David Crumb

2015 Fellowship Recipient

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David Crumb at the Watzek House in Portland.

David Crumb at the Watzek House in Portland.

Sabina Poole

By James Bash

Composer David Crumb is exploring new musical territory.

While Crumb is known for his instrumental compositions and has written art songs for solo voice and various instruments, choral music is a whole new genre for him. His new pieces will feature text from Hilda Doolittle’s “Sea Garden” collection of poems and are intended to be performed a cappella (without accompaniment).

Some of Crumb’s colleagues at the University of Oregon, where he teaches composition, have referred to him as a “colorist” because of his sensitivity to musical texture and novel experiments in timbre. He intends to imbue his new choral pieces with his colorist thinking by interweaving lines with a micro-polyphony of tones.

The music of Crumb has been performed widely by large orchestras such as the Baltimore Symphony and the Chicago Civic Orchestra, as well as smaller ensembles such as the Parnassus Ensemble and Quattro Mani. His music has been featured on several compact discs, and later this year Bridge Records will issue the first recording that is solely dedicated to Crumb’s works.

Crumb attributes his affinity for classical music to his family. He studied the cello and played chamber music at home. He also learned a lot of symphonic repertoire by playing four-hand versions with his father, George Crumb, who happens to be one of the most famous composers of avant-garde and experimental music.

“I always knew that I was going to become a musician,” says Crumb. “It was in my blood. But when I was younger, I didn’t want to do what my dad did. I had an eye on becoming a professional cellist and attended the Eastman School of Music. A friend of mine talked me into taking a composition class for non-majors. Within a few weeks I was completely hooked. One of the professors, Samuel Adler, encouraged me, and I switched my major to composition. “

Crumb’s style of creativity depends on where he is in the process. At the beginning of a composition, he often works in small time slots.

“I am not a composer who writes all day long,” explains Crumb. “I learned that when I was younger. There’s a lot that goes on when you are not composing. I often need time to internalize and absorb what I’m working with. If I have to make choices compositionally, then it’s good to be patient. But fleshing out a piece – engraving it – can be tedious and time consuming. That’s why composers have hunched shoulders.”


Oregon Arts Commission

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