Louis interviews Ken Fuchs and Eric Nathan
Louis: Is Missing Words II your first work for brass quintet, Eric?
Eric: Missing Words II is my sixth composition for brass quintet (four are early student works). Spires (2010) is my other recent quintet, which I composed for the Mirari Brass. I'm a trumpeter and grew up playing in brass quintets, so early on, I wrote music for myself to perform. Playing in a quintet had a meaningful impact on me musically. It was the summer in ninth grade that I spent at Tanglewood's Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar that made me want to become a professional musician and laid the foundation for how I think about playing chamber music.
Louis: Ken, the “American” quintet is your second work for this medium, and it’s a “theme and variations.” How else would you describe the work?
Ken: Brass Quintet No. 2 “American” embraces in sound and spirit the stylistic influence of the American symphonic school that dominates all of my music. During the nine years I spent as a graduate student in composition at The Juilliard School, my mentors were the master practitioners of this style, including David Diamond, Peter Mennin, Vincent Persichetti, and William Schuman.
Louis: Eric, how would you describe Missing Words II?
Eric: It is second in an ongoing series of compositions composed in homage to Ben Schott’s book "Schottenfreude", a collection of newly created German words for contemporary life. The German language has the capability to create new words through the combination of shorter words and can express complex concepts in a single word for which there is no direct translation in other languages. The first movement responds to Schott’s word “Leertretung,” which he directly translates as “Void-Stepping” and defines as “stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there.” The second movement is inspired by Schott’s word
“Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss,” which translates as “New Car Smell.” In this movement, I imagined sitting in a brand new car and sniffing wafts of its unique scent. The final movement reflects on the word “Brillenbrillanz,” which translates as “Spectacles-Luminosity,” defined as “the sudden, innervating clarity afforded by new glasses.”
Louis: Will this be your first Aspen premiere, and have you had other works performed at the AMFS?
Eric: This is the first premiere I will have at the festival of an Aspen Music Festival-commissioned work. My Piano Trio No. 2 and Walls of Light were premiered in Aspen in 2005 and 2009, respectively, when I was an AMFS composition student, and my orchestral work Icarus Dreamt was performed in 2010 by Jane Glover and the Aspen Concert Orchestra as a result of the AMFS Jacob Druckman Prize.
Ken: The American String Quartet gave the Aspen premiere in 1994 of my String Quartet No. 2 (After Five Collages by Robert Motherwell). That was the last time I had the opportunity to make music in Aspen. I very much look forward to visiting again and working with the ABQ this summer!
Louis: What unique opportunities does writing for the brass quintet medium offer you?
Ken: The most important thing to me as a composer is to write music that is idiomatic and expressive for each instrument of the ensemble, no matter the size or instrumentation of the group. Writing for five brass instruments presents unique creative challenges because of the physical endurance required from each of the players during performance. For my Brass Quintet No. 2, I imagined the quintet continually engaged in a contrapuntal musical dialogue. At the same time, I needed to allow each player to rest at regular intervals so as to retain energy throughout the 12-minute duration of the piece. I am inspired by the warm sound of brass instruments, the color with using mutes, and also the opportunity to expand the repertoire of brass chamber music.
Eric: As a brass player, I feel especially at home writing for brass and in my recent brass music I have been interested in experimenting with ways of expanding the expressive and sonic possibilities of brass instruments and playing techniques. I've played the trumpet since elementary school and while I was writing a solo trombone piece for Joseph Alessi in 2013, I bought a trombone on eBay and learned how to play it in order to learn its mechanics intimately. As a result, a number of my recent brass pieces not only embrace the characteristic qualities of the instruments that I love from the standard orchestral repertoire but also the unusual techniques and modifications to the instruments' mechanics that I encounter when tinkering with and playing them. This hands-on engagement with the physicality and mechanics of brass playing has inspired a lot of my recent brass music.
Louis: When you're not composing, how do you like to spend time: to clear your head or refocus?
Eric: I like to take walks outdoors between composing sessions to recharge. I also greatly enjoy teaching and find this creatively inspiring. Engaging with students and feeling their excitement helps bring me back to that spark that got me excited about music and composing in the first place.
Ken: Composing music is my greatest joy, so I am almost always engaged in the creative process. When I am not actively composing or studying scores of other composers, I enjoy reading contemporary fiction and poetry and visiting art museums and galleries. My greatest relaxation is being near the ocean, either swimming in the water or standing at its edge and looking out to the horizon.
Louis: Finally, my favorite question. What are you listening to? Also know as, “What's on your iPod?”
Ken: I am inspired by many styles and types of music. Not only classical, but songs of the American popular songbook, musical theatre, Brill Building pop, and studio jazz orchestra scores. Listening to this music over the years has helped me find my creative voice.
Eric: Recently, I've been listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons's new recording of "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5," Hans Abrahamsen's "let me tell you" with Andris Nelsons/Barbara Hannigan/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Beyoncé's new album "Lemonade."