me a scene, I would re-arrange it to make a musical structure.  Very often, I would re-use lines to fill out the structure, or invent lines in his style to fill it out.

BD:   Did he agree with all of it?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Lawrence Rapchak, and Charles Vernon.]

Neil:   He agreed with everything that we heard in the premiere.

BD:   So the disagreements were part of what was cut?

Neil:   Right.  The unsatisfactory things were those that created questions in his mind and in mine, and were eliminated.  There were also things that changed.  I would hit upon something, and create a phrase that I felt was needed to fill out an action.  Then, I would create lines for the two characters, and he would fine-tune them in the rehearsals.  But without me suggesting them, he wouldn’t have come up with the fine-tuning.  So, it’s interesting.  For example, in the last scene after the climax, there had to be a musical descending of the tension.  So, I wrote that music.  I wrote the melodies, and I did write a few lines which were repercussions of the action.  It was absolutely needed, a hundred percent.  It was called for dramatically, but instead of calling Frank up and saying that we needed these lines quickly, I just wrote them.  I was in the fever of the moment, and he did not object.  I wrote them, and later he fixed them, so it works just great that way.  It’s very important that a composer does that.  He has to have his hands on it.  The idea of taking a source, like a novel or a play, works the same way.  I would adjust things that way, not taking it word for word.

BD:   At what point did you start absorbing the history of opera? 

Neil:   In the early years of my musical career I was conscious of opera.  I had known it for quite a while...

BD:   ...but I’m sure you didn’t pay nearly the attention to words, because you were playing the clarinet.

Neil:   It had to do with my earlier work before this piece.  I was writing a work called Deserted Places, and I did use my own text.  In it there is a song done in the recitative style, so at that point I was delving into operatic techniques.  The next piece was called A Play of Poems, and was to be an opera or a musical theater work that I was unable to find an outlet for.  I was reminded to use it here, but it wasn’t right.  I actually took poems and juxtaposed them to create scenes, but I was not writing a song cycle for voices and orchestra.  I was writing scenes for voices and orchestra.  So it’s something that started two years before I arrived here.  Since then, I was preparing for the ultimate experience of actually writing an opera.

BD:   What advice do you have for general managers across the country, and even across the world?

Neil:   About new opera?

BD:   About writing operas, or just the operatic situation.

Neil:   Every company which wants to be in the World Class, or even in a National Class of opera, should premiere a new opera... maybe not every year, but at least every three years, either by commission or perhaps doing a second performance.  Very often, a second performance is the refined opera, so they do, in a sense, have a premiere on their hands, and the experience of doing that will have a tremendous effect on the way they produce traditional opera, and improve it.  At the same time, they learn how to deal with a new work and find the audience for it, and pretty soon, who knows?  We may, in twenty years, be back to the old situation that Verdi had, where the main purpose of theater was to present new works.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of opera?

Neil:   Yes, and no.  If general managers don’t get their act together, and cultivate their audiences, it’s going to be a problem.  This is going to be a golden era of the
80s, and it’s going to be smothered by some other entertainment media if we’re not careful.  A large portion of the audiences who hear opera now are over fifty or sixty, and they may or may not be getting their sons and daughters involved in going to the opera.  Most operas have educational departments, and they’re working hard, but they’re only recent developments.  A lot of companies reach out to children, but only time will tell.

BD:   How do we get more people to come to opera?

Neil:   It has to do with assimilating the elements of all the entertainment parts, while not making a circus out of opera.  This is what was done in the era when Frank Corsaro was beginning his work with the New York City Opera.  He brought in the innovative techniques of direction, and the film elements, and it brought back the audience.  Now, to an extent, they’re carrying on that tradition.  He’s still being engaged, as are directors like him, but in ten years it’s going to be the other side of his era, and we need to have produced directors and composers that can fill in that gap.  New works will help fill that gap.  How many versions of La Traviata are you going to have?  How many crazy approaches both scenically and visually?

BD:   Are you aware of what’s going on in Europe with these crazy approaches?

Neil:   Yes, I know of some of the strangest things.  They update, and put things in different eras with different costumes.

BD:   You don’t want this to happen to Lillian Sloan?

Neil:   I don’t think it will.  If they’re going to interpret my work, it’s going to be better.  [Laughs]  You see, there’s so much room for improvement in interpretation, and then you act on it.  La Traviata has been done so many times, they’ve done it even in a 1920 setting.  Then, from that period it’s got various other things.  The great performances of Madama Butterfly took place in Puccini’s time.  The technique of his art was mastered in his lifetime, and so all performances after that are variations.  You update it with different directors who do different things, but you can only do that so far, and people get tired of it.  So, you have to throw new grist in the mill.  That’s where new works come in, and hopefully musical theater on Broadway will become more sophisticated, and earn the right to be mounted on an operatic stage.  Then companies can embrace that end of it, and that will bring in a whole new audience.  You have many ways to keep the audience there besides engaging Plácido Domingo for the umpteenth time for a zillion dollars.  Companies have to be creative.

neil BD:   Does opera belong on television?

Neil:   Yes.  It
s something that has been in our century.  It’s been hindered and compromised, but it’s a natural medium for new composers to write opera for television, yes.  From the operatic tradition, it works sometimes.  For example, I saw a terrible production of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust.  There’s no reason for this being on television.  I don’t know whose production it was, and I’m not going to mention names, but it had no business at all being on the television.  It wasn’t the fault of the producer or the director.  It’s the work itself.  There are some pieces that make it, and some that don’t.

BD:   Though it’s been staged a few times, it was never designed as a stage work.

Neil:   There we are.  There’s the problem.  If an opera relies too heavily on concert methods, you’re in trouble.  For example, one work that’s wonderful is La Bohème, because the way he envisioned the scenes, where there was so much visual going on, it’s fantastic to pick up on that and hear the music.  Works that are ritualistic are very dangerous because you need a lot of motion, and you need a lot of intimacy for television.  It shows faces and so forth, so it’s a medium that has to be careful.  But then you have cinema.  Opera as a movie works because it
s not on a little tiny screen.  [Remember, this interview was held in 1986, before most homes had large-screen televisions.]  Works like The Magic Flute or Carmen are pieces that people are familiar with, and they become even more colorful on stage or on the big screen.  They use outside scenes, but there is something that is lost when they dub the singing.  They’re not singing as its being filmed because one breeze would destroy the whole thing.  So, they do the audio in a studio and they dub it, or they do the film first and then they record it in the studio.  That way, the immediacy of the vocal business is not there.  So, it’s a toss-up.  It would be wonderful to have live opera on television, especially a new work that is designed for television, but it’s being done at the moment.  [The topic of opera-on-film continues to be discussed quite often.  As this interview is being prepared for this webpage in April, 2021, there is an article entitled Productive Possibilities in the current issue of Opera News.]

BD:   You would design it for television but not for the theater?

Neil:   We should make sure it’s an opera that works for television at the same time.  It’s the way you go about working with the libretto.  It’s the way the director works about it.  It has to basically be opera because the singing has to be there, but it would be wonderful to produce new works, and then present them live on television.  There’s the excitement of work which has never been heard before, and do it live and on stage.  They can be very clever with cameras these days.  They can do it all as if they were in a studio.  They can move the cameras around so you get both the audience and the stage.  You would also get the closeness you need with the cameras some times, and you would get the singing and the orchestra, but it’s live.  Any person who has worked in live television will tell you this.  There’s a certain chemistry that’s there so you get the element of the theater, which is live, and yet you have enhanced it to the television medium.

BD:   What about translations?  If your opera was being done Wiesbaden, or Trieste, would you want to be translated?

Neil:   No, because I sat through Italian operas for the last three or four years as an aficionado, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take the poetry that we worked so hard on, and change it, and try to translate it.

BD:   Even though you’re losing a dimension with most of the audience?

Neil:   By not being able to understand it?  Yes, but you’re throwing out something that I don’t think will happen.  Perhaps I’m cynical again, but the idea of an Italian company picking up an American work has not happened in the years I’ve known Italy.  I don’t see it happening.  I’ve met conductors, and I know the politics, and it’s just not going to happen.  Perhaps a work of Leonard Bernstein...  [Pauses a moment to ponder this]

BD:   What do you think of supertitles?

Neil:   Supertitles, yes.  Then you restore the original resonance of the English language.  I’m not ashamed of writing in English.  It’s a wonderful language, and has many possibilities that aren’t there in the Romance languages.  So, it should be sung in English, and then the translation can be up there on the little screen.  You glance up, and you get the gist of it.  You read the synopsis, so you know what’s going on, and if the composer has done his job, he carries the emotions through.  That’s what is wonderful about the Italian works on our stages.  The language creates the flavor and the atmosphere of the work in its environment that’s needed so badly.  Yet, if you don’t know the work, you can look up and find the translation.  It’s not distracting at all.  I look forward to writing in English.  I was very embarrassed when people were asking me early on if I was going to write it in English!  I had to back up and say that this is where we are.  Also, the technique of writing in English has been mastered by people like Britten, and was well underway in works of Handel.  But our American-English has yet to be mastered.  The idea of matching the rhythms of the English language and the rhythms of music is quite an art.  I found that out, so to give up and write it in another language would just be absolutely insane.  This is something that has to be done.

BD:   I thought your opera was a strong work.  I hope it has a success, and paves the way for more successes.

Neil:   Thank you.

BD:   Thank you for being a composer.

Neil:   You’re the first person that’s ever thanked me for being a composer!  My God!  Thank you for thanking me!

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© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in William Neils studio in the Opera House in Chicago on June 28, 1986.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1988, 1989, 1994, and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning 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 like 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.