JSP: Are there any other particular composers or styles that have really influenced you?
SG: Yeah, I think so. Avro Part is somebody that I've been listening to more and more recently. And he's even considered to be of a minimalist school of sorts although it's Europe 's brand of minimalism. Holy minimalism, I've heard it called. It's very different from American minimalism but similar in that there's an economy of material being used, there's a level of clarity and simplicity to it, yet it's still very sophisticated. And a directness. I think that's what I'm really attracted to.
JSP: Any others that come to mind?
SG: Oh certainly, a lot of composers that we would all cite. Stravinsky seems to never cease to influence me. If I'm really stuck on a piece, he's a great person to go to for me. In put in any of his pieces and it will usually get something going in my mind, some juices flowing. But that's all that comes to mind right now.
JSP: When you're writing music, are you pretty much a pencil and paper person? Or do you use now Midi and other technology to help you at all when you're writing.
SG: I'm very much a pencil and paper person and I'm not sure why. I don't have anything against the computer and I certainly use it to notate my scores when I'm finished working with them but I feel like it really slows down my process and I think being a pianist, it helps me to be at a real piano with paper and pencil and I'm most comfortable doing that. I find that the editing part of it to be much easier with pencil and paper. If I don't like something I can just cross it out and go to the next measure. With the computer, maybe I feel like it takes so much time to enter it in that I don't want to change it. I know that sounds silly. I'm sure that editing on the computer is actually easier. I think it comes down to whatever you're most comfortable doing and maybe the better answer is that with paper and pencil, I think you're more connected with the music if you have to physically write it down on the paper. You're just more connected to it, I feel. And the computers a little bit cold and a disconnect for me. But having said that, I know that it has a world of possibilities to it in terms of sounds and that whole electronic music genre is something that's very important and valid, I just, it hasn't been a focus of mine.
JSP: Do you have any big projects on the horizon? Or any goals?
SG: Right now the project I'm working on, like I said is the piece for guitar and voice and that has been a lot of fun and that's really all I'm working on right now. Down the road there is another piece I have to do after this which is going to be played in Vermont this summer. And it'll be an interesting test for me because I don't know what the group will be for. I know it will be a chamber group but I won't know until about a month before the deadline what I'm actually writing for, so I'll have about a month to write a short little chamber piece for some sort of chamber ensemble and hear it performed this summer in Vermont which I'm looking forward to. It will be a tight deadline which is good because I need to be able to write music quickly when I need to. That will be a good test for me. But beyond that, I don't have any specific projects so it's kind of a nice feeling to think that I can go in whatever direction I need to to write whatever piece I want. Although it would be nice to have commissions and deadlines it's also nice to not have them sometimes. These last six months have been really busy for me; I've had a lot of performances and projects. I've been fortunate with that, so it's kind of nice to take a short break for a second, from pressure and just write.
JSP: Speaking of writing quickly and since we're in L.A. , I have to ask, do you have any interest in scoring films?
SG: I do. I certainly started out in high school thinking that was the direction I was going to go. It's an interest of mine, you know. Especially in recent years, I've realized it's an industry that is so difficult in terms of the stress level the deadlines. I mean, you're often given only a week or two to write a whole lot of music. And I think it's just another completely different process than what I do now so I almost feel like I'm not cut out for it or it's just not the direction I want to go in. So, to answer your question, more and more, I'm thinking less and less about film. But I have to admit, when I go to a movie, even today, and I hear a great score, I think, ‘wow, I would sure love to e doing that. That sounds like a lot of fun.' So I certainly am not against it but right now, writing just purely concert music has been rewarding. I'm having some success doing it and I don't see any reason to change paths right now.
JSP: What do you think of the state of concert music and audiences right now both specifically in L.A. and just in general?
SG: That's a hard question.
JSP: And the support of new music.
SG: Right. I think we're at an important time probably because this is when, this is a time when it seems as though the orchestra, the symphony as a genre, as an institution, is either going to make it or break it. And there's been a lot of talk recently about the orchestra slowly becoming a dead entity and I hope that that doesn't happen, of course. But, you know, the pendulum always swings in the other direction and I try to be optimistic and think that things will be going back in that direction. That there will be more and more art funding. But, it's too early to tell. I don't know, it's hard to say. I think audiences now are receptive to new music and you look at a composer like John Adams and the concert halls are sold out for his music so there's very much desire for new music and audience out there for it, so I think, at least I can speak as a resident of L.A. that there's a great new music scene and a lot of audience for new music but I don't know, I don't want to speak for audiences everywhere but I don't know. We'll see.
JSP: This is a really big question to spring on you so you don't have to answer it, but, why is what you do important. And why do you want to do this with your life.
SG: Well, you know, some days I wonder if it is important because I think about the jobs that a lot of people do, building structures, creating roads. You know there's something tangible that they produce and create and I sometimes think that that's…I envy that. That there's this tangible purposeful act to what they're doing. And I have to admit that sometimes I wonder if this is silly, that I'm writing music that, frankly, not a lot of people are going to hear. But then at the same time, I think that I'm the only person on this whole planet that will ever write the music that I write. And that alone is reason enough to think that I better do something about it. And get it down on paper. And I hope that I have some sort of gift for this. I like to think that I do and if that is the case, then I think I must have some obligation to see what comes of it. I guess, like any artist would say, the idea of creating something that's going to last for generations and a way that they can leave their mark on the world, does appeal to me. I do want to have something important where, after I'm gone, people look at and say, ‘this is what he did.' So what better way to do that than through art? You know, when we look at past civilizations that are long-gone, it's their art that we look at as being representative of who they were, what they were all about. So I think I'm doing the right thing, all artists are doing the right thing when I look at it from that point of view. But there are days when I wonder, gosh, shouldn't we be doing something that has more immediate use. It's a really hard question. I don't know if I know the answer but it's the only thing I feel like I'm called to do. I don't know what else to do.
JSP: Where would you like to see yourself in the next five to ten years?
SG: I certainly hope to be done with my doctoral degree by then. But that's not a given. Five to ten years? I think that's far enough in the future where I like to think that I would have a full-time teaching professorship at a university or some secondary institution which would allow me to continue composing as much as I can on my off days and at nights, so I can continue my own composition career. But also really pursue teaching which I've found to really love, having done it at USC for the last few years. In terms of career, I want to continue exactly where I'm heading compositionally and then teach but that's probably all secondary to…I just hope that I'm a well-centered human being. And that I continue to grow up and be a good husband and a father at that point, hopefully, a good son, a good brother. I think that's probably the most important thing: that in five to ten years, I'm a good human being and if I'm a composer too, great.
JSP: I guess to wrap things up, do you have a piece of music that you've written that you think is the best example of you as a composer or just is your personal favorite?
SG: I think probably my Fantasy for Cello and Piano might be my favorite and it may also be my most representative work of my style. If I do have a style yet. I'm always trying to figure that out. But the things about it that I feel like the reason it most identifies me is the harmonic language that I talked about, being so influenced with a jazz vocabulary, but maybe more importantly, there's a certain way that the pianist and cellist interact with each other and sort of a subtle and delicate way that they play against each other as much as they play with each other. And I think that is common in a lot of my pieces of music and it's generally in the details that you find the most important aspects of my work. I don't paint with very broad strokes. I think I paint with a pretty fine brush. I think this piece echoes that pretty well. It also tends to move through a lot of different areas of material in fairly short amounts of time. And that can be positive or negative. I'll leave that to the listener, but it seems to be a trademark of mine, unintentionally. I don't stick on one particular idea for five to ten minutes; it's much more brief than that. It's almost a sectional work. Even though it's one long movement you could almost break it down into very clearly defined sections that are maybe a minute and a half each. It keeps the listener engaged, I think, because it's changing things up quite a bit. So for that reason, I think it's fairly indicative of my personal style and I like that I was able to take an instrument that I'm not native to, like a string instrument, being a pianist I really didn't know much about strings until I started studying it and I feel like it's successfully written for the cello and every cellist that's played it has talked about it being fun to play and very playable so I think it was a successful project.
JSP: You've had it performed several times?
SG: Yeah, it's been performed by four different duos, four different groups, so it's gotten a lot of…compared to other works of mine, it's had some fairly good legs and it's been a great piece for me. The other piece that I think hasn't had the exposure that this cello piece has but, there's something about it that I'm really fond of, and it's my accordion piece. I think maybe what I like about it is that I was able to take an instrument that is so unusual, I'll even say difficult to work with, and made sense out of it, I hope. I wrote a piece that is playable and it has a lot of my personal fingerprints, musically, and it shows off the player, I think, and the instrument as well. It really shows what the instrument can do in a classical environment or a concert environment. Most people don't really realize how versatile the accordion is. I think what I like about that is that there were a lot of challenges placed in front of me for this project and I feel like, at least to me, I've hurdled most of those so I feel good about that.