Yair Klartag

5 Questions to Yair Klartag (composer)

Yair Klartag is one of four composers commissioned by MATA, this year. His piece There’s no lack of void will be premiered on Wednesday. He kindly took the time to answer our five questions.

The MATA Festival commissions a small number of composers each year, and you were selected as one of the four in 2016. MATA gives exposure to composers whose work doesn’t fit into existing institutions, so what about your work defies categories?

I generally find the idea of categories very problematic in art. So in that regard, I believe that every “good” artwork “defies categories”. One of our challenges is to experience works of art as they are, and not through their classifications; to search for beauty in unexpected places. The decision to write for orchestral instruments, or to write notes on paper is not obvious to me. I use them because of the expressive means that the lineage of this music (classical music) provides, but that has nothing to do with the way I want the music to be heard. I am very excited about the different contexts in which my music will be performed during this year’s MATA Festival; after Wednesday’s concert at National Sawdust with Ensemble Linea, I’ll be presenting a new video piece at Trans-Pecos for MATA FUNHOUSE, where Festival artists and local noisemakers get together to experiment and collaborate in more of a nightlife/DIY context.

What did you explore in There’s no lack of void?

I tried to recreate the effect of overexposure to music which I often experience. We are exposed to such an overwhelming amount of sonic experiences that it becomes hard to create a meaningful one. In my piece, there is an abundance of musical events and materials; I strip them of their significance and turn them into a sort of musical waste. That’s why I chose this There’s no lack of void as the title, which is a line from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. It seems appropriate to me to use this quote of Beckett, whose writing Adorno describes as one in which “the poetic process declares itself to be a process of wastage”. In this flux of events and musical wastage, I was hoping to find moments of authentic, honest expression that are also neither self-aware nor self-referential.

Your chamber music has been performed by ensembles like JACK, MiVOS, and now Ensemble Linea premieres your work There’s no lack of void. What intrigues you about this form?

I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with Ensemble Linea. I just got back from the first rehearsal with them, and they have the unique combination of great musicianship and very open minds. I have written several pieces for strings in recent years, and I feel very close to the sound and visible geometric technique of string instruments. In There’s no lack of void, the addition of the body of the piano and the raw power of the trombone allowed me to further extend the sound world that I developed in my strings pieces to new dimensions.

Composition has taken you through Israel and Germany, and now you’re a doctoral candidate for composition at Columbia University in New York. How do your earliest musical influences interact with your current ones?

I feel very lucky with my early musical education. I had wonderful composition teacher in high school, back in Israel. He would give us weekly composition assignments that were extremely abstract and creative. These very early works are very dear to me, because I had no musical technical knowledge nor understanding of the new music world. They still act as a compass, guiding me back towards my original attraction to making art with sounds. I often encounter musical pedagogy that forces students to first write Renaissance polyphony, then a baroque fugue, then a classical sonata, and only after one has “mastered” all these skills, one can start doing “contemporary music”, where one is expected to rebel against everything one has learned. I find this methodology very reductionist in regard to the artistic aspirations of composers. These initial creative impulses were helpful in connecting my composition to innate creative urges, rather than just to the traditional progression of academic thinking.

Your work won prizes in France, Spain, South Korea, China, Israel, and Japan. This MATA commission exposes a broader American audience to your work. What dialogue do you hope your work inspires?

Although the musical institutions and establishment are very different in all of these countries, I always find the dialogue very similar. The moments I value the most in art are encounters with materials and structures that resonate with something in the artist’s internal world, and the rare cases where I find beauty in them. Finding aesthetic value in these personal, and sometimes dark places is a very humanistic experience for me, and I hope my audiences feel the same.

The MATA Festival runs from April 12-16. For more information, visit: http://matafestival.org.