Described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and over 250 songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets (including those who perished in the Holocaust). Her music is widely performed, internationally and throughout the United States, and has generated substantial critical acclaim. Read Lori Laitman's interview with Moving Classics TV
1. If you were not a professional musician, would would you have been?
I would have been a jeweler. My sisters and I inherited a love of jewelry from our father. Events were commemorated by buying a specific piece of jewelry. I inherited several pieces — whenever I wear these, I am flooded with wonderful memories and feel very connected to the past.
2. The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?
Our world has changed, and exposure to classical music is certainly not what it was. I’d even say the most of the world is illiterate with regards to classical music. Yet, I believe there will always be a small core of talented musicians. Hopefully this will be enough to carry the tradition forward, and maybe even help with its rediscovery.
3. Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? Whats the role of creativity in the musical process for you?
For a composer, creativity is everything. As a composer that mostly writes vocal music, I always hope to “translate” the words into music that illuminates the meaning of the words. I struggle to find the right way to pull sounds out of my head, and transcribe them in the most effective way. Then, I hope my musicians will be able to lift my music off the page and put the sounds back into the world, in a manner that touches people.
4. Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?
You can certainly engage with creative projects, as you do with your visual musical films. But I think the best way to attract a young generation is to start with early education. When I was growing up, cartoons were flooded with classical music excerpts, and this really familiarized children with classical music. There is so little exposure now. I think that Music Appreciation should be taught in the schools, and each child should learn at least one instrument. The thrill of making your own music and gaining some mastery is enticing.
As for myself, I have composed several works for children — for example, the boy choir in my Holocaust oratorio Vedem, and the multiple children’s choruses in my family opera, The Three Feathers. It was so wonderful to work with the kids, and they enthusiastically embraced my music and the performances.
5. Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favourite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?
I have several, but here are two: The Metropolitan Tower, my very first art song, is very dear to me. Originally I was a bit embarrassed by it, as it was so strophic and lyrical, and lyricism definitely went against the prevailing compositional grain. But I am so proud of the work, and it was with this composition that I discovered my compositional voice.
If I…, the last of my Four Dickinson Songs cycle, is also very dear to me. It was written as a birthday gift for my dad’s 80th. I wanted to create a melody that he would love, and this very lyrical song, which happens to set my life’s philosophy, has become one of my most popular. I have several versions of it, and am very happy that my dad, who lived to be almost 100, was able to hear all of them.
6. What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?
I have two upcoming song cycle commissions, both will use Holocaust themes. The first will set Nelly Sachs and will be for soprano and clarinet. The second will likely set Anne Ranasinghe, and will be for soprano, saxophone and piano. I want to finish my chamber opera Uncovered (libretto by Leah Lax, based on her memoir) and I want to finish my grand opera Ludlow (libretto David Mason, based on his verse novel). I wouldn’t say that I experiment, I only search for the best way to set the words.
Composing is always something of a gamble for a composer unless (s)he’s already well-established. The first thing any composer has to decide on is what idiom they are going to write in. The smart money is on very intense post-modernistic atonality and the more atonal, the better. As always, it’s a very individual thing. Some composers can adapt tonality to a slight degree but however they choose to do it, ultimately they must please the powerful men and women who rule the classical music industry with an iron fist and the first rule for any composer-hopeful is NO MELODY! Melody is sentimentality; sentimentality is gushing; gushing is too reflective of the bygone days of Romanticism and Rachmaninoff. The order of the day is always looking forward, not backward.
There’s only one problem with all this and it’s a gigantic one: to paraphrase the immortal words of lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein–”We’ve gone about as fer as we can go” and then some. Personally, I can’t envision a composer breaking any new barriers or exploring any new frontiers. They’ve already been broken; they’ve already been explored by hundreds of composers. In a nutshell, and this is my own opinion, any composing from now on is either going to be stagnant or regressive. I mean when you’ve got computers doing the composing for you and a score looks more like an electrician’s schematic than music notes I think there’s a problem.
This is not even taking into account the fact that roughly 90% of everything being written is for small ensemble of not more than 10 players. Why? The short and simple of it is expense; it’s very expensive to mount a new symphony of the grandeur of a Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”–so expensive in fact that I doubt it could be done in today’s era of budgetary cuts to orchestras, even if the symphony were written by an established composer.
That’s on the one hand. On the other is what I alluded to earlier–that a group of very powerful and influential foundations, boards of directors of orchestras, musicians, etc absolutely do not want any music they premiere to smack an iota of Romanticism or sentimentality or melody.
So a budding composer has two paths before him/her. One to the atonal world, the other to the tonal. If a composer is smart they’ll go for the former to keep this powerful lobby happy. If they choose the latter they have signed their death warrant as a composer. There’s no hope they will ever succeed in their endeavors. Proof? Show me a composer today who writes neo-Romantically like Rachmaninoff and is successful.
So if I may continue my metaphor of gambling here’s how a typical scenario plays out. A gambler goes to Las Vegas (or “Lost Wages” as they not-so-affectionately call it). He can play for high stakes on the roulette wheel and bet 0/00 and walk home wearing a wine barrel. Or he can bet red/black and if he can stay consistent walk away with a few bucks in his pocket. If the reader is not following me let me spell it out. The red/black play is the composer who chooses to follow the herd and tread the territory already being tread by thousands of other post-modern composers at this very moment. The 0/00 player is the one who says, “Enough of this formless, melody-less, non-tonality. I’m going to write something I think the people want to hear, not what the establishment wants me to write!”
But composers take his path at their peril. The haute couture will stop at nothing to stop this composer from ever achieving anything remotely resembling success. Remember the golden rule: NO MELODY; FORWARD, NOT BACKWARD!
Which finally leads me to myself after a long-winded introduction:
I wrote two piano concertos in 2011 and 2013 to fulfill a promise I made to myself as a young piano student that I would write a piano concerto and then premiere it much in the same way Rachmaninoff did with his 2nd, my intention being to launch a career as a composer, pianist, & conductor. Well, fate had other plans—a severe finger injury grounded me as a pianist at 19 and I never wrote that concerto. Instead, I entered the business world for number of years. The dream eventually faded, though it apparently had been lying dormant somewhere underneath my psyche in the intervening decades. In the meantime, to keep my music skills alive and because I enjoyed it immensely I read orchestral scores as leisure reading–analyzing how great composers achieved the sounds they were after; the different combinations of instruments they used. Then one day a few years ago an innocuous tune just popped into my mind. The old dream bubbling beneath the surface of my consciousness suddenly surfaced and I finally committed myself to writing that piano concerto, which became the No.1 in F# Minor Opus 1. Although the reception was enthusiastic I later came to realize that my First Concerto was not the concerto I had always wanted to write. The Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor Opus 2 is that concerto.
It is unabashedly romantic. It has melody. And it commits the greatest sin of all, it looks backward, not forward–to that great tradition of the late 19th century when form and melody meant something and didn’t provoke an explosion of laughter or bitter derision. Which is why the music industry will make sure it languishes. Whether or not it’s any good is irrelevant. The point is it’s carrying the classical music world in a direction the industry doesn’t want the classical music world to go.
Many listeners have been very kind to me. Here are some of the comments they have left on my various videos of the concerto. Note I didn’t solicit these nor did I make any up. I can verify every last comment as authentic:
“…the [main] theme sounds absolutely epic. I think this almost reaches the level of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2 ”
“…this equals if not beats the Saint-Saëns G-Minor Piano Concerto.”
“…probably one of the best “romantic” piano concertos of the XXIst century…”
” I was blown away by your piano concerto. The composition is brilliant! ”
” This is so amazing I only realized my jaw had dropped five minutes after the concerto started. ”
” I love the orchestration and the virtuosic piano passages. +5 ”
” Beautiful harmonies…The overall energy of the [last] movement is fantastic!”
” I was so enthralled by the opening movement that I just listened to the whole piece at once. ”
” A masterpiece. ”
” OMG!!! did you compose this??! It completely amazed me from the first seconds. It’s like a Rachmaninoff concerto, but it’s still your style, your creation. I loved it. Thank you”
” I could listen to it 100 times.”
“…this sounds simply brilliant. ”
“…I’m just amazed! Beautiful sir! well done! ”
“…let me thank you for this piece. ”
” I have to say I love your piano concerto!”
” A masterpiece! – beautiful work!”
” It’s a great concerto. BRAVOOOOOOOOOOO!!! ”
” Beautiful!! Bravissimo!! ”
” Your concerto is awesome!! ”
” This is really awesome! ”
” Wow!! Just Wow!! Two thumbs up!! ”
“…let me thank you for this piece. ”
Dr. Darrel Ray, a noted psychologist and author wrote me this note. I have his permission to quote it:
Joe, I am a big lover of Rachmaninoff as well. I just bought and listened to your concerto THREE TIMES in one sitting. That is what I do for a Rach #3 or #2. I don’t even do that for Grieg, Beethoven or Saint-Sans. I am just in awe of what you have done. I really hope you get a premier. As an author of 4 books I know how difficult it is to get people to pay attention to your work when you have no visibility in a particular field. I have done it twice, successfully, but it took a lot of perseverance. You have a wonderful piece that sure got my attention. I have posted my comments on Facebook and everywhere else I can. I want my classical music friends to hear this. I have no connections in the music world, but feel free to use my comments as a very well educated listener and consumer of classical music. I wish you all the best and hope when you get that premier, I will be in a position to come and hear it. Please put me on any mailing list you may have XXXX@XXXXXX. By the way I found your piece while listening and watching the Rach #2 on Youtube with Anna Fedrova. Your comments and reference to your own work got me curious. I thought to myself, “This guy has a lot of chutzpah, comparing himself to Rachmaninoff, he is either a total lunatic or has something I should at least listen to.” I am a psychologist, I doubt if you are a lunatic! but you are sure a hell of a composer.
Dr. Darrel Ray
Publically he wrote on Soundcloud:
Darrel Ray says at 7:34:
I am astounded at this piece. I only wish it could be performed by a major orchestra and pianist. I love Rachmaninoff, but Joe Townley meets him head on with this piece. Most of my life, I have wondered, “Where are the Mozarts, Beethovens, Rachmaninoff’s? They can’t all be writing Rock music and Broadway shows. I know they are out there, but in the clash of music cultures, romantic and classical has been lost. This concerto is among the best. I hope it finds its way in to the repetoire. It is just too good. It deserves to stand by the Rach 2.
So it appears to me there’s something of a market out there for this kind of music. Sadly, it will get no support or encouragement from the bigwigs at the top. And I’ve resigned myself to the fact my concerto will never have that grand premiere with Lang Lang at the keyboard and Gustav Dudamel at the helm of the Los Angeles Phil. That’s life. But I do hope that more people like Dr. Ray speak up and shout, “Enough is enough! We want something with melody. We want a composer who writes something that touches our hearts and moves us to tears.” I am not that composer, I have to admit. But I hope my concerto maybe is a catalyst that encourages another composer with real talent, even genius to take that latter path I spoke of earlier. In the end I think if enough people with influence spoke up the music Bourgeoisie would be forced to listen.
Here’s is my concerto. Judge for yourselves. If it deserves scorn definitely deliver it. But if you find yourself liking it kindly leave a comment and share on your favorite social media outlet:
Video with complete orchestra score (lower-quality audio due to screen capture degeneration)