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Composer, Uninterrupted: Christian Wolff at 90


“What is music doing now, and does it need me? » » asks Schulkowsky. “Do I need to be quiet or do I need to participate?” It’s this open invitation all the time, so it’s extremely political, I would say, to listen today.

Beyond his work as a composer, and also informing it, Wolff has remained active as a performer, performing in a wide variety of contexts over the decades, from a long-standing association with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to ‘to a surprising album with Sonic Youth. Unlike Cage, he turned to improvisation and performed as an adjunct member of the English ensemble AMM. Even today, he continues to collaborate spontaneously – and will do so at his birthday concert.

Designated a “mini-marathon,” the concert is organized by String Noise, the violin duo composed of Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris. (They are producing it with Issue Project Room, the Brooklyn experimental arts venue, in partnership with the Judson Memorial.) The Harrises have assembled a program covering the composer’s entire repertoire, from the early “Duet for Violins” to the new “Duet for Violins” composed. What if.” Wolff will improvise with composers David Behrman and John King, colleagues in Merce Cunningham’s company; and with Ikue Mori, the MacArthur Fellowship-winning electronic composer.

Its influence, although difficult to define precisely, has continued to grow. “There is something unfinished in Christian’s work,” composer and improviser Michael Pisaro-Liu said in a video interview. Mr. Pisaro-Liu, 62, has had a long and close association with Wolff’s music as a member of the Wandelweiser Group, a collective of composers deeply inspired by the New York school, and has performed and recorded with Wolff.

“As much as I love Feldman’s music, if you imitate him, it will always be second-rate Feldman, because it’s a very idiosyncratic and personal language,” Pisaro-Liu said. “Obviously, Cage had a huge influence. But if you are a composer and you share many of Christian’s interests in the performance, in the social aspect of it, there is a gold mine of techniques and ideas in music that you could adopt without imitate Christian.

What makes Wolff’s ingenious achievements even more remarkable is that for most of his life, composition was a secondary aspect of his primary career as a teacher, a course he took in order to support his family growing. He studied classics and literature at the University of Florence and Harvard University, then taught classics at Harvard from 1962 to 1970. Arriving at Dartmouth in 1971, he began teaching music for the first time, alongside classics and comparative literature.


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