Composer / Flutist / Conductor Harvey
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Harvey Sollberger, born May 11, 1938,
in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a composer, conductor and flutist who has been
active in many world musical centers.
Sollberger holds an M.A. degree from Columbia University, where his composition
instructors included Jack
Beeson and Otto Luening.
In 1962 he co-founded (with Charles Wuorinen) The
Group for Contemporary Music in New York City, which he directed for 27 years,
and from 1997 to 2005 he served as Music Director of the La Jolla Symphony
An emeritus professor of music at the University of California, San Diego,
he also taught at Columbia University, the Manhattan School of Music, and
Performers of his music have included the New York Philharmonic, the San
Francisco Symphony, Tanglewood, June in Buffalo, Interlink (Tokyo), Radio
France and Pierre Boulez's
Domaine Musical (Paris), TRANSIT (Belgium) and Incontri di Musica Sacra Contemporanea
His honors include the Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters,
two Guggenheim Fellowships and commissions from the Fromm, Naumberg and Koussevitzky
Foundations, Music from Japan, Speculum Musicae, the New York New Music Ensemble,
the NEA and various state arts councils.
His orchestra performing credits include appearances with the San Francisco
Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Buffalo
Philharmonic, the June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra and the Slee Sinfonietta.
Harvey Sollberger has toured and recorded extensively, and his work as composer
and performer is represented on over 130 commercial recordings. Numbered
among his premieres are works by Babbitt, Carter, Davidovsky, Felder,
Perle, Reynolds and Wuorinen,
and the American premieres of music by Feldman, Holler, Risset, Scelsi, Schnittke,
Stockhausen, Tiensuu and Xenakis.
He has, in addition, been Resident Composer at the American Academy in Rome
and Composer-in-Residence with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
and Red Cedar Chamber Music. In his spare time Harvey Sollberger studies
Italian, and has recently translated the autobiography of Italian flutist,
Severino Gazzelloni. He currently lives in Iowa.
-- Note: Names which are links refer
to my interviews elsewhere on this website. BD
In January of 1994, Harvey Sollberger visited
the University of Chicago for a few days to conduct a concert of the Contemporary
Chamber Players which opened their thirtieth season. He was gracious
enough to take time from the busy schedule for an interview, and here is
what was discussed . . . . . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: You
are composer, and conductor, and flutist, and teacher. How do you divide
your time amongst all of those myriad activities?
It’s difficult. It’s time consuming even dividing the time, so I almost
have to schedule a time when I decide what I’m going to do. [Laughs]
Seriously, though, I have cut back very much on my flute playing, partly
because I feel there are many terrific flutists in the world playing the
difficult, newer pieces that I spent a lot of time playing before.
There’s not as much need for me to do that because it’s being done very well
by others. So I’m focusing more time on composing, teaching, and conducting.
BD: Were you a
particularly good exponent of new music because you are a composer yourself?
HS: Not necessarily,
no. Like a number of excellent performers who are not composers, I
had a curiosity about some of the newer flute music being produced and the
very interesting shifts in continuity and view, as well as ideas of time
that this music presented. I also have a problem with many flutists
because they seem to want to cluster together in a very safe place, playing
the same few pieces over and over again.
BD: Are these old
pieces or new pieces?
HS: Generally old pieces, but even with newer pieces
there seems to be a timidity about going beyond some of them
— like the Berio
Sequenza or Edgar Varese’s Density 21.5. As wonderful as they
are, I’ve always tried to encourage my students to try some things they don’t
know anything about.
BD: How far should
music expand in terms of complexity and difficulty?
HS: It’s not so
much a matter of complexity or difficulty. Music is as malleable as
the human brain and imagination are, and composers always seem to be challenging
us. I say this as a composer. I feel challenged by many of my
colleagues who force me to stretch and recondition my ideas of what music
is possible of and what’s possible in life, because music teaches very much
about life and about its possibilities and its potential. Music is,
in a certain sense, life in microcosm, and we learn to live through music.
BD: Let me turn
the question on its head. Is there anything in music that is not possible?
HS: I hate to say
that there is, because I’m sure as soon as I did somebody would come around
and perhaps prove that it is possible. I may have my own limits, but
very often younger people are more willing to stretch the limits. I
hope I haven’t lost certain youthful qualities that make me receptive to,
or able to appreciate new modes of expression or perception. But at
the same time, even though I am a composer and am very involved in performance,
what always strikes me is that I’m always being astounded by what so many
of my composer colleagues do; things that I would never dream of, never think
of, and they’re so strong and compelling that I want to experience these
things. It’s possible to experience them directly through my body,
through the medium of performance, not just through listening. When
it comes down to it, I would rather do music than listen to it because there
is that aspect of physical involvement, and of the body being enlisted in
this kind of dance. When you stop and think about it, conducting
— playing a piece, in a certain sense — you
are entering into a very close and intimate relation with the imagination
of the composer, or even with another person. In the sense that as
I play somebody else’s music, my breathing is conditioned by the music, and
in a certain sense, something enters me. Something takes over my body
and my functioning as I submit to this discipline of the piece and its demands.
In the course of surrendering oneself to the demands of a piece of music,
one enters a new world. You are freed from your ego and its limitations.
To a certain degree we’re all prisoners of our genes, our conditioning, our
backgrounds, and I look for things that will help me to break through those
limits, and to make me realize things that I had not realized before.
BD: You subjugate
yourself to all of these limitations?
I submit. I say, “Okay here it is. It’s
notated. I will do what you say. You want me to play this note?
I’ll play this note. I breathe here.” There’s
a whole choreography, a whole ritual of physical actions involving my whole
body, my fingers, my lips, my lungs.
BD: How much, then,
are you interpreting the piece and putting your own self into it?
HS: Ah! That’s
the payoff, in a certain sense, because certainly my temperament and all
these things that both limit and define me enter into how I inflect those
relations that I perform. So certainly, I’m fine expressing myself.
I’m finding an outlet for my own energies and proclivities through this network
of relations that is the piece. It’s a kind of symbiosis. It’s
a melding of energies, and is a very intimate thing. It’s a communion
with another person’s imagination, with something new resulting that is quite
BD: How does all of this change when you are conducting
music that you, yourself, have written?
HS: By the time
I’m conducting something I’ve written, generally I approach it as if it were
someone else’s music. The compositional thinking is usually over and
done with. There’s been a period where I’ve been doing other things
while the music has been being copied. I don’t have the problem that
a lot of composers who conduct their music seem to have, which is that as
they’re conducting their piece, they’re listening to it with their composer
mind, and as they listen with their composer mind, the hand gets slower and
slower because they’re making compositional judgments or evaluations.
I don’t do that. I’ve learned not to do that with my own music.
When I have performed the piece and I have a tape of it, or if someone else
is performing it and I’m listening, I will be evaluating the work compositionally,
and homing in on things that bother me, or noticing things that I like.
But it’s just a particular form of the discipline I have that, when I’m conducting
my music, I don’t go weak in the knees and lose it. It might as well
be somebody else’s music; it just happens to be mine.
BD: Are there times
when Harvey the Maestro gets mad at Mr. Sollberger, the composer?
HS: Not really
mad, although sometimes Harvey the conductor sometimes scratches his head
at what Harvey the composer has done. Probably any composer who performs
his own music does that. And in the course of rehearsing a piece I
might make small changes, but for the most part that’s usually not necessary.
BD: Are those changes
any more than you would make on someone else’s score that you were conducting?
HS: No. If
it were someone else’s score, I would not change a dot or a slur, unless
that person were there and concurred in it. But on my own, I would
not take responsibility for changing anyone else’s music.
BD: But you interpret
I try to make it come to life. I try to make sense of it through my
own sensibility, and since there are an infinite number of sensibilities
roaming around in the world out there, I don’t worry about being original
or unique. I know I’m original and unique, just as you are. Everyone
is if they stop to cultivate what they have to say in a given medium.
It’s a matter of just finally knowing the work well enough — whether
it’s my own or someone else’s — so that I can make
the truest statement of it that respects it as the composer notated it, and
also respects and honors what I have to bring to it in terms of my temperament,
my metabolism, my way of seeing things at that moment in time.
BD: With being
a performer — not only a conductor but also a flutist
who has recorded and performed all of these pieces — are
you, then, more tolerant of others who make interpretive ideas and even changes
in your music?
HS: I’m not tolerant
at all of people who change the music, or who, to some degree, re-write what
I’ve written. I don’t think anyone has the right to do that without
my giving permission. On the other hand, I very often find that other
performers, as they approach my music, see things in it, project things in
it, that I hadn’t dreamt of. They perceive certain passages or phrases
with an inflection that is new to me, and yet, as often as not, I find them
interesting and delightful.
BD: Do you then
encourage others to do that same kind of interpretation the next performance,
or the next set of performances?
HS: Not really,
because it’s very hard to perpetuate something like that. It’s very
much the outgrowth of an individual sensibility, and I would rather encourage
each individual who plays something of mine to just sink deeply into the
music, to get to know the music well. Nothing good, nothing worthwhile
is given to one free. You have to pay your dues. There’s no free
lunch, and in the field of fashioning a performance that is living and sparkling
and convincing, the dues-paying has to do with living with the music, studying
it, playing through it, getting to know it almost as a member of your family.
A lot of professional music-making is predicated on an assembly line idea
of doing the most music in the shortest amount of time, and very often there
are performances that are done with a minimum, and certainly inadequate, rehearsal.
To the degree that I’m involved in the musical world, where very often funding
is not sufficient to pay for adequate rehearsal and so forth, I’m out there
scrambling with everybody else to somehow make things work, even though I
might like to have more time to rehearse. On the other hand, I love
doing solo flute music because I can take six months with a new piece, and
live with it, perhaps memorize it, and go very deeply into it before I play
it in public. That’s the kind of luxury you don’t often have with chamber
music, where things are on a tight budget, unless you’re working with a small
group of friends with whom you can rehearse without worrying about the clock
or time passing. Otherwise you’re constrained to sometimes rush things
through and just not get to the bottom of them.
BD: Do these practical
considerations ever enter into your idea when you’re writing the music and
constructing the sounds on the page?
HS: Yes and no.
They enter in all the time in the sense that I may be writing something and
I’ll say, “Oh, my God! That’s really hard. How’s anybody going
to do that?” I tend to be a real Nervous Nellie about the stuff I write,
and despite the considerable experience I have, I’m always being surprised
by how performers really rise, and very often very quickly rise to the occasion
of solving even very difficult technical problems. Certainly, when
you’re working with performers — as I usually do —
who have been playing a lot of contemporary music and who like
doing it, who feel rewarded doing it, these people, through the backlog of
experience that they amass become very skillful problem solvers. When
I’m writing I’m very often scratching my head and saying, “Boy, this is really
hard. I wonder if I should do this.” But usually I do go ahead
and do it, because I’m subsidized by the University of California.
They pay me to teach, but they also pay me to do research as a professor,
and my research is writing music. That is recognized, thank goodness,
by the university as legitimate research, in the same way that a historian,
doing a history of the Napoleonic Wars, is doing research, or a physicist
doing research into the structure of matter is regarded as doing research.
Because of the fact that the university has faith in me and my ability to
contribute something to the art, I feel I don’t have to work in terms of
a very narrow range of expression that may be very easy to play, or that
can be put together in a couple of hours at rehearsal. Rather, I can
explore some possibilities that I find really compelling, but at the same
time might not always be extremely practical in terms of commercial application.
* * *
BD: When you’re
writing the notes down on the page, are these things you have discovered,
or are these things you have created?
HS: That’s a tantalizing question. In a certain
sense, I’m not sure I’m creating anything. I feel, very often, that
what I’m doing reflects certain processes that exist and go on in the universe.
I, as part of the universe, participate in all of this, and as I perceive
and process information and influences, I’m not so much creating something
new as perhaps creating metaphors, almost poetic metaphors or musical processes,
that mirror or suggest processes that go on, on another scale, maybe even
a cosmic scale. In one sense, I’m not very close to the 19th century
composer, who was always concerned with I, I, I, me, me, me — the idea of
self-expression. I don’t think I’m expressing myself that much.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel it’s possible for a composer
to be a conduit, or a channel or channeler for processes that go on in the
universe that are not particularly personal, that are rather super-, or supra-personal.
At times I have the feeling that I’m in touch with such processes, or that
they’re working through me or working through my music, and this leads to
a loss of ego. A lot of the time we’re trapped in the persona we enact
in the world. I have this role of professor; I have this role of composer
or performer; I have a role as a father; I have various roles that I enact,
and at times it’s necessary to break down those walls and to see the stars
that lie beyond them. Many people live their lives totally engulfed
in those roles. For me, it’s necessary to climb up and look over the
fence... or to try to, anyway.
BD: Are you saying
there’s an artificiality to the music?
HS: I think all
art is, in a certain sense, artificial in the sense that it is artifice.
It is created. It comes from the imagination. But I don’t think
there’s anything shallow or superficial about artifice or the imagination.
BD: We’re dancing
around it, so let me ask the big question straight out. What’s the
purpose of music?
HS: To tell us
more about who we are. I discovered things about myself in the course
of both writing and performing music. As we experience it through writing
it, performing it, listening to it, it stretches our conception of who we
are. It opens new worlds to us, and helps us to understand the complexity
and the beauty of the universe, and perhaps to see our place in it a little
better. I just read an interesting quote from Leibniz, the 17th century
philosopher, who said that when we listen to music we’re really experiencing
mathematics and counting without knowing that we’re counting. I think
he was onto this idea that music does tap into far more than a superficial
level we’re aware of, because in our society, music, for the most part, is
regarded as entertainment and as a pastime, as a way to kill time.
I think it is and can be much more.
BD: Do you write
your music so that it is more?
HS: It is more
to me, and if it happens to strike others in that way, I’m gratified if they
get it in their own way, and it somehow helps them live their lives, or enriches
BD: Do you expect
the audience that comes to hear you conduct or compose to get it?
HS: In their own way, which might be very different
from my way, but I don’t know that I expect them to. I hope that they
will. I hope that somehow the musical experience, whether it’s my music
or someone else’s that I might be conducting, will trigger associations and
insights, and will perhaps release energies that otherwise might not have
been touched or affected. Art is something — you
let it loose out in the world, and nobody can predict what its result or
its effect will be. It’s like an old joker; it’s a wild card.
It would be insane of me to prescribe or expect that something I write or
create is going to have a particular effect on people. It may have
this effect on one person, and another effect on another. In fact,
somebody might hear a piece of mine and dislike it, or not be affected by
it, and then five years later have an experience that causes the experience
of that piece they had before to fall into focus. I’ve certainly had
that experience at certain points of my life — hearing
music that I just didn’t get and didn’t like and didn’t want to hear, and
years later hearing it again and saying, “Oh, yeah! Of course.”
The music hadn’t changed; I had changed. This is one of the compensations
of getting older — that you have this chance to come
back to certain experiences and perhaps to see that, in the meantime, you
become better able to make sense of certain things.
BD: You say the
music hasn’t changed; you’ve changed. If you re-interpret a piece as
a performer or a conductor, does that make the music change, or are you just
bringing more of the music out to the audience?
[Vis-à-vis the program shown at left,
see my Interviews with
David Holzman, Nancy Laird Chance, Christopher Rouse.]
HS: I’m bringing
difference aspects, different possibilities out to the audience. But
certainly there are some pieces that I’ve lived with over the years and performed
at different times, and put out to pasture and then come back to after several
years, and those readings reflect changes in my life and my own evolution,
BD: Is there ever
a possibility of getting everything out of a piece of music?
HS: No, I don’t
think so. You mean by one performer at one time? You make certain
choices in a given performance, and those preclude other possibilities.
In a piece that’s not very interesting, a piece that maybe doesn’t have very
much to say, there might just be one way or two ways to play it, and that’s
that. But the really interesting pieces are the ones that offer whole
vistas of possibilities, many different paths, many different approaches,
many different ways through the piece, and by choosing one way, for that
moment at least I’m precluding going other ways. But there’s nothing
to stop me a year later or five years later, from coming back and exploring
some of those other byways and pathways that I may have neglected, or not
have thought of, or have just chosen not to explore before.
BD: As the conductor
and director of ensembles, does this influence your choice of music, to use
pieces that have more pathways to explore?
I tend to like music that can engage my imagination on the widest range of
levels, and that tantalizingly offers me a wide range of possibilities.
So I would have to say yes to your question, but I’m not nearly so calculating
in thinking about it. I respond very intuitively to music, and after
I’ve had a response I try to figure out why would I feel that way, or why
did I like that, or why didn’t that speak to me. I would like to like
as much as I can. I don’t like going around with a frown on my face,
or my brow wrinkled, thinking, “I don’t get it. I don’t like it.”
In fact, I don’t like people who do that all the time. I’m looking
for music to like, and I’m looking for ways in which to like music, and the
more music that I can find triggering my imagination, stimulating me, making
me want to perform it or stimulating me to think of new music of my own,
that’s great. That’s all for the better.
BD: The myriad
number of pieces that you conduct of other composers — does this influence
the ideas that you have for your own compositions?
HS: I think so,
but I couldn’t point to any specific examples. In fact, I find when
I’m conducting a lot, it’s not particularly easy for me to compose, because
composing involves a very deep, intense introspection, and it’s almost better
done when you’re just able to engage and go deeply into your own ideas.
When I’m performing other people’s music, I’m obviously thinking about that
and putting a lot of time in on it, and it’s just harder for me to engage
my own ideas with the same degree of intensity that I would like to have.
BD: If you could,
would you split yourself in half so that you could be a hundred percent composer,
and a hundred percent performer?
HS: I sort of do
that. At certain times I take off and don’t do any performing.
One of the happiest times in recent years was four months I spent at the
American Academy in Rome just as a composer. I would work at composing
every day, going deeply into the ideas that I was working with, and when
I fried my brain after five or six hours and couldn’t think any more about
music, I would go out and walk in Rome, which is the best way I know of to
un-fry one’s brain and freshen it up, just because in Rome you see beautiful
things. Every corner you turn, there are things that human beings have
worked on — whether it’s mosaic floors, or carvings,
or statuary, paintings, buildings, and not just in museums, but out on the
street. If I could live that way six months of the year, I think I
would do that. The other six months I’d be happy rehearsing five or
six hours a day, and getting deeply into other people’s music. That
would establish a very nice rhythm between what I need of stimulation from
other people, and what I need in terms of just closing the door and going
deep into my own thoughts. Thank you for helping me think that thought.
Maybe I’ll change my life, and live that way from now on. [Both laugh]
BD: So you have,
then, a good healthy reverence for the art of the past?
HS: Yes, very much
so, because I feel that music is like a huge river. There is this continuity
that goes back to the beginnings of recorded history and beyond, and certainly
the idea of someone doing something significant today is to me inconceivable
without the basis that the efforts of people in the past provide and furnish.
BD: Without mentioning
any names or any specific pieces, are there compositions and composers and
trends today that can stand alongside of the masters of the previous generations?
HS: Oh, of course.
There is no final absolute word on mastery. We now think in terms of
Bach or Mozart or Beethoven as the ultimate masters, but composers’ stock
varies, and goes up and down. In another century it may be that other
composers will have taken the place of these composers. For all I know,
in a hundred years or a hundred and fifty years, Liszt will be seen as the
ultimate master. It’s a real historical myopia or short-sightedness
to assume that these designations we assign to people — genius,
or sub-genius, or mediocrity — necessarily are good
for all time. They’re socially arrived at determinations that happen
to color our thinking, but in the future these things may be turned around
completely, and that being the case, why I’m willing to play the game.
It is kind of a game. It’s like betting on horses, and certainly we
have composers today who are up there with anyone you want to name from the
BD: Is this to
say that no matter how you bet, there’ll always be a pay-off someplace?
HS: It seems to be that there will always be, at
any time in history, people who somehow tap into the energies and the tensions
of their time in ways that express that time while still transcending it.
I suppose that’s what the highest art does, whether it’s music or painting
or sculpture or drama or whatever. We all have our role to play in
this. I think of music as something like a cathedral, and for me composers
like Mozart or Stravinsky or Varèse have contributed. They’re
like huge chunks of granite. They are foundation stones on which the
cathedral is built. Others of us may not provide such impressive blocks
of granite or marble or foundation stone, but we bring and we contribute what
we can. I’ve got my little stone or my bigger stone... I don’t know.
My daughter, who is in her middle twenties and is an aspiring writer, stumped
me with a question. At one point she said, “What if I did dedicate
my life to art, and work at writing, and write all my life and write and
write and write, and it turns out in the end that I’m mediocre? I’ll
have wasted my life.” I sometimes think about this, too. If I
work and work at music, and the judgment of history is that Sollberger is
a mediocrity, have I wasted my life? I have to conclude no, I haven’t
wasted my life, because as long as in the course of giving myself totally
and fully to music, I have engaged the art to the fullest degree that I’m
capable of. If that means, in the judgment of some other people, what
I’ve done is not as significant as X, Y or Z, that’s their judgment.
What matters to me, finally, is the quality of my experience. Basically
what I’m doing as an experience junkie is just trying to have the best, most
vivid, exciting, colorful experiences I can have during my time on earth,
and this is the best way I can do it — even if the
historians of the future just regard me as a footnote. Or maybe if
I don’t even make footnote status, that’s okay as long as I have really lived
this time fully and savored it. So in that sense, I’m not worried about
making the book, and maybe that’ll help me make the book in a classical way.
BD: I think you
can already assume that you are an entry in the book.
I see my name in a book or two. But again, history has a short memory.
Composers talk about things like this.
BD: Are we putting
an extra joker in the memory of history by setting down so many recordings?
HS: It is almost
in the way that economists talk about a free market, and how the producers
of goods compete. The public, by making its choices, decides which goods
are going to survive in the market, and which firms and producers go out
of business. We have a market in the form of ideas as expressed in
books or plays or pieces of music.
BD: But once you’ve
made a record, theoretically it is there to be taken off the shelf and heard
at any time.
HS: That’s lovely,
in a way. I like that idea, because otherwise the only time you’d hear
a piece of music that I wrote is when some people happen to get together
and play it. Maybe I stubbed my toe that day and I can’t go to the
concert. Or maybe there’s a lecture that I want to hear that night,
and I want to hear the lecture more than that concert. So if I have
a record of music I want to hear, I can hear it at three in the morning,
when the whole world is asleep.
* * *
BD: You’re also
a teacher of composition. Are you pleased with what you see coming off
the pages of your students?
HS: That’s not
so much the issue. Sometimes I’m not, and as a teacher of composition,
if I got my composer ego tied up with what my students were doing, I would
probably end up putting too much pressure on them to become like me.
Some would, and some would fight me every step of the way, but in either case
the results would not be as good as if I am able to function not so much
as a model that they should imitate or follow, but more as an enabler for
them to get in touch with what is finally going to be their truest and most
sincere form of musical expression. If I can sit with a student and
discuss what he or she is doing, and get them to think about it in ways they
hadn’t before, or maybe to a degree of depth that they hadn’t before, even
if the result is wildly, diametrically opposed to what I do, or maybe something
that doesn’t really turn me on, I’ll feel I have accomplished something.
I have helped them to become more fully what they are, just through introspection
and thinking and experimenting and trying. The job of a teacher of composition
is very much this enabling role, to both help and enable, and also to get
out of the way at certain times. It’s tricky, maybe a trickier job
than we sometimes think. It’s not just straightforward communication
of information and technique skills — although sometime
it is that also — but it involves getting to know another
person in a very deep way. That is sometimes very exhausting, and can
sometimes be scary, in fact. If you’re going to succeed at it, you
have to have a willingness to do that, without any guarantee of the results,
or that you will like the results.
BD: Where do you think music is going these days?
HS: Does it have
to go anywhere? My only responsibility to music is to create it as
well as I can, and to support and propagate it as well as I can.
BD: Isn’t the river
moving along, though?
HS: The river is
moving, but there are a few logs and sloughs and so forth. But it seems
to me that perhaps more than in the past, it gets harder and harder to characterize
any sort of musical mainstream.
BD: Is that a good
thing or a bad thing, or just a thing?
HS: It’s bad from
the point of view of critics and historians who would like to say, “The heart
of the zeitgeist is this or that.” For me, it’s been a challenge and
a learning experience in that I have found myself opening up to compositional
approaches, styles, and degrees of individuality that very often depart from
what I happen to be interested in for my work at a given moment. But
more than when I was younger, I feel sympathy for a broader range of activity
that I see some validity to, that I admire and respect. I think when
a composer is young, you’re struggling to stake out your territory.
You’re struggling to find one square inch of space that the world will let
you stand in without squashing you. As a result, sometimes you have
to be very tough and very intransigent in insisting on having that space
and letting nobody else get in. Very often you reject everything else
because it seems to be impinging on your space. When you’re older,
maybe the world has said, “Okay, we’ll give you your inch. Maybe we’ll
even give you two inches.” You then find it possible not to have to
fight so much, perhaps. I’m just psychologizing maybe about my own
experience and the slow, inexorable slide into and through middle age.
BD: Are you at
the point in your career that you want to be at this age?
HS: I suppose every
composer would like to have more performances of his music. At the
same time, when I lament that certain pieces that I’m very fond of are not
played that much, rather than blame other people, I notice two things about
myself and my music. One is it’s fairly difficult to play, and in that
sense it rather limits or self-selects who will perform it. The other
thing is that like any other aspect of life in America, the propagation of
music through performance is very much tied to promotion and getting the
music out there — getting it advertised, getting it
around to people — and I’m the worst promoter of my
own music in the world. I just don’t send tapes or scores around, even
though I know that many people would be sympathetic to knowing what I’m doing.
It’s one of my perennial New Year’s resolutions — this
year I’m going to be better at just letting the world know about my music,
so that maybe more people will play it and listen to it.
BD: Is composing
HS: One has got
to be a masochist! [Both laugh] No, when it’s going well, it’s
fun. When you had a good day in the mine down there and you come out
and feel you’ve excavated a few pounds of good ore, then it’s very satisfying.
But sometimes you come out and you feel you’ve just been flopping around,
and then you go for a walk and hope tomorrow will be better. When I
compose well, it’s more satisfying to me than anything else in the whole
world. So that’s what keeps me at it, looking for those golden threads
in the ore.
BD: I hope you
keep successfully mining all kinds of interesting ideas.
HS: Thank you very
much. I very much need your good wishes. I know they will help me.
BD: Thank you for
coming to Chicago. I appreciate it very much.
HS: My pleasure.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
© 1994 Bruce Duffie
Photos are from harveysollberger.com, and elsewhere on the internet.
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 21, 1994.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1998, and
on WNUR in 2006 and 2011. A copy of the unedited audio was given to
the Archive of Contemporary Music
at Northwestern University.
This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this website at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
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.
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.