Music News & Reviews

Composer goes with the flow, not with the structure

Composer Roger Zare has written a piece for the UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
Composer Roger Zare has written a piece for the UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.

A new work called Geometries might strike a little fear in the hearts of some classical music fans.

After all, highly structured concept pieces based on math and science helped make "contemporary music" a derogatory term to many listeners in the mid- and late 20th century.

But composer Roger Zare wants to make it clear that although he likes science and math, he doesn't write works enslaved to strict formulas and concepts.

"Because I write intuitively and ideas form organically, my music is really based on images but not structured by those ideas," Zare says. "So, when I write a piece about math, I'm not going to go write a serial piece where everything is structured on that concept. I could have done that with Fractals, but it's really a lot freer than that.

"I sort of take these seeds of ideas, of subjects I enjoy, and go from there."

UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington artistic director Nathan Cole enjoyed Zare's work enough to commission him to write the world premiere piece for this year's event, which features performances Friday through Aug. 29 at Fasig-Tipton. It is the third year that the 4-year-old festival has commissioned a work, and the concept has borne fruit for the festival and contemporary music as a whole.

The first commission, Daniel Thomas Davis' Book of Songs and Visions, won the 2009 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and has been reimagined as an orchestral work that the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra will present in a world-premiere performance in early 2011.

Zare's work will come after the intermission at Saturday night's concert, which also will feature Béla Bartók's Contrasts for Piano, Clarinet and Violin bookended by Beethoven works: Sonata No. 8 in G Major for Violin and Piano to open the evening, and String Quartet Op. 95, "Serioso" to close it.

Geometries started forming years ago in Zare's head with the final movement, "Tangents," in which different lines of music move through the piece, intersecting at only one point.

"When I got this commission, I said, 'Hey, I'll work on this piece,'" Zare says. "Whenever I write a piece, I sort of let it take me wherever the music wants to go."

Zare says he looks at where a piece will premiere and what is on the program.

"When Nathan contacted me, he said he particularly liked a piece of mine called Northern Lights, which is a piano trio on my Web site," Zare says. "Knowing that inspired me to write something very similar in some ways, like harmonically I used a similar palette, but musically, it goes in a completely different direction."

The Lexington commission comes after a busy summer for Zare, who has had works premiered and played across the country, including a gig at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. Most of those works have been symphonic, and Zare says, he has to get into a different mind-set for chamber music.

"In the orchestra, everything is so big and open, there's an infinite number of possibilities," Zare says. "But in chamber music, things are so much more exposed and intimate, it forces you to think a different way."

When he writes for chamber ensembles, he says he often finds himself trying to create a bigger sound, often using the piano.

Having to attack so many different options is, of course, a good thing for a young composer. And Zare says, "It's never been a better time" to be a young composer. With the Internet and YouTube, "There are so many ways to get new music out there and get it really far."