QUESTIONNAIRE I: JULIA WOLFE / GIRMA YIFRASHEWA / JEPPE ZEEBERG
textura is delighted to inaugurate its Questionnaire feature with mini-profiles of composer Julia Wolfe and pianists Girma Yifrashewa and Jeppe Zeeberg. Reviews of their latest albums—Wolfe's Steel Hammer, Yifrashewa's Love & Peace, and Zeeberg's It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat—also can be found in this month's issue.
A co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's Bang on a Can, Julia Wolfe has produced an impressive array of works for many configurations, including string quartet, string orchestra, and, of course, the Bang on a Can All-Stars. As a composer, Wolfe, like her fellow Bang on a Can co-founders David Lang and Michael Gordon, omnivorously draws upon folk, classical, pop, and rock, and in doing so overthrows the quaint notion of strict genre boundaries. Representative of Wolfe's output are the raucous funk piece Lick, the string orchestra setting Cruel Sister (inspired by a traditional English ballad of a sibling love rivalry), and the string quartet concerto My Beautiful Scream, which, composed shortly after September 11, 2001, was inspired by the idea of a slow motion scream. Her latest recording, Steel Hammer, a bold cantata for Trio Mediaeval and the Bang on a Can All-Stars that was also, incidentally, a 2010 runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, provides a superb encapsulation of her compositional style and approach.
My latest recording: Steel Hammer, just released on Cantaloupe Music and a very important piece for me.
On the horizon: I'm looking forward to recording my latest work Anthracite Fields, which just received its New York première at Lincoln Center and which, like Steel Hammer, focuses on the American worker.
The biggest change in my music since my career began: I began to embrace the raw energy and sound of my musical roots, in American folk and rock, in large-scale compositions.
The thing that most distinguishes my music or sound from others: Body energy, cross rhythms, direct raw expression, relentless drive.
The thing I'm most trying to communicate in my music: How we are human—the incredible sound of people making sound together and driving energy forward, how we can go to an entirely new and ecstatic place through music.
What musically I'm most proud of: That the work that I've done both communicates to and challenges the listener, that it transports them.
A favourite piece of music when I was a child: “Maria” from West Side Story—the connection of lyrics to music in all of West Side Story is amazing—and as a teenager I loved Joni Mitchell.
A piece of music I wish I'd written: I love Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich—but it is so Steve, and it influenced the generations that followed.
A memorable concert I attended: The performance of Michael Gordon's Decasia at the Angel Orensanz Center, which shook the hall.
The artist with whom I'd love to collaborate: Choreographer Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker; I relate to the raw energy and natural human movement in her work.
The artist or musical piece people would be surprised to learn I love: “I'm A Believer” by the Monkees.
Who I've been influenced by most: My friends Michael Gordon and David Lang.
The best advice I've received: For music: write what you love; for people: treat them as you would want them to treat you.
My idea of perfect happiness: Being with family and friends.
If I could time-travel and give my fourteen-year-old self one bit of advice, it would be: Be kind, be generous, be patient.
The music I want played at my funeral: Bach.
My motto or philosophy: Be humble and learn from everyone.
Born in Addis Ababa in 1967, Girma Yifrashewa was introduced to the piano at the age of sixteen when he joined the Yared School of Music and after four years graduated with a piano diploma. He then received a five-year bursary from the Ethiopian government to study at the Sofia State Conservatory of Music in Bulgaria and graduated with a Masters in Piano under Professor Atanas Kurtev. As a performer, Yifrashewa specializes in the Romantic and Impressionist repertoires and in particular Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, and Debussy. On his return to Ethiopia in 1995, he assumed a position with the Yared School as a piano teacher until 2001. Prior to his new release Love & Peace, Yifrashewa released three albums: The Shepherd with the Flute (2001), Meleya Keleme (2003), and “Elilta” (2005). Yifrashewa dedicates himself to the promotion of Ethiopian and classical music throughout the world and returned in 2013 to the United States for concerts with Issue Project Room in Brooklyn and Non Sequitur in Seattle.
My latest recording: Love & Peace, released by Unseen Worlds this summer.
On the horizon: Reflection (not yet released) was recorded in Bulgaria and is based on Ethiopian Folk tunes arranged for piano quintet.
The biggest change in my music since my career began: In 1998, when I started writing my own music and became a composer as well as solo pianist.
The thing that most distinguishes my music or sound from others: My music is based on traditional Ethiopian tunes, which I present in the classical mode or style with international standards.
What musically I'm most proud of: To have been given the opportunity to study classical music as a solo pianist and to be able to contribute to the popularization of Ethiopian music worldwide.
A favourite piece of music when I was a child: Traditional Ethiopian music.
A piece of music I wish I'd written: One of the piano masterpieces of Frederic Chopin or one of Beethoven's piano concertos, especially the Concerto No. 3.
A memorable concert I attended: A concert by the Russian pianist Nikolai Demidenko in London performing The Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Who I've been influenced by most: The works of Frederic Chopin.
The best advice I've received: Pursue music: it is the source of happiness.
What I'm listening to now: Haydn and Mozart.
My idea of perfect happiness: When I finish a concert.
If I could time-travel and give my fourteen-year-old self one bit of advice, it would be: There is nothing impossible in the world.
My motto or philosophy: Life is a miracle to be lived fully.
Born in 1988 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jeppe Zeeberg's an audacious young pianist and composer who received his Master's Degree in 2013 from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. While his most recent release, It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat, finds the pianist fronting a quintet featuring two drummers and two double bassists, Zeeberg also plays in the bands The Roll-Ons, Horse Orchestra, Dødens Garderobe, and Bird Alert. Among those with whom Zeeber has collaborated are saxophonists Andrew D'Angelo and John Tchicai, drummers Kresten Osgood and Rune Lohse, and poets Peter Laugesen and T. S. Høeg.
My latest recording: It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat, a conceptual jazz album with some new music I've written for two double basses, two drum sets, and piano.
On the horizon: I have three new releases coming up: the debut album from my septet Horse Orchestra, another record from my band Bird Alert, and a duo record I made with the Danish drummer Rune Lohse. Apart from that I'm writing some theatre music and preparing for some concerts at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July.
The biggest change in my music since my career began: I took some piano lessons with Sophia Rosoff (an American pianist and teacher) in 2011-13. That has really changed my approach to playing the piano, and I think about these lessons every day.
The thing that most distinguishes my music or sound from others: The fact that it sounds so unmistakably like me (I hope).
The thing I'm most trying to communicate in my music: Normally I'm not trying to get a particular message out via my music. I'm trying to make music that matters to me and to other people and to itself.
What musically I'm most proud of: I'm quite proud of my new album, and I actually think it's the most personal piece of music I've ever made.
A favourite piece of music when I was a child: I loved the score from the Danish animated movie Bennys Badekar (called Benny's Bathtub in English). I still do. It's some of the best music ever recorded in Denmark. Check it out.
A piece of music I wish I'd written: I spend my time making music instead of thinking about what I could have made. But if I had written something like “Yesterday” it would be a lot easier to finance my future albums. I sometimes think about that.
A memorable concert I attended:A performance of Morton Feldman's For Christian Wolff in New York. It's a piece for piano and flute that lasts for three hours, almost sounding the same throughout the whole piece. It was an amazing experience. You don't walk away from a concert like that without feeling changed forever.
The artist with whom I'd love to collaborate: Jean Tinguely, the Swiss sculptor. I think my music would somehow fit his sculptures quite well (he's dead, though).
The artist or musical piece people would be surprised to learn I love: Maybe the English Renaissance composer John Dowland. I love his lute music.
Who I've been influenced by most: Charles Ives, Captain Beefheart, Duke Ellington, Joseph Byrd, Fats Waller, J. S. Bach, Woody Allen, Frank Zappa, Thelonious Monk, The Beatles, Jan Johansson, Monty Python, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, etc.
The best advice I've received: I mostly do things my own way, and I seldom pay much attention to what other people think I should do. My music gets better that way, I think. When asked the same question John Lurie once said, “Don't listen to anyone.” I use that a lot.
What I'm listening to now: Right now, Louis Moholo and Robert Wyatt.
My idea of perfect happiness: Being able to make exactly the music I want to make. Music is the best.
If I could time-travel and give my fourteen-year-old self one bit of advice, it would be: “Keep up the good work. See you in sixteen years time.”
The music I want played at my funeral: I think it should be up to the people who are actually (mentally) present.
My motto or philosophy: I don't have a musical philosophy as such, but if I had to say something it would probably be something along the lines of “There is nothing you can't do.” Of course there are a lot of things you ca''t do musically, but I would never stop myself from trying out new musical ideas just because they seem strange or even impossible.