Q&A with Tod Machover – “What role does Jewish identity play in your work?”

Here is question 2 from New Vilna Review Editor Daniel Levenson’s recent interview with composer Tod Machover:

NVR: During the event at the NCAC, the moderator, Professor Lloyd Schwartz, asked a question about the role that Jewish identity plays in the work you do, and specifically whether it figured into the creation of this new opera. You replied that you needed some time to think about that question, and so I would like to ask it again – do Jewish ideas, culture, history or identity play a role in your work as a composer and musician? Did they have any influence on the creation of “Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant”?

Baruch de Spinoza (Wikipedia)

TM: I grew up in a reform Jewish environment in the New York area. All four grandparents came from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, and there was a wide range of Jewish practice in that generation of the family, from devout orthodoxy to relative iconoclasm. I have always been drawn to the ethical nature of Judaism, and to its dynamic concern with understanding how best to live in the here and now. Such issues, and the struggle to maintain hope in the midst of impossible circumstances, are central to all my work. I have been less influenced by the ritual practices of Judaism, more by the intellectual and spiritual freedom and courage that Judaism seems to spawn, from the uncompromising philosophy of Maimonides and Spinoza, to the revolutionary brilliance of Einstein and Schoenberg, to the storytelling of Kafka and Buber and Babel, to the black comedy of Woody Allen and Leslie Epstein. Something about this combination of human warmth and crisp intellectualism feels particularly Jewish to me. These are qualities that I feel very close to and that are certainly found in Simon Powers and many of my other characters. Also, my primary musical impulse has always been melodic, partly because of growing up as a cellist, but probably even more from listening to my mother and grandmother sing unaccompanied Jewish songs, some quite ancient, that are some of my earliest, deepest and sweetest memories. I am not certain where these tunes pop up in my music, but I bet they are everywhere!

From the New Vilna Review: “Music, Technology and Immortality: an Interview with Composer and MIT Professor, Tod Machover”

Copyright 2011 The New Vilna Review. Republished here with the express permission of the publisher of the New Vilna Review.

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