Composer Andrew Norman interviewed by Academy fellow Shelley Monroe Huang
Academy fellow Shelley Monroe Huang interviewed composer Andrew Norman—member of the Sleeping Giant collective—whose Histories made its Carnegie Hall and NYC premiere this week at Weill Recital Hall. Shelley, a bassoonist, interviewed Andrew while on residency at Skidmore College this week as part of her work with The Academy.
How did you become a composer?
As a kid, I liked making up my own stuff more than practicing music by the dead guys.
What does it mean to you to be a composer?
For me, being a composer means having a musical idea and figuring out how to share it with other people.
Who is the most inspirational composer to you and why?
Tough question! I really like so many things about so many composers. Right now, I feel like I'm sort of a kindred spirit to Brahms. I throw away lots and lots of what I write and I'm a constant reviser, like he was. And the level of craft you can see in all his works is such a high benchmark to which I aspire.
Stravinsky's Histoire du soldat is an important work in chamber music repertoire. Did Sleeping Giant immediately know how it wanted to respond to such a well-known piece?
If you could only read the thousands and thousands of emails we sent to each other on these subjects, you'd know we did not immediately know what we wanted to do. We had many different ideas regarding how we would go about it. But we were definitely excited about responding to Histoire because it is a piece that means a lot to each of us individually.
How did Sleeping Giant go about finding a way to respond to such an extraordinary piece as Histoire?
Eventually we hit on the idea of stealing. Stravinsky himself said that "good composers borrow, great composers steal." So we decided that each of us would steal something we found significant from Histoire and make it our own.
How did you make this commission written by four composers of Sleeping Giant sound unified with your four interlude movements?
My four little pieces form a frame for the work of my three colleagues. I tried to make these interludes as different texturally, dynamically, and conceptually as I could from the pieces they surround. I also tried to give my four pieces a strong trajectory throughout, as if they were actually one piece that keeps getting interrupted and delayed by the work of my colleagues.
How important to Sleeping Giant is forming a piece that works as a unit?
We very much want our work to form a dramatic whole, but we don't necessarily want to blend our distinct voices into something homogeneous. Part of what makes the piece work is that our compositions all sound so different from each other. Contrast is so important in music, and I feel like we came up with a piece here that is more varied than something any one of us could have done alone.
What most excites you about having such a direct connection to a legendary piece of music?
Stravinsky is awesome! I hope that just a little of his awesomeness could find its way into our piece.
What is your favorite thing about working with Ensemble ACJW?
I love how active my composer colleagues and I have been able to be in the rehearsal process. The players have given us the time and space to really work collaboratively. We've been changing things, rewriting them, rethinking them in rehearsals, and the musicians have all been game to try anything.
What is your favorite thing about being a part of Ensemble ACJW's Skidmore residency?
The food! And the chance to interact with the Skidmore students. They're a great bunch. And, quite honestly, the hall they have up at Skidmore is so amazing! It was a treat to have my music played in there.
Outside of music, what other interests do you have?
I am sort of obsessed with mid-century furniture right now. Also, I love looking at buildings. Patterns in architecture really get me going creatively.