Composer / Flutist / Conductor
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 and Chorus.
An emeritus professor of music at the University of California, San
Diego, he also taught at Columbia University, the Manhattan School of
Music, and Indiana University.
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 (Rome).
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
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,
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 . . . . . . .
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
to all of these limitations?
Sure. 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?
That’s the payoff, in a
certain sense, because certainly my temperament and all these things
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 unique.
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
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?
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?
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
Yes. 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
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.
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
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?
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
compelling, but at the same time might not always be extremely
practical in terms of commercial application.
you’re writing the notes down on the
page, are these things you have discovered, or are these things you
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
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
dancing around it, so let
me ask the big question straight out. What’s the purpose of music?
HS: To tell
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 their lives.
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
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
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 Nancy Laird
Chance, and Christopher
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, as well.
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?
Generally, 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.
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
HS: I sort of
do that. At certain times I
take off and don’t do any performing. One of the happiest times
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.
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
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
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
assume that these designations we assign to people — genius,
sub-genius, or mediocrity — necessarily are good
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 past.
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
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
BD: I think
you can already assume that you
are an entry in the book.
Yes. 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
BD: But once
you’ve made a record, theoretically it is there to be
taken off the shelf and heard at any time.
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.
teacher of composition. Are you pleased with what you see coming
pages of your students?
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
is that also — but it involves getting to know
another person in
a very deep way. That is sometimes very exhausting, and can
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
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
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. [Both laugh]
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.
HS: One has
got to be a masochist! [Both laugh] No, when it’s going
fun. When you had a good day in the mine down there and you come
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.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
© 1994 Bruce Duffie
Photos are from harveysollberger.com, and elsewhere on the
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 21,
1994. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following
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
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.