More on Still Life with Avalanche by Missy Mazzoli<< back to the composer essay project
When I wrote Still Life with Avalanche for Eighth Blackbird, I wrote a very difficult percussion part that at the time seemed unplayable. Before the premiere, I thought I’d work on it with the percussionist and simplify it, but he wanted to just play it as written. He really stretched himself, and he did it. The difficulty of the percussion part has become part of the piece – the percussionist is right on the edge of their ability and it’s sort of just playable.
And the thing is, after being around for ten years, the piece is now more playable because percussionists have heard the recording, they’ve talked to the percussionist from Eighth Blackbird, and that has sort of steered the ship in a way, making the percussion part not as hard. Now that the piece has been around for so long, it has become more possible. I’ve heard that happen in history, with things like Ligeti’s Horn Trio, where players were saying, “We can’t play this!” when it first came out, and now students play it. But Still Life with Avalanche was the first time I saw that happen with a work of my own.
I think of it as a bomb that went off. The shrapnel from Still Life with Avalanche has become a part of other pieces. The harmonic structure of the work was something that, at the time, was a real experiment for me, but I’ve continued to develop in almost every piece I’ve written since, this idea of chord progressions layered on top of each other that are moving at different speeds. It’s an experiment that worked, and it’s an experiment that pushed me forward in a lot of different ways.
Missy Mazzoli. August 2019. New York, NY.
Grammy-nominated composer Missy Mazzoli is the Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is also a pianist and keyboardist, often performing with Victoire. You can learn more about her work at missymazzoli.com.