Introducing Missy Mazzoli

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On Monday, March 29, Q2 continues its monthly series of weeklong Composer Introductions with composer/bandleader Missy Mazzoli. Hear exclusive, live performances, read an introduction by Mazzoli herself and for a limited time starting Monday, download her piece, Orizzonte, above.

Over the past couple of years, composer Missy Mazzoli has become a sort of poster child for the Do-It-Yourself New York, New music scene. She writes orchestral and concert music, performs with the electro-acoustic quintet Victoire, and is the executive director of the MATA Festival. Despite her packed schedule, Missy finds time to write stunning, tightly constructed, poetic music.

We are pleased to feature Missy Mazzoli for our third Composer Introduction, and excited that Mazzoli will be stopping by the WNYC Soundcheck studios on Monday, April 5 when Victoire will perform A Door into the Dark and Cathedral City.

Recording credits: Still Life with Avalanche (recording engineer: Liam Bauman)

Missy Mazzoli on Missy Mazzoli

I grew up in a tone-deaf household. My parents, wonderfully supportive people that they are, didn't listen to classical music, or really much music at all. My mother would shout along to Neil Diamond in the car and my father would sometimes dust off a cassette tape of Pavarotti singing Ave Maria, but that was about it. They inherited a piano with dangerously chipped ivory keys that stood, gathering dust, until I began piano lessons at age seven. Around nine, I fell in love with Beethoven and by ten had decided to dedicate my life to writing music. I remember making this decision before I even knew what it really meant to be a composer, and years before I met another living composer. I was only acting on a hunch that pursuing a career in composition could be the key to a glamorous and fulfilling life. From a young age, I saw no inherent contradiction in following many musical paths simultaneously; I played guitar in a series of terrible punk bands, practiced my Beethoven daily, and wrote volumes of melodramatic music that I didn't share with anyone.

Ironically, my growing up in an un-musical household has been one of the most profound influences on my work to this day. That feeling of being a little outside the circle motivated me to carve out my own musical niche at a young age. I didn't feel like I had many musical role models growing up and didn't know of any other composer who looked or thought like I did, and was free to invent my own path from the beginning.

In 1998, I moved to Boston to attend college at B.U. and continued my eclectic and intense musical education. Every few months I took the bus to New York City and performed improvised music at downtown venues like the Pink Pony and now-defunct Tonic, with musicians including Goldsparkle Band and Daniel Carter. Twice a week I biked to Cambridge to perform Balinese Gamelan music with Gamelan Galak-Tika at MIT, and through their director Evan Ziporyn learned of Bang-on-a-Can and many New York composers. My roommates hosted bands in our basement every weekend, and we would go out to see live music several times a week. I worked with many fantastic composition teachers including John Harbison, who introduced me to the music of, among others, Frederic Rzewski and Meredith Monk.

In 2002, I moved to Amsterdam to study with Louis Andriessen, who taught me the value of living a life in music instead of merely making a career in music. The ability to make this distinction was liberating, and I came back to America newly inspired. After two years at Yale, I moved to New York armed with a classic combination of no money, no job, and no plan. During my first year in New York I had seven jobs at the same time. I played piano for ballet and tap dance classes on the Upper East Side, was a personal assistant for Meredith Monk and Derek Bermel, and worked constantly to make ends meet. In 2007, I became Executive Director of the MATA Festival, a non-profit dedicated to supporting young composers. It was also in 2007 that I founded Victoire, an ensemble for which I write all the music and play keyboards.

All of my music, whether it's for orchestra or Victoire or string quartet, uses simple tools in an attempt to make something extraordinary, something larger than the sum of its parts. I'm drawn to triads and propulsive rhythms, but often use them as only one of many layers. I want my music to be challenging in unexpected ways, and I use complexity as a means to achieving an emotional end, not as an end unto itself. The music that inspires me, whether it's Louis Andriessen or Mahler or the Dirty Projectors, achieves an incredible balance of the expected and the surprising, of the skillfully complex and the beautifully simple. Having my own ensemble has allowed me to develop my own musical language very quickly -- our rehearsals are like little test kitchens where I can try things out, make mistakes, and fail extravagantly in the privacy of my own home.

This composer portrait on Q2 will hopefully give you a taste of my recent projects, including works for Victoire as well as pieces for orchestra and chamber ensemble.

Upcoming Performances

Monday, April 5 at 2 p.m. | WNYC
Soundcheck with John Schaefer: Victoire performs live in-studio
More information »

Wednesday, April 7 at 7:30 p.m. | (Le) Poisson Rouge
Wordless Music Series: Victoire with ARP & Anthony Moore, and films by Jen Stock
presented by American Composers Orchestra, Composers OutFront!
Information and tickets »

Friday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m. | Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall
American Composers Orchestra performs These Worlds In Us
with works by Louis Andriessen, Michael Fiday and John Korsrud
Information and tickets »

Friday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. | NYU's Skirball Center
New York City Opera (VOX) performs Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt (New York premiere of concert version for orchestra, chorus, and 3 soloists)
with works by David T. Little, Du Yun, David Crozier and Scott Richards
Information and tickets »

American Composers Orchesta Composer Portrait: Missy Mazzoli. This video was made to accompany the upcoming April 9, 2010 performance of These Worlds In Us by the ACO.