by Jarrett Hoffman
Imagine two hypothetical works of music. Piece A has a story behind it — maybe a moment in history, or an issue facing the world, or that time the composer stubbed their toe — while Piece B is just music, period.
For composers, there are some advantages to writing a “Piece A.” They can easily describe it to people who might want to hear, publicize, perform, or present it. And those same people can quickly latch onto something that’s interesting (current event) or relatable (stubbed toe). But just as easily, that concrete description can come to overshadow the actual music in discussions about the piece.
Violinist Leila Josefowicz (above) gave me some gentle sass about this during an interview last fall. She was bringing John Adams’ Scheherazade.2 to The Cleveland Orchestra, and I had asked her a couple conceptual questions about the concerto, which reimagines the character of Scheherazade as a modern, empowered woman. Here’s what she said: