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Frank Denyer and the sounds of silence

March 6, 2010 |  3:00 pm

Denyer English composer Frank Denyer, the subject of my Calendar profile, speaks eloquently about how he uses silence in his music. He's also a first-rate raconteur.

Denyer also is scheduled to appear Sunday at 11 a..m at the Goethe- Institut for a discussion with musicologist Bob Gilmore and violist Elisabeth Smalt, who performs Denyer’s “A Fragile Thread.” (She’s also on hand Monday in Denyer’s demanding “Woman, Viola and Crow” for Monday Evening Concerts at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall.)

Here are extra moments from my interview with Denyer:

-- One night, Denyer was on tour with the legendary composer Morton Feldman, a major influence on him. Feldman was a big man with Coke-bottle glasses, who insisted on smoking while he performed the piano part of his chamber piece “I met Heine on the rue Fürstenberg." "He was an unsure pianist who had to look closely to see the score,” Denyer recalled. “Once at the Hot Club in the Hague, in the middle of the performance, I heard this flapping sound. Feldman had set the music alight. It was going up in flames, and he was trying to bang the flames down.”

-- “Especially in the last 20 years, music accompanies our whole lives,” Denyer said. “It was very different for Mozart. Music was a rarity. These were lives lived in silence.”

-- Denyer’s “Unnamed” (1997), a 47-minute piece for shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, includes a two-minute silence. “Lots of people have heard it, and nobody’s mentioned the silence, because it works as a climax. The romantics and Mahler built up climaxes like huge waves, but you can also do it by cutting more away and going into silence.”

--Rick Schultz

Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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