Special Guest: (Audio) Bryce Dessner (Part 1 of 1): One could argue that up until very recently the idea of a musician occupying two or more artistic spaces was something that wasn’t allowed by the powers to be – a rock musician was just that a rock musician and could not be taken seriously in any other genre – least of all as a legitimate composer in the classical realm. You needn’t look any further than people like Paul McCartney or Frank Zappa, whose classical compositions, even today, are likely to be categorized under Rock. The tides have been swiftly changing with artists like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood as well as my next guest. Bryce Dessner is both a guitarist and producer for the super group The National as well as a composer in the Classical field for some of the biggest names within the classical world – writing amazing classical music and putting it out on renowned labels like DG and others and with artists like composer Nico Muly, conductor Andre De Ridder, and the Kronos Quartet. Bryce Dessner’s classical output has been received with the highest acclaim from music critics around the world.
GTV – I find it interesting that, it appears, you’ve jumped in with both feet into the classical sphere by collaborating with some of the biggest names in the genre. DG is one of my favorite labels and a childhood love of mine. Was that the goal to firmly establish yourself as a serious composer?
GTV – Do you have any affinity with the Deutsche Grammophon label?
GTV – There is a famous saying with writers – “write what you know” – does that nugget of literary knowledge translate to music composition or ring true to you in anyway?
GTV – You were classically trained on the Classical Guitar, flute and composition at Yale University – Your piece Raphael is a mystical wonderland of a mix of instruments that floats along and seems to have a narrative. What instrument (or instruments) did you write the piece Raphael on?
“I think Deutsche Grammophon is one of the few record labels that has such a strong identity… and the Yellow Label is such an iconic label” – Bryce Dessner
GTV – Historically, composers compose on instruments they have access to at the time (and are often that time period’s major instrument) – you could easily argue the instrument a composer chooses to compose on shapes the way that artist sees or approaches the piece. Whether its Bach writing many of his greatest works on the Church Organ, Beethoven with the Piano or Stockhausen with the tape recorder – if I had to say which instrument exemplifies or is seen as the dominant instrument I would say it would be the six string guitar. What do you see as the guitar’s greatest strengths and/or weakness’s?
GTV – A musician that has always intrigued me for his almost bi-polar relationship with his audience and his career is Frank Zappa. Although I can’t prove this –it is my belief that he played rock music in major part to feed his need to compose classical music without limitations or restrictions. What is your relationship to classical music and how it interacts with The National?
GTV – “St. Carolyn by the Sea” is said to be loosely based on Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. Big Sur is seen as being semi-autobiographical novel which deals in part with Kerouac’s inner battle and the sudden stresses of fame. Is that something you can relate to?
GTV – Have drugs or alcohol ever played into your work? Do you think they help some artists?
GTV – With your piece “St. Carolyn By The Sea”, there are sections that are intense and other passages that are soft. How did that piece come together?
GTV – How does the composition tie into Kerouac’s work??
GTV – Atonal music dominated the composition realm when you talked about serious composers in the 20th Century. I have noticed that there seems to be a shift back to combine tonal with atonal. Would you agree?
GTV – How do you approach atonal techniques?
GTV – I don’t know if it’s the fact that my first real introduction to Classical music was Star Wars or what, but I invariably see music (especially classical music) in a cinematic or visual way. Do you see classical music in a visual way?
GTV – Your work with the National has elements of classical tied into the music. Can you tell me about the piece “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and how Nico Muly came to work on it?
GTV –You have released two classical pieces to date – a string quartet with choral work and symphonic works. What is next?
GTV – What’s happening with the MusicNOW Festival?