Sunday, October 22, 2017

Eric Moe: Expanded Virtuosity


On November 3rd, composer Eric Moe visits the Center for a masterclass with graduate students and a talk about his compositional work. Currently Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh, Moe has been active as composer, pianist, arts administrator, and curator for decades. His work has been recognized by many of the most prestigious honors available to an American composer: a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, and a Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and commissions from the Barlow Endowment, Fromm Foundation (twice), Koussevitzky Foundation (twice), Meet the Composer, New Music USA, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. After graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, he taught at the University of California Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University before joining the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1989.

Moe’s compositional work explores a range of formats—acoustic and electroacoustic, instrumental and vocal, concert music and theater (often with video). Moe writes that “I am fascinated by virtuosity, and showcase different flavors of it in solo compositions, concerti, and in concert.” The composer’s 2007 clarinet-piano duo Grand Prismatic illustrates his project of a multifaceted virtuosity. While conventional notions of virtuosity often emphasize speed and volume above all else, Moe cultivates a much broader range of virtuosities in his duo. While parts of the piece invoke a conventionally extroverted, assertive virtuosity, other passages foster an introverted, delicate virtuosity, particularly in the rapid hushed passages at the work’s end. Moreover, the work’s approach to virtuosity extends beyond mere execution of passagework, to more holistic aspects of live ensemble performance. The piece also invites a virtuosity of interpretation from its performers, requiring unusually detailed attention to phrasing (for instance in near-repetitions of rapid melodic figures) and agility in navigating rapid-fire shifts in character. Moreover, the piece’s dovetailed rapid rhythmic figurations encourage heightened nimbleness in ensemble coordination. The work was commissioned by UB clarinet professor Jean Kopperud. Her recording of the piece with pianist Stephen Gosling, a frequent guest artist at the Center, is below.


Moe’s compositional interest in virtuosity is informed by his parallel activities as pianist. The composer has been active premiering, commissioning, and performing solo and chamber works with piano. A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he also keeps busy with solo projects, such as the CD The Waltz Project Revisited - New Waltzes for Piano featuring waltzes for piano by two generations of American composers. Gramophone magazine praised the solo CD, writing that “Moe’s command of the varied styles is nothing short of remarkable.” Other recordings featuring his playing are available on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records and Innova labels. A video of the composer performing his own composition Grand √Čtude Brilliante is available online:



Also active behind the scenes as an administrator and curator, Moe is co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s “Music on the Edge” concert series. The series has produced numerous ambitious, innovative concerts over the years, and often partners with the Center for 21st Century Music to bring highly regarded ensembles and soloists from Europe to the US. This year, the partner institutions will present concerts and workshops by the Parisian Ensemble Court-Circuit in April.

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