Rocking Hard and Subverting Expectations with Dan Visconti

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Coloring contemporary classical vernacular with jazz inflections and bluegrass rhythms, Dan Visconti's compositions embody a thoroughly American aesthetic. With commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Jupiter Quartet and the Minnesota Orchestra, this young composer is already impressively busy. The American Composers Orchestra gives the world premiere of Visconti's Glitchscape for orchestra and electronics April 5 at Zankel Hall.

Dan Visconti writes the following about his Mixtape:

Nowadays whenever I'm asked what kind of music I'm into, I usually respond that my favorite kind of music is “the kind that kicks ass”—the kind of music that grabs my attention, speaks powerfully and directly, and knocks my socks off with the sustained intensity of its narrative.

This mixtape is chock-full of awesome, attention-grabbing music for all kinds of ensembles spanning many genres. Some of the pieces got on this mixtape by rocking out loud and hard; Stephen Hartke's blues-inspired showpiece O Dem Rats is Mean in my Kitchen has two violinists trading dueling riffs with wild, out-of-sync abandon; and John Halle's Spheres from Ethel's "HEAVY" disc epitomizes the kind of awesome, maxed-out swagger that makes rock music so visceral and exciting.

But kicking ass is a subtle concept, one that's not limited to just rocking out at full force; it's in that sense that I really dig the chilling, quiet intensity of the Kronos Quartet's brilliant rendition of Dark Was the Night, which features classical instruments restrung with guitar strings as well as bottleneck guitar slides for a truly imaginative take on this almost supernaturally gut-wrenching tune. A lot of my favorite notated music taps into a certain vernacular spirit, which in the right hands seem to loosen up classical performance and enliven it with some of the nonchalance and happy accidents of improvised traditions; check out Matt Walker perform his bluegrass-tinged Double Down with composer/violist Kenji Bunch or Steve Snowden's haunting transformation of an Appalachian folk-tune for great examples of composers bending genres with aplomb.

Another way that music can grab my attention is by reimagining sound in a way that is absolutely jaw-dropping—for example, the musicians of NYC's Asphalt Orchestra's startling transformation of the age-old street band into an ultra-hip and completely wacky ensemble that takes street performance to another level.

I’ve always been completely bowled-over by those pieces of music where a composer just hammers home a single rhythm or goes after a single idea with ferocious tenacity, such as in Julia Wolfe’s ultra-heavy Stronghold for eight basses or my favorite Ravi Shankar raga.

Much of my own recent music seeks to update or subvert the norms of classical performance traditions to be more in line with the expanded palette of sounds and approaches to which we denizens of the Global Digital Age have grown accustomed. The music I’m most excited by is really all about transgressing boundaries and subverting expectations with confidence and commitment—something that each selection on this mixtape accomplishes in a striking and uniquely personal way.


Frank Zappa - Zomby Wolf (Asphalt Orchestra)
Julia Wolfe - Stronghold (Robert Black, bass)
David Rakowski - Piano Etude #68 "Absofunkinlutely" (Amy Briggs, piano)
Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was the Night (Kronos Quartet)
Stephen Hartke - O Them Rats is Mean in my Kitchen: IV. In My Kitchen (Michelle Makarski, violin; Ronald Copes, violin)
Ravi Shankar - Raga Kaushi Kanhara: Gat In Dhamar (Ravi Shankar)
Steve Snowden - Appalachian Polaroids (Aeolus Quartet)
Matt Walker - Double Down (Alias Chamber Ensemble)
Aphex Twin (Arr. Evan Hause) - Omgyjiya Switch 7 (Alarm Will Sound)
John Halle - Spheres (Ethel)
Annie Gosfield - Phantom Shakedown (Annie Gosfield, piano)
Jimi Hendrix (Arr. Robert Dick) - Voodoo Child (Robert Dick, flute)
David T. Little - Sweet Light Crude (Newspeak)