Snapshot: Talk, music and lots of camaraderie

George Crumb, 72, and George Rochberg, 82, longtime friends, retired Penn professors and noted classical composers, reunited to hear their music played and to talk about the musical world they greatly influenced in a Nov. 10 event sponsored by the Society for Music Theory and Penn’s Department of Music.

As I entered Irvine Auditorium for the event, a hushed audience waited with anticipation to hear music by “the Georges.”

As light hit the stage, pianist Lambert Orkis moved his fingers across the black and white keys, entertaining us with George Crumb’s “A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979.” With pauses between movements, Orkis took the audience for a ride. Orkis was accompanied by James Primosch in Crumb’s “Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV)” in which the two pianists banged the keys and plucked the strings of the piano, capturing the fire in Crumb’s work.

Before intermission, Richard Brodhead moderated a conversation between the two composers. Crumb admitted that his music has not changed over time, still drawing from numerous cultural influences, such as Asian and African music. He jokingly accused his buddy Rochberg for changing his music with the times, but also complimented his friend for being “ahead of his time.”

Rochberg agreed that his own music has changed, saying: “World War II changed me. I wanted to find a way to perfect the craft and slowly embrace the world.” He advised everyone in the audience to have “as many internal revolutions as you can.” Following his own advice, Rochberg is currently working on his memoirs and is no longer composing music.

When asked whether they were optimistic about the future of composition, Crumb answered with a definite “yes.” Comical Rochberg was not so sure, saying it is getting harder for composers to be good. The two chuckled and patted each other’s shoulders as Rochberg concluded with the advice that to be a good composer, one “needs to know everything that has happened [in the world of music].”

After intermission, Penn’s resident ensemble, the Cassatt String Quartet, entered the stage. They began to play Rochberg’s “String Quartet No. 3,” hitting the notes with precision and elegance. The piece lasted about 40 minutes, time enough for Rochberg to captivate the audience with his unique style.

I left Irvine three hours after my arrival, not only with a greater understanding and appreciation for classical music, but with a smile on my face, for I truly enjoyed it.

Originally published on November 29, 2001