Martin Perlich Interviews Michael Daugherty on Dead Elvis | Michael Daugherty, composer


Martin Perlich Interviews Michael Daugherty on Dead Elvis


MP: Did you know Frank Zappa?

MD: I never met Frank Zappa, but I heard about the famous story when Frank Zappa gave the keynote speech for the American Composers—let’s see, the Society of University Composers, where he got in front of 3,000 university composers and said, ‘You know what? The music you write’ –and then he used some, you know, the F word a couple times, and S, and got a standing ovation. I wasn’t there, but I heard about this infamous keynote speech he gave.

MP: Well, I knew Frank fairly well. I did eight or nine interviews with him over a real long period of time, and you remind me of him more than anyone, just in attitude.

MD: Oh, really? You mean in the attitude of the music?

MP: Yes. Well, I don’t know you that well, but Frank was far saltier than you. He was very salty. No, just in terms of the tradition of music and humor. And there’s so much humor in your music, I don’t even really know where to start. Maybe titles. You’re someplace between Zappa and John Adams in titles. The titles of your stuff—Tombeau de Liberace, or whatever. All of this stuff is just wonderful stuff.

MD: Or Sunset Strip, Dead Elvis, Route 66, Rosa Parks Boulevard, whatever. Yeah, it’s funny, because Zappa, when I was growing up, I never really liked the Mothers of Invention albums when I was a kid. I much preferred Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Miles Davis, or that sort of thing, or Weather Report, and Frank Zappa, this sort of cynical humor thing. But later on, I had something I appreciated—I got to see Zappa, one of his last tours in Cleveland. I was driving to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play—this must have been fifteen years ago—I was driving to Cleveland, because I was living in Oberlin, Ohio and I was teaching at the conservatory. Anyways, I was driving, and there was a huge crowd, and I said, what’s going on? Frank Zappa’s playing. So, instead of going to hear the Cleveland Orchestra, I parked my car, got a ticket, and it was his tour when he was campaigning against censorship of music. Exactly. And he had an incredible band. And most of the crowd was, like, Hell’s Angels kind of people. And he played this really complex music. And the audience that was sitting there would probably never normally listen to this music. And it really fascinated me, because it would go out to really weird tonalities and different rhythms, you know, that would go away from a steady beat, and very complex sorts of phrasing and all that jazz. And the audience loved it. And I thought, wow, this is fascinating. At that point, I really changed my opinion of Zappa, and also, the work he did was Synclavier and guitar, and that was very late. And that was interesting, because I was beginning to work with MIDI in the 80’s, early 80’s when it was just coming out. And he was doing that with the Synclavier—that was before MIDI, but it was sort of right on that time. And then also, finally, the Ensemble Modern transcriptions that were done of his pieces, and I thought, wow, those are amazing. And I heard John Adams conduct those, both in London and in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I live, and I was really blown away by those. And the orchestrator did a fantastic job, whoever it was. But anyway, Zappa’s music, yeah, it’s definitely interesting stuff, no question.

MP: Well, my point is not whether you like it or not, but it seems that way in the satirical, edgy, sort of social critic attitude towards it. But we should probably just have an essay from you on icons and what they mean, and why you use them and how they inspire you, and all that. Because the music that I know of yours—and I’m a big fan of your music, I love Metropolis, I love Bizarro. I’ve followed your music over the years—and it’s a wonderful, I mean, to say it’s unique is stupid, but of course it is unique. But the iconic aspect. The whole, I mean, you take these icons seriously, and not. Both, it seems.

MD: Well, yeah, I mean, anything that I do, or enjoy, or like, whatever you want to say, I revel in it, but at the same time I’m skeptical of it. And I think that there’s sort of that duality.

MP: So, what about Dead Elvis?

MD: Well, I mean, that’s a case, you know. On the one hand, with Elvis—I wrote two Elvis pieces. This piece, Dead Elvis, was for bassoon soloist and chamber ensemble, and then a work for the Kronos Quartet, Elvis Everywhere, for three Elvis impersonators and string quartet. And I think about Elvis, you know, he’s a character which, you love him and he’s interesting, but you also loath him at the same time, you know. And like, those movies he made were terrible. At the same time, sometimes they’re fun to watch for a brief period, and also to see his life sort of roll in front of you and the camera, and you see him go through the different stages of his life, the early Elvis, the middle, and the late. You see sort of as he becomes a prisoner of his own world because of the contracts Colonel Parker arranged for him, and finally in Vegas, basically being stuck to perform in the international hotel for a ten year contract or something that he couldn’t get out of. But in a sense he was a victim, you know. He chose, in the end, to do that. I don’t know, it just a fascinating figure about what’s interesting being a celebrity, and what one has to watch out for, too.

MP: But your bassoon player is an Elvis impersonator, as I understand it.

MD: Yeah, it’s an Elvis impersonator. And when I wrote Dead Elvis—it was ’93—this was before Elvis was trademarked. It was just on the verge. When I was doing this piece, and the Elvis Everywhere piece, I went to the International Elvis Impersonator’s Convention in Las Vegas in ’93. And at that time, there was no internet or anything, so it was very hard to track down. I heard a rumor that there was this Elvis Impersonator’s Convention in Vegas, and through talking to people and asking around, somebody said, yeah, I think there’s something going on in Vegas. And I called the Vegas convention center, or whatever, and they said yes, there is a convention going on. I had no idea what it was going to be, and I went there. It was in the same hotel that Elvis performed in, and there were all these “Elvi” walking around—literally, like a hundred different people dressed up like Elvis in either the early, middle, or late period style of clothing. But anyway, I sat through all these performances of Elvis impersonators, and you know, I felt very weird, very alone, because I was the only person—you know, I was there checking it out to do a new music piece, but there was nobody else around. Everybody was there, basically, because they wanted to hear the Elvis impersonators. And I think that lots of things I’ve done have been a lonely path, whether I wrote the Liberace piece, or the Elvis piece, or the Jackie O piece, it’s been a very lonely path, because when I bring up my ideas, people would tell me, “That’s a terrible idea! Why would you want to do that?” Writing an Elvis piece now, it 2004, would be very different from ’93, because, again, this was before the personalities were trademarked. The whole business has changed, too.

MP: Well, it’s turned much more into a “business, business, business.” You know, intellectual property and all that kind of thing.

MD: Right. The intellectual property thing wasn’t around yet. And Elvis was still kind of an underground figure. Being an Elvis impersonator was still kind of like living in a trailer court. It wasn’t as commercialized as it is now. The same thing when I did the Superman works, orchestral works. At the time, it just was not the thing to really do. And this was before, you know, all this intellectual property and trademarks thing. So, what I’ve done now is, of course, I’m much more careful. I mean, I would never do a Star Trek piece, even though I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, simply because all these things are trademarked. So, I tend to stay with icons now, where I don’t have to deal with that. And usually with personalities it’s a little bit different. You know, with a figure like Rosa Parks, she’s a historical figure, or Jackie Onassis, or in the case of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the Fire and Blood violin concerto, which I wrote for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which was just done. You know, that’s, again, something from many years ago, so it’s a bit different. But all the piece I write, it’s something that I believe in, but at the same time I’m questioning.

MP: The questioning part is that part that comes across, because what comes across to me is very serious music with jokes here and there. Sirens or rim shots, or whatever. But very, very studied music, a very brilliantly textured music. And a theme, which is satirical. Without any question, it’s satirical. Now, I’ve not heard the violin concerto. I know that you’ve got a River Rouge section for Frida’s blood, and all that. But you’re not making fun a Frida, or Diego, I don’t think. But what is the meaning, then—between us, whatever “meaning” means—of Dead Elvis? What are you saying with Dead Elvis, if anything?

MD: Well, I think what it is about Dead Elvis is the idea of impersonation. When a figure dies, when a personality dies and there are impersonators who begin to impersonate that person, what is real, and what is fake? The same thing with performance. Down the hall from us, there are some opera singers who are singing arias, and when an opera singer gets on stage, there are usually mimicking gestures and vocal strategies that they’ve learned or heard from other opera singers. When pianists play concertos, there are certain ways that they interpret the concertos, a certain way you walk on the stage. The way there are conventions—artificial conventions—and the same thing with how, whenever a rapper goes up to accept a Grammy Award, they say, “I want to thank God.” And now it’s gotten to the point where, whoever’s MCing the Grammys or any American music award will say, “OK, let’s say it right now: God, we thank you!” Because it’s become a cliché. So at one point, it was interesting to say that. But then it becomes a cliché. Everyone starts saying it. It becomes a cliché, then it becomes passe. But then, when you come back and look at it, then you can begin to play with it. To my mind, everything is a cliché. And I don’t mean that necessarily in a cynical way, it’s just that I’ve heard everything. And I don’t mean to be conceited about it, but I feel I’ve earned that place. I mean, in the 70’s I was at IRCAM with Boulez, and I was around Berio and Xenakis during the most extremely, most intellectual avant-garde music. I lived through that period. I worked with Gyorgy Ligeti. I saw what he was composing, and I hung out with him at festivals. I went to Darmstadt. I’ve been around these things, you know, I was around New York, working with Charles Wourinen, or hanging out with Milton Babbitt, or, you know, the uptown scene, and then hanging out with the Bang on a Can guys I used to go to school with at Yale, David Lang and Michael Gordon and so forth. So, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve moved through all these worlds and lived through all these things, and now I can basically reject or accept. But one’s not more complex than the other, or one is not more real than the other. There’s sort of an even playing field. And some people call that postmodern, and I tend not to use those words, because they’re loaded words. In architecture, it’s different than in music, and all that. But I think that basically, just having intellectual and emotional freedom to express oneself how one wants to—it seems like in music, and especially in contemporary music, that composers are expected, frequently, to maneuver within a very fixed sort of arena of emotions. And what’s serious, you know. And if one is an actor, you’re usually allowed great freedom. You can do a comedy, and the next role you’re a villain, and the next role you’re in a romantic movie, the next movie’s a Hollywood blockbuster, the next movie is an art flick that nobody goes to see. And it’s okay to move between those regions. It’s much harder for a composer—I don’t know why it is, I think music is just, I don’t know, it has to do with conventions and so forth, I guess—but to just sum it up: I think it has to do with artificial and real, and what it meant to me. I think lots of the personalities I’ve dealt with, like Clark Kent/Superman, Liberace, and Elvis—these are people that had dual lives. They had like a public side and then a private side that might have been something they could reconcile between them. And I sensed that with so many composers when I was growing up. They’d be listening to Frank Sinatra, or they’d be listening to jazz, or to some rock music, but then they would be writing 12-tone music. And it seemed like the things that they really loved weren’t coming through in their own music. There was like this disconnect between the two, and also a disconnect in their own lives. They’d be writing music that none of their friends liked. You know, I can’t imagine that’s how it was when I imagine all these great artists, like Stravinsky living in Paris, or Ravel, or whatever, you know. That they hung out with poets and painters, and they all checked out each other’s work, and I think they probably liked each other’s work. But now, if you’re a composer and you go to a party and you’re surrounded by people in other art forms, frequently they know nothing about contemporary music. The world’s changed. There you go. I was going on rambling quite a long time.

MP: No, that’s nice, you covered a lot of ground. I worked with Pierre Boulez many, many years ago, 1970 – 71, and we’d try to draw him into talks about IRCAM and about historical imperatives and so forth, which, he’s a big philosopher about that. He really thinks that, you know, it you’re not doing what he’s doing, basically, you’re you know. And he told Steve Reich, “Why bother?” That whole deal. What’s your assessment of him after all these years, as a composer?

MD: I look at Pierre Boulez more like a personality, really. I always love hearing Boulez, I love to go watch Boulez conduct, and I like his music when he conducts it, because, to me his music is a personification of his physical conducting movements. So, the way he writes his music is as though he is physically conducting it, and so, when he conducts it, it’s like hearing Johnny Cash sing I Walk the Line, or hearing the original artists sing their own song. To hear Tony Bennett sing Left My Heart in San Francisco. There’s an authenticity to it. Now, what will be interesting is when Boulez is not conducting his own music. Will it be as interesting? I like the music, but I feel it’s right now the most interesting when he conducts it himself.

MP: Well, in looking at the twentieth century, then, is there a line through the Twentieth Century? Do you look at the whole Second Viennese School as an impediment, or as a growth? As functional, as the end of the line, as the beginning of something? How do you see that?

MD: Well, I always try to look at music history as connected to the history of the time it was composed in. So, I’m fascinated with history, and I watch the discovery channel or these things, you know. Especially the Second World War. In fact, just the other night they had a show about all the German generals, you know, the SS and all that stuff. It’s something I still can’t figure out, how the Second World War could happen, how people could have acted that way. When I think about Schoenberg, when I think about Hindemith, when I think about all the artists who came to America because of the war, and think about the impact it had on America, when I think about what went on in Vienna in the early twentieth century, it’s so complicated. And what happens is we get so removed historically from music. That’s why it’s so hard when we look back on Mozart, you know. There’s all these myths that develop about, yes he heard the whole piece in his head, you know, and Moses walked across the water, you know, we have these myths. And I think we do need myths. I think they’re important to have. But at the same time, I think it’s good to question those myths, too.

MP: There’s one way of looking at your music, from the—almost from the marketing standpoint, in a certain sense. In the concert-building, the audience-building sort of way, in which it’s a nice additive, a nice corrective. It brings in a pop—I don’t even know what to call it. There’s that element there. The music is not pop music.

MD: Well, it’s really interesting. They were playing through Sunset Strip, the piece for chamber orchestra, last night, the LA Chamber Orchestra. Also, the players play in the film studios, and they’re recording pop music, film music, whatever. Now what’s interesting is that in that piece, it’s sort of a culmination of a number of piece I wrote, going back to the Elvis and the Liberace piece and so forth, and I’m really not writing that way right now. But in that piece, there are echoes of all sorts of gestures that one would associate with popular music, especially from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. And those players have played that music, and they hear the references, and they’re very subtle, and they’re layered in a Charles Ives sort of way. And it’s interesting to watch their faces, because they catch everything, because they’ve played all that music. But for them it’s a joy, because the music doesn’t go where they expect it to go. You know, when you’re frequently working in a conventional sense, you know where that’s going to go. And what I always try to do is I set up an expectation, and then I suddenly go away from that expectation. I think it has to do, too, with, if you’re listening to a piece, and you have no idea where the piece is going to go, ever, then you just lose your focus. You stop listening. And then you start looking at the program note, you start flipping through the program booklet. And what I try to do is, I try to think of myself as a player in the group. I try to think of myself as a conductor. I try to think of myself as the audience. But I think, when you mentioned the Second Viennese School, I very much enjoy the avant-garde. I like Varese, I like Conlon Nancarrow, I like Ligeti, I like the avant-garde music, too. I like eccentric composers and all that sort of thing. So, I do enjoy that, and I’m not, I mean—I have other friends, like, say, Aaron Kernis, who might write a very different kind of music than I do. Or a composer who might write a 9/11 piece, which I would never write. But what I did write, I just wrote a piece for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that was premiered two weeks ago, for three conductors and orchestra called Time Machine, and the three movements are Present, Past, and Future. And someone said to me, you know, the Future movement, it’s very dissonant—probably the most hard-hitting piece I’ve ever written. It’s sort of my Rite of Spring, this last movement. But somebody said to me, you know, that’s your 9/11 piece. And I wasn’t even thinking of that. But I think, you know, because you live through something, the thing is, I would never say it, but probably, in some way, it assimilated through my thinking, and in some way, it’s probably the darkest piece I’ve ever written. But it’s the time machine, so in a sense, it’s not obvious. And I think with all my pieceg, even though they might seem to be obvious, what you’re seeing is not really what you’re seeing a lot of the time.

MP: Well, the last thing there is obvious. You set them up, exactly what you set the string players up for. You set them up for a cliché, and it’s going to resolve this way, and of course, it doesn’t. And with your pop-ish sort of gestures, and your titles and so forth, expectations are that this is going to be a particular—either a spoof, or a satire. But the music is very solid music. It does not depend on a joke.

MD: I think that what I try to do in all the pieces is to make them in a very logical way, musically. So, even though I am not a 12-tone composer—or any of that sort of thing, 12-tone composer, I think of that being a metaphor for so many things, in a logical way—actually, the pieces really unfold in a logical way, almost Palestrina-like, or Webern-like, or Bach-like, in a fugue. And this is something I picked up from Ligeti, where everything is like a process. Every line is sort of a process going on, and frequently I would do that. I might have, like, the woodwinds going “da-di-da-di-da”—a certain chord, and a certain rhythm—and the strings going “da-da-da-da,” and then I might have two triangles, left and right, going “ding,” “ding,” “ding,” and so, you know, I might have a trumpet solo over top of that. Anyway, I have these different layers. They all have their sort of logic going on. That’s how I deal with orchestration and everything. But my timing very much comes from an American sort of timing, like a stand-up comic, you know. Or David Letterman, or Johnny Carson. You know, a talk-show host kind of thing, where you have to get up, and you have to sort of improvise. You have to feel the audience, and most Americans have a very short time span of attention. A very short attention span, excuse me. Spam. I should say spam now. That’s what I get with the Viagras, like, I’m getting 20 Viagra things every day. But anyways, yes, the span is very short, you know. And the thing is, how do you deal with that—how do you deal with an American audience? And you think of that. You know, every country is different. I mean, to be a composer in Germany of France or Finland, it’s very different. But I’m living here in America. I’m dealing with my life here, and I think that one thing that’s good about Americans in general is that we’re willing to accept other cultures and other ways of doing things. What’s unfortunate is frequently that an American perspective of how to deal with something musically, is frequently not received the same way when you go overseas. If something has elements of pop music, tonality or steady rhythms, it’s still perceived with the same sort of rhetoric that—I don’t know, it goes back to the Second World War. Somehow tonality or melodies are seen as fascist, or seen as cheap, or seen as commercial, or manipulative, in some sort of way. You know, kind of like the criticism of Steven Spielberg movies, that they manipulate. Or how American composers—I don’t mean to generalize but essentially, it’s sort of true—is that American composers tend to end their pieces big, with a dramatic ending. Well, frequently in European composers’ pieces, they tend to end, sort of fade out. And it’s true. My pieces tend to have a sort of dramatic, you might even say a Hollywood—I mean, I still get thrills when I’m watching an old Hollywood movie, you know, like from the 40’s, MGM or Warner Brothers film, where it ends, finally comes out and they hit a big major chord at the end. And “The End.” I still get a thrill out of that, you know. And what I’ve decided to do about eighteen years ago was, I said, “You know, I’m just going to follow my instincts.” I’ve studied with all these people, I’ve hung out with all these different kinds of composers telling me how I should do things, and now I just follow my own instincts, and I have no idea where it’s going to go. That’s what I advise all artists or any young person, just to follow your instincts. Certainly, your instincts are going to be very different because you’ve grown up in a different time. When I grew up there was no email or cell phones, and when you grew up there was no television. Every generation’s different. And I think that’s the key. You have to follow your own energy. I think that’s another important thing, too, is energy. You know, that changes from generation to generation, what energy is, and how we perceive it, and so forth. You know, my energy definitely comes out of the sixties. That’s the time where the memories really stick in my mind. I think that comes through in the music, and I think that’s fine. I remember one composer in New York (who I won’t name), years ago, told me, “The problem with most of the music written today is that it’s fashionable, and it’s never going to last, whereas 12-tone music will always be here, because it never compromised.” And I was thinking about that. I was thinking, no, that’s not true. Because 12-tone music, to me—12 tome music is also dated. But that’s what I like. I like it when I watch a television show, and if I look at the clothing I can immediately date it: “That looks like a seventies show.” Or if I see a movie, by the hairdo I can say, “That’s a 40’s”—or by the lighting, the camerawork. Or the architecture—I like it when I look at a building. That’s Art Deco, or that’s this. And I think that’s interesting. I like it when things are fashionable, and also the idea that a composer is supposed to write a different kind of piece every time. I think there needs to be a variety in what’s catalogued. But don’t we like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart because they were the same in every movie?

MP: So, what we’re talking about here is sort of archetypes, sort of deep cultural—something that grows in all of us. In America, we have all these images, and all these myths and models.

MD: Well, we could. It’s just whether you want to acknowledge them or not, and allow them to have some light. I think that I decided not to hide it, and just to acknowledge what it was, and let it all hang out, so to speak. And, to be honest with you, I’m still sort of out there on my own. Honestly, I don’t bump into many composers who have the same interests that I do. Somebody said, well, aren’t you worried that you’re going to get pigeonholed into, you’re the composer who based on popular icons? I say, yes, I would worry about it if I met other composers who are doing what I’m doing. But frequently, when I’m still going to hear my pieces played on programs, they stand out as unique, and so I figure I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. Maybe there’ll be deviations, I’m sure, as I get older—I’m almost 50 now. The pieces will probably at some point turn darker as more tragedies reach my life, and so forth. But up until this point, I’ve been very lucky, and so I think, what’s wrong with writing music that essentially might have some fun to it, or might have some energy or drive? The dark pieces will come, but to be 23 years old, and to write a dark piano concerto that’s full of angst, to me, seems totally ridiculous.

MP: Well, it would be to you. It might not be to somebody who’s had a horrible life and is 23, who knows. All I can say is that your music sounds very authentic. I’m publishing my first novel at age 66, so I don’t care. I’m following my art, and we’re it goes, it will go. Tell about the Naxos disc. That’s fascinating to me. Naxos is an amazing company. Their record classics series is fabulous, and you’re going to be in it with Evelyn Glennie, right?

MD: Well, the plan is, we have recorded the Colorado Symphony and Marin Alsop conducting. Evelyn Glennie has a solo, a concerto I wrote called UFO, and also an orchestra piece I wrote for the Philadelphia Orchestra called Philadelphia Stories. So, you know, the piece was recorded last year, a year ago, actually, and we’re still waiting to have it edited. Sometimes it takes a while to get those things rolling. But hopefully, it’s supposed to come in in June, they say, and I’m looking forward to it. The recording is fabulous, it really is. And I’ve been very lucky with recordings. I had the first three in Argo—the Metropolis Symphony, American Icons, and Jackie O—I was very lucky to get those, because they’re not doing those anymore. The recording quality and the playing is just unbelievable. And I’ve had some others come out, smaller labels. We just that’s interesting, sort of a trend—it’s a concerto album with a William Bolcom concerto, Leslie Bassett, a saxophone concerto, and an English Horn concerto I wrote called Spaghetti Western. And it was recorded by really great professional soloists, but the orchestra’s the University of Michigan Orchestra. We hired a really good local guy to do the recording, and it sounds absolutely fabulous, because the equipment that these people have now, it’s the same equipment that Sony has, or Decca. And the recordings have a great graphic designer, fantastic packaging, very hip looking and all that, and it’s being distributed through the internet. And that’s an interesting sort of trend, too, as the record business changes. But what’s great about the internet is that it does allow access. And people, if they want to track down this stuff, they can. So that’s really exciting, that you can be a French composer—and everybody can have their own website—and you can find the information, which is great.

MP: It is great. I need to have that record, though. I need to get it programmed. I need to have your stuff. So, can I get that to play on the radio?

MD: Yes. I think the best way—unfortunately, I did not bring any copies with me—I have one I can give, but you can’t play it on the radio.

MP: But you’ll get me one that I can?

MD: Yes, I can. It’s a fabulous recording.

MP: I’m also a fan of Bolcom, so that would be good.

MD: Yes, that would be good. If you could play some cuts from that, that would be great. There’s also a new recording by the Ethos Ensemble, again on their own label. It’s a piece I wrote for percussion quartet entitled Used Car Salesman. My father was a used car salesman for years.

MP: He was a drummer.

MD: Yeah, he was a drummer and a used car salesman. I have the percussion play used car parts, or car parts, and they also dress as used car salesmen. And what I did is I went around, and there’s a great movie with Kurt Russell called Used Cars—it’s probably the best one he ever made—and I also asked my dad stuff they used to say in the car lot, back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I grew up, and also went to a used car lot in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which is sort of the run-down part of Ann Arbor. It’s next to Ann Arbor. Kind of a real seedy used car place, and sure enough they’re still doing the same clichés today. “No credit, don’t worry about it. We finance you. Kick the tires.” That sort of thing. Anyway, so I used all these clichés, and they recite the clichés while they play. So, I alternate that kind of a piece—I usually do one piece like that, and then like a big orchestra piece. I’ve also written quite a few pieces for band, too. I really like working with wind ensembles, and I’m getting lots of performances in the wind ensemble world for a number of works I’ve written, and that’s been great. So I also enjoy that. But I usually have a chamber music piece that’s sort of off the wall, like Dead Elvis or Used Car Salesman, and then I’ll have like a big orchestra piece that’s a really difficult kind of work. And then I’ll usually have another piece for chamber ensemble or something like that. I usually alternate like that each year. And I keep it fresh, so I never know what I’m going to do next. The title I have coming up—you might be interested in this—I just wrote an organ concerto called Once Upon a Castle, inspired by the Hearst Castle, and Citizen Kane, and I’ve been the Hearst Castle three times. I love that place for some bizarre reason. I just love the Hearst Castle. And to contrast that, when I was in Pittsburgh, I went to the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water House, which was built at the same time as the Hearst Castle. So it’s interesting to see this modern building done by Frank Lloyd Wright—contrast that with the Hearst Castle, being built at the same time, the two different things. And that’s sort of what my music’s like, you know, the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the Hearst Castle, which is totally retro, bizarre, Hollywood stars visiting every weekend, and the Frank Lloyd Wright, totally different, very logical, precise architecture. And in fact, that’s sort of the way I think about the world of the music, you know, sort of moving these different worlds. And I don’t think it’s a problem for the audience. Audiences really enjoy this sort of thing, and the musicians really enjoy it. I think we just need to get the critics to join along a little bit, occasionally.

MP: I don’t know. You seem to have gotten pretty good critical response. Somebody called Metropolis a “Heldenleben for today,” which, I don’t know if that’s insulting or not.

MD: No, that’s a great compliment. But I’m just saying that I would prefer younger composers to take much more risks. Really push the boundaries, and use electric instruments with guitars, that sort of thing, bring in rock music more. I think it could be balanced acoustically. It doesn’t have to be super loud. But I just think the younger composers need to really branch out more. You know, what’s going on in rock music—sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes not—but certainly in film, there’s really interesting stuff going on, the kind of thing that young directors are doing. If young composers could do the same thing in music, in their own language, somehow, I think that’d be interesting. People could take much more risks. We could be much more imaginative. And that’s what I hope everyone will do in whatever art form they’re in.

MP: Thanks, I’m going to let you go. That was wonderful. Thank you very, very much.

MD: Thank you.