1. When did you first realize you were a composer?
It was a gradual process. I had the sense for many years that I wanted to be a musician, but I didn’t know what shape my musical life would take. I grew up playing the piano at the Peabody Preparatory, studied theory and musicology as a music major at Yale, and also pursued non-classical music in both high school and college, as a pianist and music director for musical theatre productions and as director of several a cappella singing groups. I think the latter activities - which involved a lot of behind-the-scenes creative work, particularly arranging music, as well as working with other musicians - made me feel that writing music would be a good fit. I began to compose towards the end of my undergraduate studies, and continued in earnest as a Master’s and Doctoral student at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where I am on the composition and music theory faculty.
2. Who were some of your early influences? Who are some of your current influences?
Thanks to my parents, I grew up with classical music, particularly from the Romantic period, and rock, especially the Beatles. Some of the music that I studied as a pianist made a strong impression on me - in particular, a beautiful piece from the Spanish composer Enrique Granados’s Goyescas - as well as some of the jazz and musical theatre that I encountered in my extracurricular musical activities.
When I began composing, my knowledge of contemporary classical music was very limited. I initially felt a certain kinship with the lyricism of mid-late twentieth-century American composers: Barber, Bernstein, Copland, Fine, Rorem. Today I would cite Benjamin Britten - whose work I came to know better through my mentor, the eminent English composer Nicholas Maw - Janácek, Ligeti and Schumann as my favorites, though there are many other composers whose music means a great deal to me. Among current artists, while I wouldn’t necessarily call them influences, I feel close to the music of Derek Bermel, Martin Bresnick, David Lang, and Christopher Theofanidis.
3. How has you music evolved over the past few years?
I think the lyricism that has always been central to my music has become even more direct. I would also say that I’m more actively attuned to structure and pacing, though I still approach these and other aspects of my work more intuitively than systematically.
4. What is your favorite type of ensemble to compose for?
I wouldn’t single out a favorite, but writing for the voice is my first love, and one that informs my music for other instruments and ensembles. I’ve written a lot of solo and duo works, which I find both challenging and satisfying; the smaller forces suit my introspective musical sensibilities. I tend to be drawn to blended ensembles rather than heterogeneous ones. That said, I love the sound of the woodwind quintet, and the art of balancing and blending such a timbrally diverse mix of instruments.
5. When you decide on a project like Songs and Dances of Macondo, what draws you to such an idea? Do the literary images suggest the music or vice versa? How important is narrative in your music?
Literature is a frequent springboard for my work. I maintain mental or written lists of ideas in parallel categories: some extramusical (often literary), some musical (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, textural), some concerning instrumentation. When elements from these three categories align, I feel that I may have the beginnings of a piece. The literary and musical ideas are intertwined, but I believe it is very important that the music be able to stand on its own. My musical language is narrative and developmental, and in an abstract sense, I do feel that I am telling a story. But again, whatever the extramusical impetus, the musical narrative has to be compelling on its own.
6. More specifically, what was there about Garcia Márquez's book that you felt would work musically?
I had loved Garcia Márquez, and particularly 100 Years of Solitude for some time, but I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I might do with his work musically. In re-reading the book, I rediscovered the musical episodes that quietly but vividly pervade the story: José Arcadio Buendía’s singing birds and musical clocks; Francisco the Man, an old drifter who sings the stories of Macondo; the sunset hymns and psalms of the West Indians. Focusing on these elements of the book - rather than attempting to broadly capture its sweeping, epic qualities - allowed me to evoke the world of Macondo in an intimate and hopefully distinctive way.
7. How did you meet Quintet of the Americas?
I was very fortunate, in that they found me! Barbara Oldham, the group’s horn player and devoted leader, happened upon my piece while doing an online search for composers with whom the Quintet might collaborate. The connection to Garcia Márquez dovetailed nicely with the ensemble’s commitment to music with Latin (and particularly Colombian) roots. We applied for and received an Encore Grant from the American Composers Forum, which provides funding for repeat performances of recent works that have received limited exposure. We also received a Creative Connections grant from Meet the Composer, affording me the opportunity to be involved with some of the group’s performances of the work. I attended their first performance of the piece in September, and am very much looking forward to taking part in their upcoming concerts at the Princeton Public Library and at Symphony Space in New York.
8. Why did you conceive of the wind quintet in Songs and Dances of Macondo as a band of street musicians?
I think of the piece as a kind of songbook for the town of Macondo, and envisioned the group as local musicians providing the soundtrack to the story from within - not unlike an opera or play in which onstage musicians provide the music for certain scenes, at once part of the story and narrating or commenting on it. Whereas a string quartet or piano trio has strong associations with the concert hall, the motley instruments of the woodwind quintet struck me as more akin to a street band. For better and worse, wind quintets are often associated with lighter, outdoor music; in this case, that conception of the ensemble was apt. But the ensemble is capable of far more than elegance and charm, and I tried to avail myself of other qualities - mystery, longing, nostalgia - that are important facets of my musical language and of Garcia Márquez’s writing.
9. Do you have any plans to record your music?
My solo guitar piece, Meditation: Three Episodes from William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” (2000) was recorded by guitarist Daniel Lippel on New Focus Recordings in 2004. Several other recordings are due out in the year ahead: percussionist Gwendolyn Burgett Thrasher has recorded my solo marimba piece, Art and the Rain (2008), and bassoonist Peter Kolkay and pianist Alexandra Nguyen have recorded a piece called The Dark Hours (2007). The Arc Duo will be recording my Songs of Kabir (2005) for flute and guitar this summer. As for Songs and Dances of Macondo (2004), I would be delighted if the opportunity presents itself for the Quintet of the Americas to record it!
10. What does the future hold for Judah Adashi? Is there a sort of dream project that you would like to be able to create?
I think a larger work for voice - in the spirit of an operatic or theatrical work, but perhaps more of a monodrama or large song cycle - is something that I’m always turning over in the back of my mind. We shall see!
Visit Judah E. Adashi online at http://judahadashi.com. You can hear examples of his music at http://judahadashi.com/audio.html.
Hear a Noizepunk & Das Krooner interview with him at http://www.podarama.com/noizepunk_and_Das_Krooner/blog.php.
Judah Adashi's appearances with the Quintet of the Americas are funded in part through Meet The Composer's MetLife Creative Connections program.
Leadership support for Meet the Composer's MetLife Creative Connections program is generously provided by MetLife Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Amphion Foundation, Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, BMI Foundation, Inc., Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Jerome Foundation, mediaThe foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Virgil Thomson Foundation, Ltd.