The stock of Brooklyn's postmillennial Mozart continues to rise.
Mon Feb 15 2010
“I feel I could not be in Brooklyn at a better time, given what I want to do and what’s here right now,” Missy Mazzoli says over an egg cream at Cobble Hill’s Chocolate Room. Until recently, Manhattan may have held a monopoly on Gotham’s classical scene. But this Cobble Hill--based composer is one of a heady handful of musicians who, fueled by a DIY spirit, prove that the borough of Kings is living up to its name in terms of classical exports. If Brooklyn is becoming a Vienna of the new millennium, Mazzoli may well be its Mozart.
As a child, Mazzoli devoured educational tapes about the life and works of Beethoven, which served as a gateway to Ravel, Debussy and Mahler. While hardly monastic in her musical upbringing—she was “in love with David Bowie, though I don’t know that I’d ever heard his music”—Mazzoli still found that classical stuck most in her mind. In between earning a B.M. at Boston University and an M.M. at Yale, she studied in the Hague under minimalist maestro Louis Andriessen, “an amazing teacher, not only for his music but also for his ideas on how to live life,” Mazzoli says. “We would spend most of my lessons just eating herring, and talking about whether there could be irony in music and these bigger philosophical ideas that I’d never really talked about with a teacher before. He has this amazing energy and amazing focus that I really took away from [working with] him.”
Mazzoli’s time at Yale introduced her to Judd Greenstein, one third of the triumvirate behind indie-classical label New Amsterdam Records. It was New Amsterdam’s Undiscovered Islands festival this past May that introduced Mazzoli’s haunting and atmospheric chamber opera, Song from the Uproar. Based on the brief life of 19th-century Swiss explorer (and Islam convert) Isabelle Eberhardt, Song presented a story that remains disarmingly poignant and pertinent two centuries later, told through an electroacoustic score that is a testament to Mazzoli’s diversification in classical music and indie rock.
“I think there’s a depth and beauty to Beethoven, to Ravel,” she says with an impassioned thoughtfulness. “I think there’s this undeniable power to the rhythm of indie rock and its emotional core. And I don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. I want to make music that combines it all. Given the way that music is going, I think that I can have it all. Now may be the perfect time to make the music that I’m making.”
And the facets of Mazzoli’s career continue to converge harmonically. While mastering Cathedral City, the debut album by her postclassical, postrock band, Victoire, Mazzoli has also revised Song from the Uproar after being hand-picked by soprano, Bard College vocal department head and new music patron saint Dawn Upshaw to appear on a triple bill of one-acts, performed by graduate students of the school’s Conservatory of Music. Also on the program are Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilges and the premiere of David T. Little’s Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera.
“I was always intrigued by Missy’s music,” Upshaw says, noting that she had discussed Mazzoli’s work with groundbreaking Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov (a frequent collaborator with the soprano). “I was so intrigued with what she had done.... She has such a unique and specific musical voice.”
It’s hard to ignore the similarities among Mozart (an 18th-century pioneer for self-employed composers), Eberhardt (a 19th-century Victorian misfit) and Mazzoli, one of several 21st-century composers forging a new home between the club and the concert hall. Doubtlessly thriving in the former, Missy’s place in the latter has also begun to blossom in the Manhattan: Song will be showcased at New York City Opera’s VOX festival April 30 and May 1. Prior to that, pianist Jocelyn Dueck performs Mazzoli’s Orizzonte at the Tenri Cultural Institute on March 5, and the American Composers Orchestra includes a chamber-scale version of her orchestral piece These Worlds in Us in a program of works by Andriessen’s disciples at Carnegie Hall. And Cathedral City will drop at the end of a whirlwind summer. Would it jinx Mazzoli to suggest she’s having it all?
“The more I think about it, the further I get from having any answer of how it works together,” she explains of her work for both the concert hall and with Victoire, a mainstay at the Stone and Galapagos Art Space. “I realized a while ago that I needed to do all these things simultaneously to feel complete as a musician.”
Song from the Uproar is staged at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College Fri 26 and Sun 28.