Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jay Greenberg: Finally!

I've said many times that if a composer appeared who I ought to hear about, I would. Well, I've heard the name "Jay Greenberg" around the web several times over the past year or so, usually associated with words like "prodigy" and "Mozart." This "hype" finally got my full and complete attention yesterday with an article at CNN, and so I went to the iTunes Store to download his first CD.

Ok, where to begin? Jay is currently fifteen years old, and this CD is of his fifth Symphony! He wrote this when he was twelve!!! He's already written over one-hundred works, evidently, and so his output is truly early and prodigious. He's already had some of the best teachers out there, including Samuel Adler, whose Orchestration text is indispensable to me, and it shows. He has a profoundly deep and organic mastery of the orchestra, and his compositions are extremely well structured and logical in their layout. He also has an effortless lyricism - doubtless my weakest link - and his melodies transition from dark and brooding to playful and/or joyous; sometimes startlingly, and sometimes so subtly that it actually takes a few seconds for you to notice that your mood has been changed.

It is impossible to escape the term "neo-Romantic" when trying to describe his music, but that term carries some prejudicial baggage with it that certainly ought not to be applied to Mr. Greenberg's work (It makes me laugh to call a fifteen-year-old "Mister"). He's obviously a fan of Bartok, and equally obviously, he's heard a few John Williams film scores. So, there is quite a bit of dissonance, but it never gets "ugly": Close enough to make me cringe though, especially in the String Quintet, where I was laughing at some of the wackier episodes. Oh yeah, he has an awesome musical sense of humor for such a young kid.

So, drag your digital carcass on over to Amazon or the iTunes Store and buy this CD. It really is the most amazing thing my jaded ears have heard in decades.

When I was fifteen all I could think about was girls... some things never change.


Blogger SillyBlindHarper said...

If this is the then child, "Bluejay" who wrote Overture (or Prelude?) to 9-ll a few years ago, thank you for bringing him back to my attention. I will enjoy this...

If it isn't the same lad then I have new adventures before me!

6:07 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Yes, I've heard him called "Bluejay" and he did write that 09/11 piece (I can't remember the exact title either).

He is just stupefyingly good for his age. If you go in with that in mind, this CD will blow your socks off, but if you're expecting something like Brahmsian autumnal depth and weight, you'll be disappointed.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Machinist said...

"Prodigy" may well apply but it disturbs me to see young people such as this compared to Mozart. It is like saying the innocent but naive opinions of a precocious twelve year old are as pertinent and relevant as the considered opinion of a respected statesman like Jefferson or Madison, or comparing The Last Supper to a child's crayon drawing of mommy and daddy under a tree in front of the house. One represents a high point in human achievement and culture while the other belongs on the refrigerator door.

If one says this young man is the finest composer of our times I will concede the point as I lack the education, training or taste to dispute it but I would consider it more a reflection on our times than on him. I find it tragic that one must go back hundreds of years to find the peak of musical achievement. I think I may have a small sense of why this is but that makes it no less lamentable.

I do realize it was not you making this comparison but the rant just kept bubbling up. I guess I'm getting old. The young man's music seems to compare well with most of the popular late 19th/early 20th century classical composers, but there is little of this I can listen to. While Mozart or Beethoven could deftly slip their music past my guard and into my soul this more contemporary music seems to bludgeon me with the flat of the blade and the pommel and occasionally kick me in an ungentlemanly place. I just hate to see men of such sublime talent compared to people who are not in the same class at all. We should treasure their work and honor their memory until someone comes along who truly shows such talent and creativity.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

I actually know where you're coming from on a lot of your points, which is why I rolled my eyes and said, "puh-leaze" the first few times I heard about Jay (Without hearing any of his music).

However, many scholars think Mozart's father Leopold polished up or even wrote wholesale a lot of his juvenalia. After studying his notebooks from his time as a counterpoint student of Martini, I'd have to agree with that: Mozart was much more "normal" than most people think, especially with the bizarre treatment of him (And Salieri) in the movie "Amadeus."

That said, I think Jay's music is beyond refrigerator magnet fare, and he COULD be the real deal. Only time will tell. History is replete with prodigies who didn't amount to a hill of beans in their adulthood - Mozart and Beethoven being exceptions to prove this "rule" - and Jay could very well end up in another field entirely with the broad talent he has.

As I said in my earlier comment in this thread, he's a kid, so expecting autumnal depth out of him isn't really fair. I mean, most of the stuff Mozart is credited with writing before he was twenty is so light and superficial that it basically vanishes into thin air under close scrutiny. Sorta/kinda the same with Beethoven, though he had an "old soul" quality to his work very early on.

One thing is for sure, I'm not expecting an "Axial Fugue" type of piece out of him any time soon, as his music betrays a whole lot of intuition but not an over abundance of rigorous discipline.

If he sticks with it though, and isn't lead astray by any charlatans pretending to be teachers, and continues to develop and grow, I think he could very well end up in a league like a Brahms played in.

Again, time will tell.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Machinist said...

I don't mean to disparage the young man. To tell the truth he sounds like he will easily equal Rachmaninoff or Rimsky-Korsakov with more seasoning. It's just that I can't listen to much of what these composers wrote. Even the better of the 19th century composers, while producing some wonderful pieces, come across as masters-lite when compared to the earlier masters. I know little about Mozart but I know the movie was far from a true picture of his life. They didn't even mention Del Ponte. I have never heard any music by Mozart I did not think was wonderful and I love some of his other operas, La Clemenza Di Tito being one of my favorites, but the three he did with Del Ponte are a breed apart. The dialog is edgy, daring, and delightful in a way I do not see in the lyrics of any of the rest of his operas. They may be the greatest operas and possibly the greatest musical creations ever. (That is terribly presumptuous and impertinent given my limited experience and knowledge but it is based on what I have heard).

If you listen to Beethoven's Fifth piano Concerto there is this frightening wave of immense and irresistible power that washes over you. I can not listen to it without locking up for a moment in awe and joy, chills running down my back. When I hear more contemporary composers try to create and control this kind of power I just seem to hear someone slamming the orchestra or piano like a child who can't distinguish between loud and powerful, slamming his hands on the keyboard.

I know that talent and genius are out there. I know and have met a man who can compose music I thought might never be written again. Something that had me thinking of Bach or Haydn. I would love to see the demanding passion rekindled that would lead to that kind of gift being groomed and cultivated again to produce such profound expressions of man's highest aspirations but it will never happen when mediocrity is lauded and compared to true genius.

2:30 AM  
Blogger SillyBlindHarper said...

I was amazed when I heard that 9/11 piece. His command of the "language" was astonishing. I think the fact that he was a child affected the piece in a way that was poignant and quite lovely. It was very clean.
It would have saddened me to hear "Autumnal depth" out of a child - that would have told me that there was something terribly wrong with "our young genius". Wrong and a bit distasteful.
I thought then that he had the makings of wonderful things and I'm glad to hear that he's staying with it. I hope he has some very wise protectors and good guidance. If he is being well raised in both mind and spirit, who knows where he may go? I predict that there will be a worthy body of work from the him.
It's very exciting.

3:19 AM  
Blogger Machinist said...

The Gentle Lady humbles me with her grace and class, as usual.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Well, you make some good points, machinist. I too think it lamentable that there has been this huge gap between the sublime works of the Bach through Brahms period and the present, during which time nobody really compares favorably to them.

The present situation is in some ways worse than ever, because many "composers" today are poseurs who pretend to represent a tradition they don't intuitively understand and they know next to nothing about.

Jay, however, is finding early acceptance and success, and if he continues to develop, he may very well wind up in a position to sweep some of this nonsense away. That is why I'm so happy at his arrival.

Look, his music is very much a work in progress, but what a work in progress it is! I'm more excited about him than any other living composer, to be honest, but as always I'm prepared for disappointment.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Machinist said...

I greatly respect your opinion and enjoy your writing, Sir. As you say he is young and just starting what we all hope is a long and successful career. It is probably unfair for me to judge his work this soon and I meant no disrespect for him. It is the rush to promote the least visage of talent as the second coming that bothers me and that would not apply to him or to you. I thank you for this blog. It's a fascinating look into another world that is interesting even to an outsider.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Machinist said...

Nothing would make me happier than to someday eat my words, with you looking on laughing, with my blessing. I do not deify the masters, it is a source of chagrin and embarrassment that we not only have failed to make progress in two hundred years but can't approach their level in any creative art, music, painting, sculpture, literature, or drama. I enjoy some contemporary fiction but can any of it even approach Cyrano de Bergerac or Hamlet? Not even close! Modern artists seem to worship novelty and gimmicks. I thought no one was even trying to produce work like David or The Night Watch until the Gentle Lady showed me a web site about traditional artists. Art, like exploration of unknown frontiers is an essential part of a healthy human society. When we stop advancing and learning except to solve immediate practical problems we begin to die as a culture. We eat our cultural seed stocks. This is one reason I love to see your passion for your composing.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Let us pray we all live long enough to hear Jay's mature works! ;^)

Very few are more critical of the modern arts scenes than I am. There is no craftsmanship, no beauty, and certainly no sublimity in 99.9% of it. Like you say, novelty and shock value seem to be the coins of the realm these days. The worst insult you can hurl at an artist now is that he or she is "derivative," but that's what tradition IS! When someone says that to me now, I say, "Since Mozart was derivative of Haydn, Beethoven of Mozart, and Brahms of Beethoven, THANKS!"

If you have to reinvent the wheel before every trip, the cart never goes anywhere.

8:32 PM  
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10:09 PM  

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