This is my favorite part of the interview, not only because I finally get to ask Shara about her performance of one of my absolute favorite pieces of classical music, but this was definitely the most philosophically interesting part of the evening. Hopefully, you will be as struck with her ideas as I was.
TIH: Do you keep up with contemporary classical music at all: Golijov maybe, or others?
SW: I haven’t seen his opera, but I have seen Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind the string octet, and then I’ve seen Dawn Upshaw perform of few of his songs.
TIH: A lot of these composers now are drawing on pop music with increasing frequency, do you see that line between art music and popular music beginning to blur?
SW: I used to be really concerned with that and that was where I was wrestling for those years of Shark’s Teeth. I think I just got tired of thinking about that, because I was so concerned with it that at the end of the day it wasn’t so much a philosophical question for me as it was “what have I chosen to do with my life?”. And as I’ve gotten to be really ok with what I have chosen to do and really surrendered to the songwriting, this year I have sort of bizarrely gotten more classical jobs.
TIH: Really? Like what?
SW: I’m going to do a song cycle called Penelope Songs and that’s like classical, written music that’s sort of like Samuel Barber, but with drum kit. So I am recording that this year. And then I am working on something with Bryce Dessner for BAM in October and that’s more of a classical kind of thing and then the Clogs record.
TIH: To me, that seems like another sign of that sort of convergence, like pop is our folk music being adapted to classical forms.
SW: If you’re listening to Ligeti or Boulez – there is that idea of music as a science. Or the Second Viennese School, they really did create a new musical language. And we are employing some of that language now, it’s just normal for some new chord to show or for some atonal moment to happen, or Sonic Youth, you could say was developing a new language in a way that was echoing that. So there is that interesting thing where Aphex Twin or Chris Clark and all those warp records guys are doing things that are very progressive rhythmically and that sort of echoing things that were happening in IRCAM and there’s that dialog now. But I still think that Itzhak Perlman needs to be Itzhak Perlman and I still firmly believe in the science of music. Whether or not I am a part of it, I still really think that that music needs to exist; that it’s a worthy pursuit of your life.
TIH: You put together a performance of Pierrot Lunaire. Why? There are not a lot of people who really want to do that.
SW: Yeah. That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The Sprechstimme part itself isn’t hard. Rhythmically, that piece is incredibly challenging and you have so many technical things to think of like, really how close am I going to try to get to those pitches. And it’s something that I, since I don’t have perfect pitch, would have to do a lot in order to get closer. So, because the technical world is so challenging, if you can get through it, it’s this really beautiful piece of music that’s really beautiful and really moving and just incredible. But just to learn it and get it integrated into your body where you’re not having to think about what you’re doing is really hard.
TIH: I’d love to do something like that, but that would be pushing my abilities a little bit.
SW: Well have you heard those recording of these guys doing Mahler with string quartet and accordion? Or doing Wagner, excerpts from his operas in that way, not with a singer, but it’s so awesome! And that was part of what I was thinking with “Black and Costaud”. These songs are public property. You can cover this song just like you can cover a Bob Dylan song. Do it your own way. There’s no reason why, just because it was written on paper that it has to be exactly this way. If you want to do it, do it.
TIH: Did you record your performance?
SW: I was so sick that week. That the recording was such a disappointment, because I was having to do it just the way that my voice would do it that day rather than how I had prepared it. I wanted to do “Der kränke Mond” again, which is the one with just flute. I wanted to record that, and I still might do that, but it will take a little time.
TIH: You can put that on the new album.
SW: Yeah, as a B-side