5 Questions to Peri Mauer (composer, cellist, conductor)

We first met Peri Mauer as our standmate in the back-row chorus for the world premiere of Marcos Balter’s Pan, which we performed with Claire Chase last year on her density v concert. We quickly learned there is much more to Peri’s musical life than playing the ocarina and bamboo chimes, so we asked her five questions to dig a little deeper.

You’ve told us music has been core to your life forever; how has your music life evolved over the years?

As far back as I remember, music has been an essential part of my life. Born and raised in the Bronx, I took full advantage of the wonderful musical opportunities offered in New York City. I began piano at age 5, cello at 11, and attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (the Fame school). Lincoln Center was a second home to me starting with Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts and the Boulez Rug Concerts. At Patelson’s Music House, my third home, I experienced a major turning point by discovering the Webern Op. 11 cello pieces while browsing through their shelves of music. A piece can be 11 seconds long? What a discovery! I can honestly say I have not been the same since.

I spent a good deal of my practice time jamming on atypical cello sounds and hammering out “wrong” notes in quirky, spicy rhythms and harmonies on the piano. I attended Bard College, graduating with a degree in cello performance, and freelanced with various orchestras and musical theater productions in NYC. My interest in multi-genre cello performance had me playing in folk rock groups, latin bands, and composing, improvising, and playing music to off-Broadway classic theater productions. Eventually, I entered the Manhattan School of Music for an advanced degree in composition to better understand what I was doing on an academic level.

How would you describe your own musical language; what energizes it?

My musical language is chromatic and linear, brought to life with dynamic and timbral contrast, rhythmic drive, and passion. I enjoy using counterpoint as a means of defining structure while integrating elements as they unfold and develop. Often, I start out with a title or image that pops into my head and strikes me as intriguing, although inspiration can also be highly personal, stemming from a significant feeling or event I’ve experienced.

Peri Mauer conducts her Blogarhythm on the Rocks in Central Park, Make Music New York 2011

Peri Mauer conducts her “Blogarhythm on the Rocks” in Central Park for Make Music New York 2011

How do you juggle all of your various musical endeavors?

It is important for me to work as both a composer and a professional cellist. Actually, the two are well integrated. When I am playing in an orchestra, I’ve usually studied the score, am focused on the orchestration and thematic interplay of the piece, and I experience a sense of “being inside the music,” which keeps it alive for me. Playing the cello is never just another gig. The communal aspect of playing music with others counterbalances the isolation of composing, which can be quite taxing. Putting together large scale projects for annual festivals, such as Make Music New York, and, until recently, Kathy Supove’s “Music With a View,” is something I find most rewarding. These projects allow me to combine my sense of adventure with the joy of creatively bringing people together to perform my music, and…I get to conduct. As a constant presence on the musical scene, I strive to get in on as many interesting and varied artistic projects as I can. There is so much opportunity to work with so many amazing colleagues, and now with social media, it is possible to bring projects to life like never before.

Can you tell us about recent and upcoming performances of your work?

Last week my trio Afterwords was performed by Great Noise Ensemble in Bethesda, MD, in the second concert of their series: The Four Freedoms: Freedom to Worship. The performers were clarinetist Katherine Kellert, cellist Tim Thulson, and pianist Francesca Hurst. I connected with GNE Artistic Director and composer extraordinaire Armando Bayolo about my piece when he was seeking new music based on spiritual themes. Afterwords came to be when my father passed away in 2006. I set out to design a line of music to be engraved on his memorial stone, to give it personal meaning. The music that flowed from that single line grew into this trio, with a depth of emotion stemming from my early stages of grief. I love that Armando heard it as a meditation, which makes perfect sense, and I appreciate his thanking me for writing “such a beautiful and moving piece.”

Similarly, because my mother died in the month of October, I composed An Autumn Passing, for English horn and piano, in her memory. I integrated a few elements of Afterwords towards the end of the piece. As my parents now lie next to each other, they are also forever joined together in my music. The world premiere of An Autumn Passing will be performed by Gregory Weissman, English horn, and Jeremy Vigil, piano, on March 19, 2019 at Scorca Hall in The National Opera Center in New York.

Finally, I’m thrilled that violinist Esther Noh and pianist Geoffrey Burleson will premiere my piece a Violin and a Piano on May 21, 2019, also at The National Opera Center. a Violin and a Piano is in two movements. The first opens with solo violin, which is then joined by the piano in a contemplative, dreamy mood. In contrast, the second movement is playful and quirky. Both a Violin and a Piano and An Autumn Passing are being presented by the New York Composers Circle.

When we met in the Pan back-row chorus, we learned that you were in the cast of Mozart in the Jungle; what was that like?

I had a blast working on Mozart in the Jungle. When the show was first being cast, they put out a call for string players for the fictitious New York Symphony. I responded and was hired. I had never been on a TV series before. Other than the early call times—5:00 AM!—and long days—12+ hour shoots!—I really enjoyed seeing firsthand how it is all put together, observing all the creative and technical energy that goes into it. A highlight for me was in Season 3 Episode 7: Not Yet Titled, in which we played Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie and Quartet for the End of Time for people incarcerated at Rikers Island. That was quite an adventure.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019, at 7:30pm 
New York Composers Circle presents a concert by mixed chamber ensembles
Program: Peri Mauer: An Autumn Passing (world premiere) and other works
Marc A. Scorca Hall at the National Opera America Center
330 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001

Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at 7:00pm 
New York Composers Circle presents works for violin, cello, piano, and electronics
Program: Peri Mauer: a Violin and a Piano (world premiere) and other works
Marc A. Scorca Hall at the National Opera America Center
330 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001