Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
The most significant person in my musical trajectory was a fellow who was my first formal composition instructor, Steve Wolff. Steve—a real polymath, and composer—was then a graduate student at Bowling Green State University when I was a high school student of 16 years of age in Toledo, Ohio. I first met Steve when I was singing in one of many choirs I participated in—this particular one was a church choir—and Steve was the organist. He was a person of great energy and understood that I was interested in composition; straight-away he offered to instruct me, and we started with the basics: plainsong! From there we worked our way to medieval then renaissance polyphony, finally getting to baroque music by the end of my high school years. There was listening, analysis, copying and imitation of all these styles; it was very much like an intense apprenticeship kind of program. Through Steve, I learned a great deal about the craft of composing and—through his intense interest in many other subjects—also sought to be well-rounded beyond merely music, and to be curious about a great many things.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I don’t focus much on being frustrated. For me, it’s about constant movement forward – sometimes it’s to the side and a bit forward, with a cancelled performance here or a delay in a commission there, but I stay focused and work on multiple projects constantly.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Working on a commissioned piece is great because 99% of the time, you know it will be performed and specifically by whom. Knowing the “by whom” is particularly important, since I then have a sense of what that person or group can do: the specialties, the limitations—all of that. It’s also collaborative in many cases, particularly when it comes to working with other kinds of artists, like choreographers, where the piece may need to be slightly longer, shorter or shift in tempo from place to place. Being very composition-as-craft oriented, these are particularly interesting to me.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?
This ties very much into the previous answer and knowing any individual performer’s or group’s abilities. Additionally, working—and rehearsing—with groups of any kind is a super enjoyable experience, as the process between my creation of the music, and the re-creation of it by other(s), allows for nuances and interpretation that sometimes transcends what I’d originally intended; and that’s great! There’s never any single way to perform and interpret a piece—that’s why there are so many recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, or Beethoven Sonatas—everyone brings her/his musical abilities and backgrounds to the re-creation of any composition. I find that process fascinating.
Of which works are you most proud?
My works are like children, so I’m proud of all of them. That said, I most recently completed a commission for pianist Kay Kyung Eun Kim, who is a Sony Classical artist living in South Korea: a three-movement work for piano on the topic of climate change.
This is a hugely important topic, as climate change is causing radical shifts in global precipitation. Some areas of the planet are seeing an increased intensity of rainfall, with hurricanes and other storms becoming more intense, stronger.
Some other regions are experiencing severe drought, causing vast wildfires as we saw recently with the blazes across most of Australia, Brazil and increasingly see in the United States. Without addressing the root-causes of carbon emissions, large parts of the U.S. face a higher risk of decades-long “megadroughts” by 2100.
To bring further awareness to this danger that—in the end—will impact all citizens of this earth, I composed “Three Prayers for a Feverish Planet” for solo piano which focuses on three areas of climate change. It is my hope that this work will play a role in continuing to bring further awareness and dialog around climate change, and our need to act quickly.
Along with Kay, I have been reaching out to pianists across the world to carry this message forward and am happy to share several have already joined up. If you’re interested, you can visit the project’s website at: https://www.prayersforourfeverishplanet.org/
How would you characterise your compositional language?
My compositional language is really a fusion of many styles; generally, it’s an eclectic fusion of lyricism and driving rhythm that brings together elements of post-romanticism, minimalism and jazz.
How do you work?
I usually spend my early morning hours composing—that’s when I find myself the most imaginative and mentally unencumbered. The later part of the days is usually good for copying, editing, marketing and so on. There’s a false notion of waiting for “inspiration” in order to start writing, and I don’t subscribe to that notion whatsoever. The best way to compose is just to sit down and start writing, and do it consistently and as much as possible the same time every day.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Simply put, my definition of success as a musician is being able to continue to make music and interact with other musicians. That’s it!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The most important piece of advice I have to offer aspiring musicians is to keep your mental lens as wide as possible; stay curious about as many things as you can, and keep learning about them. The more you have a broader view about the world around you and are interested in many things, the more you will bring to your music—whether that’s composing, performing, dancing, studio art—whatever your medium!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?
Classical music will continue to grow as long as it continues itself to evolve. Incorporating current themes and ideas in programming and allowing for fusion of styles is a key to this.
What is your present state of mind?
My present state of mind is one of hopefulness. There’s so much turmoil in the world today, with COVID, climate change, ongoing conflict, war ….lots of pain and misery. But there is also an amazing amount of activism, of empathy and support to create positive outcomes. Seeing this, being a part of this positive movement, gives me ongoing hope.
Brian Field began his musical endeavours at age eight with the study of piano, and began his first serious compositional efforts at sixteen, earning his undergraduate degree in music and English literature from Connecticut College, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa. At Connecticut, he studied composition with Noel Zahler, piano with the Polish pedagogue Zosia Jacynowicz, organ with John Anthony, and harpsichord/figured-bass realization with Linda Skernick.
Prayers for our Feverish Planet website: www.prayersforourfeverishplanet.org