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November 2013
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From Bay Area Rocker to Orchestral Composer

Steven Mackey

Steven Mackey

Carnegie Hall live, Wednesday at 7:00 PM

 
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that composer Steven Mackey is serious about his electric guitar, except that it does. There is a disconnect in musical identities; to illustrate, a quick poll of WFMT’s staff showed musical interests of these classical music professionals ranging from Grateful Dead to Radiohead—no one listens exclusively to classical music; yet Steve Mackey admitted feeling a need to straighten up for that most hallowed of classical institutions, the Chicago Symphony, at their premiere of his piece Eating Greens. One wonders: if none of us listens exclusively to classical music (if we can all rock and roll with the best of them), where does this starched shirt mentality come from?

In Eating Greens, Steve Mackey celebrates the rugged individualist, citing among others Elliot Carter, Thelonius Monk, and Henri Matisse as influences. Mackey pays homage to composers he calls “crackpot inventors,” those who liberated music from the “European masterpiece syndrome.” This rock and roll/classical composer implies an inner battle he’s had with the establishment, though one could argue that Beyoncé, not Beethoven, is the establishment.

Most composers experience a tug of war between one’s world and one’s art. For Steven Mackey, who grew up in northern California playing in rock bands, he parlayed his rock and roll self into his classical works. He’s written two concertos for electric guitar and orchestra. His piece Eating Greens expands his palette even further, adding saxophones, a huge percussion section (more cow bell) with lion’s roar, hi-hat cymbals, glass bottles, glass jars, prayer stones, referee’s whistle, cardboard party horn, and boom box. He asks the third flute and third oboe to tune their instruments a quarter-tone flat, and the concertmaster to have an extra violin with the G string tuned down an octave.

Wednesday’s live broadcast from Carnegie Hall offers ample opportunity to ponder music’s stereotypes with Mackey’s Eating Greens, as well as music by Beethoven, Mozart and Copland. Micheal Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony with pianist Jeremy Denk playing Mozart’s 25th Concerto, live at 7:00 PM.

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