The Month of the American Composer

Composer of Operas

Jake Heggie

When most people think of October, visions of fall and Halloween come to mind. Here at LA Opera, this October has been “The Month of the American Composer.” Three of our events involved some of the most important American composers of our age – Missy Mazzoli, Philip Glass, and Jake Heggie – working at the height of their powers. To celebrate how vital opera is to our nation culturally, we’ve curated a few articles below where you can learn more about each composer and listen to some of their masterful music.

Jake Heggie, The Man Behind Moby-Dick

Composer Jake Heggie Brings Moby-Dick to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – via Los Angeles Magazine

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the classic tale of one man’s pursuit of an elusive white whale, has over the years been turned into films and television miniseries. Now, it has been turned into an opera. Jake Heggie, whose Dead Man Walking was performed earlier this year at the Broad Stage, is the composer of the show, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Jake Heggie On Why Opera Is Here To Stay – via Los Angeles Times

Don’t tell Jake Heggie that opera is a dying art form. The composer of the opera Dead Man Walking “thinks it’s alive and kicking — he even uses an unprintable term to describe a recent batch of articles declaring that “Opera is dead.” And while his passionate words in defense of the operatic form are convincing, the trajectory of his own career is perhaps his best argument.

Music Monday: Moby-Dick Overture – via LA Opera Blog

This weekend, Moby-Dick opens at LA Opera. Melville’s tale of obsession, the nature of good and evil, and the search for the elusive, titular, white whale is set to an evocative score by famed American composer, Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking). When Heggie describes tackling the mammoth tale, he speaks of finally finding the music of Moby’s universe in four simple chords. These chords capture the spirit and yearning inherent in Melville’s story and resurface throughout the rest of the score, in a haunting fashion.

 For tickets to Moby-Dick, click here. 

Philip Glass Scores Dracula

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

What Philip Glass Learned From Samuel Beckett – via The New Yorker

In his 1980 short story “Company,” Samuel Beckett begins one paragraph with the sentences: “Another trait its repetitiousness. Repeatedly with only minor variants the same bygone.” When he wrote those lines, did Beckett already know that the composer Philip Glass would eventually provide the music for a staged version of that piece, at New York’s Public Theater, three years later? It’s fun to imagine that the writer had in mind Glass’s aesthetic, in which “music with repetitive structures” undergoes constant, subtle change—perhaps with a riff that evolves by having a single note added to or subtracted from it each time around.

“Words Without Music,” by Philip Glass – via The New York Times

Given that all the events of a long, rich and full artistic life can scarcely be squeezed into a moderate-size book, how does one choose, at age 78, what to put into a memoir and what to leave out? The Promethean composer Philip Glass provokes this question in his lively and colorful new book, Words Without Music, in which he offers stories from his life in varyingly detailed magnification.

Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar

Missy Mazzoli; Photo Credit: Stephen Taylor

Missy Mazzoli; Photo Credit: Stephen Taylor

Sonic Youths – via Opera News

MISSY MAZZOLI: I take much more of a middle ground. I don’t think that the operatic voice is outdated. I do agree that it developed the way it did to be heard over an orchestra, and with microphones, that’s no longer something that’s required. But I do feel that there’s tremendous power, and it’s a thrill to hear a soprano hit a high C at a very dramatic moment. I think of that as something that’s part of my toolbox, in addition to amplification and all different types of singing. Straight tone, singing that’s more in a pop style — all of these things are tools at my disposal. The traditions of grand opera are a part of that, but composition is no longer limited exclusively to that very narrow type of working.

Missy Mazzoli’s Unsettling ‘Vespers for a New Dark Age’ – via The New York Times

The composer and keyboardist Missy Mazzoli has a thing for unlikely connections and startling gestures, and one of her gifts is the ability to tease out the hidden logic behind her choices. Her ravishing, unsettling album “Vespers for a New Dark Age” unfolds as a meditation on technology and spirituality, alienation and self-interest. Its ominous but propulsive score ranges from the chamber-operatic to the electronic and semiabstract.


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