KC: Well, let’s take this as a nice segue now…We’ve been talking about performers and the improvisation of your music. Let’s now talk about collaborations. And…so you, you sometimes think about the sound of the instrument to come up with your ideas, and the timbre, and the range, and such…But do you also think of “Oh, such-and-such performer has such an amazing legato…I’ve…I have to write some sinuous melodies…”
JH: Yeah, I think of that…And I…And I definitely kind of have that in my head as I’m starting to write, but the piece itself always takes over, and no matter where I try to push it, it always pushes me.
KC: [laughs] Cool.
KC: All right, so who are some people that you’ve collaborated with at USC, where you are currently studying?
JH: Well, I’ve collaborated with oboe…oboist Paul Sherman. I wrote a solo oboe piece for Paul, as well as a major oboe part in a cello concerto I wrote, and a…major, major soloistic oboe part in the piece we mentioned before, May the Bridges I Burn Light My Way.
KC: In your Requiem, too?
JH: No, there was…well, there was an oboe part in the Requiem, but it was not for Paul. Yeah, he didn’t actually play in that piece…So Paul Sherman has been a big champion of my music, as well as a guitar duo, Michael Kidurca and Eric Bensant Feldra. They call themselves “The Duo.”…I’ve composed a set of microtonal pieces for two guitars, as well as the solo part in the same piece that we keep coming back to, May the Bridges I Burn, ah…has an almost chamber double concerto for 2 guitars and four instruments, in terms of the function of the instruments, not in the size of the instrumental group or in the form, but in terms of the function of the interplay between the instruments…I also composed quite a deal of percussion music—that is something that’s very interesting to me. I’ve composed a solo piece for Lynn Vartan, percussionist, as well as—I can’t think of the last piece that I’ve composed, the last four or five pieces, that haven’t had a pretty major percussion part involved—most of the time that’s been for Lynn Vartan. Our interviewee, Kevin Cooper and I, have worked together. He performed a sonata that I wrote, a number of years ago, for solo guitar….Composed a cello concerto for Peter Jacobson, that had the…the featured also….featured Paul Sherman in it….
KC: How do you find the atmosphere at the Thornton School of Music? Do you think that it’s really conducive to collaboration?
JH: Yeah, I do. And that’s one of the main reasons that I decided to study at University of Southern California, is that there’s an enormous number of performers at the school…there’s--I don’t know how many?…There’s twelve or thirteen-hundred students at…in the Thornton School, and I think there’s maybe six or seven graduate composers, so the odds, you know, are in my favor!
Not a lot of people are interested in modern music, and not a lot of people are interested in playing new works by a young composer, but that’s not their fault…People like me have not stood up to the judgment of time the way Beethoven has, and the way Brahms has, and, you know, it’s an interesting question, you know—how valid is what we do if…if, you know, what we…if we spend our whole time performing music by people who are…that are dead? There is value, of course, in the validity as in any of the other arts, but as terms of it being really currently relevant, there’s a question there. And it’s interesting how a lot of people wear modern clothes, and drive a modern car, and live a modern life, but their passion in life that they’re devoting themselves to for four or five, six hours a day for forty to fifty years is nothing but 200 years old! It’s an interesting dichotomy that is challenging not only music but some of the other arts such as painting and sculpture as well. Other arts tend to thrive more in their current era than music, but I do believe that really the…the reason for all of that is the…the enormous audacity and prevalence of the media, and the media’s insistence on supplying the public just with items that they feel can be more widely accepted. And, you know, in our democratic age the fringe seems to always be eliminated in terms…in exchange for the privilege of the majority, you know, but people like Kevin and I who are existing in this world of, you know, art--we have a right to exist even though we too are a fringe. So the media I feel really, you know, has really kind of let people accept, you know, an older sort of substitute, you know, in exchange for a sort of expression of somebody…of an artist living in our age, you know? That’s…that’s the thing that I think people kind of are getting away from, is…is how important it is to experience the emotion of an artist that lives in the same era as us, and instead of just only trusting music that has been proven through time. And, you know, in Beethoven’s day and age, the most famous composer was Meyerbeer and Dittersdorf and these people, so time…time is the ultimate judge. In our day and age people are challenged by hearing everything that’s written—every young composer is trying to get his music performed. And, you know, it’s hard to get…I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s really…it’s very…USC is a very nice environment to find performers, but the challenge is getting them to trust you.
JH: To trust that…that what you’re doing is worth their time—that’s the challenge. And there’s a lot of reasons that that challenge exists, and not a lot of solutions to it. But that—that is the…the negative end of collaboration overall, not just at USC. But…
KC: Right, I would think that that problem exists everywhere.
JH: Yeah, it’s not…Exactly, it exists everywhere, but in an academic environment when people have term papers and juries, and they have to play their, you know, Liszt sonata by April fifteenth, etc., etc., the…the challenge of getting people to trust a young composer who hasn’t been proven by a hundred years of orchestral performances is just greater.
KC: Sure, the studio teacher—he’s not gonna know, or she’s not gonna know whether to throw their weight behind this…this piece on the music stand, but…
JH: Yeah, absolutely. They’re not gonna be a good teacher if their student doesn’t know all the Mozart sonatas, or whatnot, you know? And so there’s just a certain…you have to I guess…you have to seek out performers that really feel something in themselves, or really in themselves get some sort of satisfaction out of performing something new. And people like the Duo, and like Paul Sherman, and Kevin Cooper are people that I’ve found that have been interested in doing that.
KC: Oh, thank you! Well, I think that you have…I mean, on the one hand yes, it’s hard to be part of the “fringe” because we constantly get swept to the sidelines in favor of this, you know, mass…you know, music with mass appeal. However, you know, existentially we’re trying to find some identity here—something that kind of sets us apart and gives us a reason to be here!
JH: Yeah, well that’s the thing—there’s nothing wrong…In fact, I prefer to be part of the fringe, as long as the fringe is not eliminated by the majority. And as long as the fringe does have an ability to exist, and as long as that existence is not challenged by this sort of widening of appeal. And…and it’s an important thing to note that in our society that, you know, we need to remember that quality is never determined by widespread acceptance. That’s something instrinsic to the…to the item itself.
KC: Yeah, and I think sincerity can come in a lot of different guises, too, because if you do old music, you know, that can be a great thing if you’re also taking a chance! Like, I see the Early Music Ensemble…
JH: Absolutely, and there needs to be both! There has to be both!
KC: Sure, yeah, like a program that has a performer doing some, let’s say, seventeenth-century music…maybe, well, I don’t know—there’s so many examples…but, and then simultaneously a premiere of a new work! Like I have so much respect…
JH: Absolutely—for me that’s that ideal situation!
JH: Absolutely. I mean, I really believe that we, you know, one of the worst things…you know, the only thing worse than an all-old concert is an all-new concert! [both laugh]
JH: I’d be going to a museum, I enjoy seeing, you know, Corbet right next to Picasso, etc., etc., and I feel that there’s, you know, something to really be gained out of seeing, you know, how different eras relate to one another, and I think the same is true in music.
KC: You think that it kind of relates around…a positive experience as a listener relates to the courage of the performer, to play something brand new…
KC: Or to play something maybe that’s not canonized from the past.
JH: Perhaps their own arrangement, perhaps their own transcription…
KC: There you go!
JH: Perhaps just even a standard old piece, perhaps some new interpretive idea! I think that that does take a lot of courage, and that’s…you know, that’s something that should be embraced. It shouldn’t be a threatening issue, it shouldn’t threaten the…the survival of the old music to do something new to it.
KC: So, I think you found some people that share that opinion at USC…
JH: [laughs] Luckily so! I feel very thankful that I have.
KC: That’s great! Good. All right.