Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
Growing up in the 1970’s in Palo Alto, California – the heart of Stanford University and the birthplace of the Silicon Valley – I was surrounded by very talented people, as one could imagine. It was a profound time for exploration as a child. Our public school system would place music instruments in the hands of all children at around the age of seven. Some took, as with myself and the trombone.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
About 30 years ago I had the opportunity to begin working with the American composer John Adams, who has been an extraordinary mentor to me. Both John and his long time collaborator / stage director Peter Sellars have offered me a window into the complex and colorful world of how operas are created and how artists prepare a large work for the stage.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
The arts confront us with challenges everyday, through all facets. This is why I am a composer.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Furthering the bond between the community and commissioning organization, expanding social discourse.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Every project is complex, as equally of the artists around me. I feel at home when I walk into the theatre and we all begin to create.
Of which works are you most proud?
Quite often of my baking, the results are much quicker than writing an opera.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
Open sourced. I am influenced by all sound around me, musical and environmental, which all find their way into my music.
How do you work?
I often bake while I compose. The process is physical and very similar in nature. When proving, it forces periodic pauses to step out of the “zone” and reflect.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
To have favourites means you must have non-favourites, which I do not.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Connecting your art with community.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Study hard, be free, stand against social injustice, and always express yourself in Technicolor.
Your new opera Frankenstein premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels from 8 – 20 March 2019, directed by Àlex Ollé ( La Fura dels Baus). If you had to summarise in one paragraph the message you are trying to convey with Frankenstein, what would it be?
We live in a world now surrounded and saturated in technology, where ethics are critical to keep in check – AI, bots, remote-controlled drone warfare, cloning, manipulation of the human genome, facial recognition, the Chinese Social Credit System, genetically modified food, et cetera. Mary Shelley’s novel is as relevant today as when it was written 200 years ago.
On 13 April 2019, Mark will take the world premiere of his instrumental Frankenstein Symphony to Sala Sinopli at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. This symphonic piece, which is based on Mary Shelley’s famous novel ‘Frankenstein’, will be performed by the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble, conducted by Tonino Battista.
Artist photo: Stella Olivier
Many thanks for your participation in this project.