As a new feature, every month ICA will be presenting a new “composer of the month,” featuring a living composer with a significant body of work for the clarinet
ICA COMPOSER OF THE MONTH, AUGUST 2021
Z(4430) for clarinet quartet
ICA: Welcome, Roger Zare, we’re very happy to have you as our August 2021 composer-of-the-month!
RZ: Thanks so much! I’m really happy to be here!
ICA: Tell us a bit about the featured composition, Z(4430).
RZ: Z(4430) is a short and explosive clarinet quartet that is inspired by and named after a particle recently discovered at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle physics lab, located in Geneva, Switzerland. I love science and often write music inspired by it. This piece was written as an encore to my much more substantial “LHC,” which is inspired by the unique science of particle physics and the immense power of the Large Hadron Collider.
ICA: What other works have you written for clarinet?
RZ: I’ve written quite a few works featuring the clarinet since I was fortunate enough to work with Alex Fiterstein at the Lexington Chamber Music Festival in 2010. He commissioned me to write a clarinet concerto, Bennu’s Fire, and this sparked some wonderful relationships with clarinetists who asked me to write a lot of the following pieces:
ICA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
RZ: I’m from Sarasota, FL, and began my music studies playing piano and violin as a kid. I started composing in high school and completely fell in love with it. My college studies include degrees in composition from the University of Southern California, Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Michigan. I’m currently teaching composition and theory at Illinois State University in Normal, IL and split my time between there and Indiana, PA.
ICA: How would you describe your music?
RZ: The styles in which I compose are extremely diverse (sometimes I’ll write a crunchy avant-garde piece and the next day I’ll write something completely tonal), but my compositions are often unified by my strong associations between imagery and sound. I write music that uses musical gestures as if I’m painting a picture, and I focus a lot on vivid instrumental colors.
ICA: What are some of the important influences on your work?
RZ: As I mentioned in my description of Z(4430), I’m often inspired by science, astronomy, and nature when I compose. Beyond that, I’ll write music about anything that interests me on any given day, from mythology to linguistics to artwork. I really love French music because of its wide array of colors, and J.S. Bach’s music has also been a huge influence.
ICA: What do you like about writing for clarinet in particular?
RZ: I love the variety of sound, color, and expression that the clarinet can produce. The fact that it has distinct registers that all behave differently makes me feel like I’m writing for multiple instruments in a single clarinet part. I have fun using its brilliant agility and raucous volume, but I really love that its ability to truly fade into and out of silence gives it a dynamic range greater than most instruments.
ICA: What is your composing process like? Do you have a regular routine/time of day you like to work? What tools do you use to compose?
RZ: My compositional process usually begins with spending a while, sometimes months, thinking about what I want a piece to be. I may not write any notes down, but I try to conceptualize the sound and shape of the piece for a while, and sometimes I write descriptions in words before I have a single specific pitch to write down. When I’m ready, I usually write straight into notation software. Despite being a pianist by training, I’ve relied less and less on playing my ideas on a keyboard over time. I tend not to have a daily routine, choosing to compose whenever I can, especially when there’s a deadline coming up.
ICA: How did the coronavirus pandemic impact your work?
RZ: I feel very lucky that even though I lost a number of premieres and performances to the pandemic, I’ve continued to be quite busy during this past year. Most of the music I was working on shifted from larger ensembles to smaller ensembles, and I did a great deal of writing for flexible ensembles.
ICA: Tell us about a current compositional project you’re excited about.
RZ: I’ve been working closely with a really great friend and colleague, Andy Hudson, on a series of unaccompanied concert etudes for our book, Elements of Contemporary Clarinet Technique. Each composition is named after a different element from the periodic table and focuses on a modern clarinet technique, like circular breathing or multiphonics. After I write each etude, Andy has been writing a master class to help teach the technique and interpret the etude. My main goal is for each etude to be a meaningful piece of music and not just a technical study. We are both so excited for this book! It’s the product of a lot of passion for contemporary music and the raw capabilities of the clarinet.
ICA: What other musical activities/projects are important to you, beyond composing?
RZ: Beyond composing, I’m passionate as a music educator. I first started composing while a high school student and my first compositions were very much connected to what I was playing with my school orchestra. While it’s fun for me to write complex and technically challenging music for pros (see Z(4430) for example), I am also committed to writing high quality music that young students can play and get a lot out of. I love working with school bands and orchestras and hope that I can help the students of today have the same kinds of positive experiences in music that I had when I was younger.
ICA: What non-musical activities do you enjoy?
RZ: I enjoy running and hiking and traveling around the world. I also love playing table tennis and solving puzzle games of all sorts. I think my propensity for solving puzzles is closely related to why I’m drawn to Bach and counterpoint so much.
ICA: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
RZ: I’ve always enjoyed visual art, but was never great at drawing or painting, so I probably would have ended up being a photographer or graphic designer if I didn’t get into music.
ICA: Where can people learn more about / hear / buy your music?
RZ: All of my compositions are on my website, www.rogerzare.com, including recordings and some score samples. Most of my pieces are available through my website, and I link to publishers of those I don’t sell myself.
ICA: Thanks for taking the time to share your work with us! We really appreciate it!
RZ: It was my pleasure! Thanks so much for this opportunity!
Is there a composer you think we should feature as our composer-of-the-month?
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