Frank Zappa is one of the most iconic figures in twentieth century music, and one of the greatest musical minds ever to emerge from the USA. His genre-defying creations stem from his own refusal to define any music as ‘classical’, ‘pop’ or anything else. In his own words: „Since I didn’t have any kind of formal training, it didn’t make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin‘ Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels … or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music.“
Varèse was famously Zappa’s starting point with modern ‘classical’ music. He persuaded his local record store to sell him their only copy of his music for less than the sticker price (otherwise he couldn’t afford it), and his fifteenth birthday present was a long distance call to the composer himself, which due to a European tour, sadly only reached Varèse’s wife. It therefore seems somehow appropriate that now, twenty-five years after Zappa’s death, LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI is able to unite their music together on US soil.
Zappa’s musical explorations deepened rapidly, encompassing our musical father at the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY Pierre Boulez, a composer Zappa listed as a key influence as early as 1966 for his album Freak Out! They finally were able to collaborate almost twenty years later with The Perfect Stranger, much of which will be performed by the alumni this month. Written for Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain, a personal connection will be felt with all performers on stage, having been coached by these extraordinary musicians many times in Lucerne, the ACADEMY also having performed Boulez’s Éclat most recently in 2011 and Varèse’s Intégrales in 2008. The other Zappa works on the programme are taken from his last album The Yellow Shark written for Ensemble Modern, many of whom since last year are now also are tutors for the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY.
Zappa was a musical force of scarcely believable breadth, his chronology now listing over 100 albums, but it is perhaps in the political and polemical sphere where he has been most influential. Never afraid to hide his opinions, his quotations are perhaps now as famous as his music, whether serious: “Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music. Music is the best.” or less serious: “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny”. The other American composers on our programme similarly refuse to shy away from the world around them: John Zorn’s famous Kristallnacht album for example was recorded in the same year as The Yellow Shark, whilst Tyshawn Sorey’s projects for this season include a new piece for Carnegie Hall addressing themes associated with Black Lives Matter. Olga Neuwirth also isn’t afraid to engage with the political sphere, the source material for Eleanor taken from speeches from Martin Luther King and „Rape is Not a Poem“ from June Jordan.
Today it is more important than ever to hear music from artists who were, and still are, willing to stand up and make their voices heard. To quote Frank once more: If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on TV telling you how to do your shit, then YOU DESERVE IT.
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