Perspectives is an on ongoing series of interviews and check-ins with recipients of our Artist Research and Development Grant (ARDG). Today we speak with 2017 ARDG recipient Johanna Lundy of Tucson.
Johanna Lundy is the principal horn of the Tucson Symphony, a position she has held since 2006. She has performed extensively throughout the state, performing regularly with the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. In fall 2010, she was named one of Tucson’s 40 under 40 by the Arizona Daily Star. As a soloist and recitalist, Lundy has appeared with the Tucson Symphony, the Arizona Symphonic Winds, the Tucson Chamber Artists, the University of Arizona Guest Artist Series, the Sierra Vista Symphony and the St. Andrew’s Bach Society.
In January 2017, Lundy was awarded an Artist Research & Development Grant in support of an ambitious proposal to commission and record new pieces for solo horn and perform several coordinated outreach concerts across Arizona. The project contributes much-needed recordings to the brass world, including two brand new works by Arizona composers. The associated live performances invite new audiences into the world of contemporary classical music, presenting in unconventional spaces (bars, museums, movie theatres) and incorporating the work of visual artists.
Over the next week, Lundy will wrap up the current phase of the project with three performances in Tucson:
- Thurs, Aug 31: Art + Nature + Devotion – 7pm at MOCA Tucson (265 S. Church Ave). Premiere performance of the video art images with solo horn accompaniment. Click here for tickets.
- Sat, Sep 2: Sound and Images – 6pm at The Loft Cinema (3233 E. Speedway Blvd). This will be a shorter concert, around 45 minutes, with art images projected on a movie screen. $5 suggested donation; free for students and kids.
- Sun, Sep 3: St. Charles Anniversary Concert – 8pm at St. Charles Tavern (1632 S. 4th St). Lundy advises those interested in attending to “expect a raucous and unpredictable bar scene.” The event will include the visual projections and “other antics.” (21 and over only.)
What is it about the idea of creating and sharing new work that excites and motivates you?
There is a pattern in the classical music world, that people tend to be drawn to the older pieces and to comfort zone pieces. But what I’ve learned from being immersed in music for decades now is that it takes time to get to know a piece. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s from the classical era, or romantic, or contemporary; it just takes time.
So, I honestly think that there are pieces of quality from all eras. It’s more about giving people an opportunity to experience it in a way that they can start to take it in. I believe that there are many new pieces of great quality that speak to our time, that could add so much to people’s life experience, but we‘ve got to give them a chance to be heard in order to bring those into our lives.
[As performers] we have a habit of apologizing for new music, and what we really need to do is start changing that presentation, to welcome people into it and tell them, “this is going to be fun, it’s going to be different, you’re going to love it.”
One thing that’s interesting I’ve found is sometimes the people who are more open to this contemporary music are people who don’t know anything about classical, because they don’t have any preconceived ideas about what it should be. So, those are some of the people I’m hoping to reach.
When people hear the word classical, they think of something, but it’s such a narrow description of what music is out there. So, part of my goal with this project was to ask what can we do to get it out there, try to reach new people, and try to reach them with different types of music that they wouldn’t have expected, so they say, “Oh I didn’t know this is what classical was. This isn’t what I thought classical was about at all.”
What are some of the tactics you’re employing to create a more welcoming environment for people who would not typically listen to this kind of music?
The composers have been really involved, they’ve been at a lot of the performances, and I think when people get to meet them and see it’s a real person who made this music, that’s pretty powerful, and people can kind of have that artist connection like they feel with a singer songwriter.
Following the trends in popular music, people really like connecting with the artist. When you talk to people about the music that they really love, that means the most to them, they always start talking about people that are more unique: “I’ve been to their concert. I’ve seen them perform.” That means so much to people.
I’ve tried to present the music in different locations that are maybe more fun, or just different, or where we’re going to run across different people. So, I’ve done a concert in a brewery in Tucson, an art museum in Phoenix, we did a concert at a bar in Tucson, we’ll do concerts at the contemporary art museum, a movie theatre coming up. So, we’re really trying to make it varied and make it a comfortable environment with some other interesting elements to the space.
Can you talk a little about how you worked with the composers you commissioned to write pieces for this project?
I knew them both from the Tucson musical community and we worked on the pieces a little bit together. I brought my instrument and shared some pieces with them, some styles, some technique—obviously they’re aware of a lot of this stuff already, but getting to know the personal style of the player was something that they were both interested in. So, they tried to write pieces that they felt suited my skill set.
What’s really interesting is that even though they’re using the same instrumentation—the solo horn—they both carry their unique voice.
Were the composers comfortable writing for solo horn?
Solo brass instruments are certainly less common than piano or strings. Looking back over the last couple hundred years, the most solo music was written for piano or strings.
I should also clarify that people use solo to mean a variety of different things, it might mean that you have a more prominent part, but you still have an accompaniment. My project is mostly featuring pieces where I am literally the only performer, and that’s pretty unusual. There are a surprising number of pieces written for that instrumentation, but it’s a sound people aren’t typically familiar with.
The idea of these unaccompanied solo pieces is mostly a 20th century idea, as far as for wind instruments. There’s always been music for solo strings, like the cello suites or violin partitas by Bach, that’s some of the most famous solo unaccompanied repertoire, but for winds, it’s something that started in the last century.
Jay Vosk—he’s also a clarinet player–had already written another unaccompanied solo horn piece, so he was somewhat familiar with it.
And Dan Coleman had actually written an unaccompanied piece for trumpet within the last couple of years (and I think he’s actually going to make a whole suite of pieces for all of the brass quintet instruments, so each brass instrument—mine’s the second piece–will be based on the poetry of Walt Whitman.) I’d heard the piece he wrote, called “Liquid Prelude,” and it was amazing! Just really unique, really cool.
Describe the process of working with visual artists. Was that something you’d done before?
I think this is the first time. It’s been really fun, but it’s also been interesting to see the challenges in it.
Performance, music performance especially, I think, I’m used to it being really flexible. Even when you’re playing in the pit for the opera or a ballet, it’s all live. There’s a conductor who’s managing what’s going on on stage with what’s happening with the musicians. So, everything is flexible. If something weird happens on stage, you wait before you go on and play the next stuff. If people clap longer than you think, you wait.
With these pieces that we’re creating, the artists are basically making videos that I’m going to be playing along with. So, at some point we have to decide that this is how long the video is and I’m going to have to match it, and so it’s kind of rigid. That’s something I didn’t think about in advance. So, that’s really my challenge.It’s been wonderful working with the artists. What I told them all, initially, was, “I want you to make this your own, I want you to come up with you own ideas,” because I like the idea that there are multiple interpretations of any piece of music and people will hear it and experience it in different ways, and I think that those are all valid.
The one exception to that is a piece by Olivier Messiaen. For that piece—it’s from a larger piece called “From the Canyon to the Stars” and the solo horn movement is called “Interstellar Call,” and there’s a bit of a background on this piece: Messiaen was a very devout Catholic and the piece has very intense imagery of nature, of birds, and the sky as representing his Catholic faith. He travelled to Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon before he wrote the piece and was very moved by that scenery. He also put a lot of very specific details into the actual musical score.
For the visual piece that we’ve created for that composition, I wanted it to be as closely related to what he put into the score as possible. I see it as if we took the music and turned it into a visual representation, this is what it would be. So, that’s the one: I was hyper-controlling on that particular piece [laughs]. But, for all of the other ones, I really encouraged the artists to come up with their own ideas and they did and I think it’s going to be really varied and interesting because of that.
Have the artists’ interpretations shifted your own interpretation of any of the pieces? And does that have any impact on how you play it?
An interesting thing has happened already: Christine Rogers is the photographer who created a video piece for the piece “Sea Eagle,” and she took a really different approach with it than what I was imagining.
The final movement of that piece—it’s a quick piece with a lot of fast notes—and I always imagined it from the players standpoint it’s meant to be light, it’s flying, it’s zooming up and down. And her experience as a listener, especially as a non-musician, was that it was really intense, and maybe it wasn’t light, it was heavy.
A French horn is kind of like an elephant trying to do a dance, so the performers, we’re thinking, “I’m coming off as light as a bird,” but to the listener it’s like, “this is really intense!” So, it’s a really great reminder to me that what I think I’m communicating may not always be coming across, and people are just going to interpret things however is real to them, so we can be surprised by that. So, we’ll see how it turns out in performance, I’m still going to try to keep it as light as I can make it, but she was just really struck by the intensity and exposed nature of this challenging piece. And really, that’s the thing that we’re trying to hide the most as a performer, that this is really hard. We want everyone to think, “oh, this is really light and effortless.”
How has the project you proposed evolved over the past year?
It really has grown and evolved, it’s turned into something I never even would have imagined a year ago when I applied for the funding. I don’t think I would have ever pushed myself and gone as far as I have without this support behind me. It just made it this thing I had to do and I was going to do. It’s such a testament to what funding for the arts can do for our community. I mean, I’m going to have to count up later the number of concerts I’ve given, it’s a ridiculous number, this summer, and we’ve tried to make them as accessible as possible, either low-cost or free.
So the grant allowed you to think bigger, get a little more ambitious, take some creative risks you might not have otherwise?
Making a recording and releasing a CD is incredibly expensive. And as most people know, you don’t make a lot of money working as a musician, so coming up with the resources you need to do a project like that is almost impossible if you don’t have the help.
I think also, the artist collaborations would never have been possible without the funding. Because I knew the funding was going to cover the nuts and bolts of the recording, it allowed me to say, you know, “I’m getting these ideas of ways I want to wrap other elements into this project” and I finally decided, “you know what, I’m going to do this whether I have the funding for or not. I’m going to find a way to pay for it myself.” It’s that important to me, and I never would have been able to make that decision without the base support.
Where do you go next, after this round of performances?
I’d like to slow down a little bit—I’ve been working on the project nonstop for the past six months. I do have to change gears soon because the symphony season is beginning, so I’m going to change my focus to that. But, because of the time and effort that’s gone into this project, once it’s complete, I think it’s going to be something repeatable, so over the course of the next year, I’m going to continue to look for performance opportunities. I want to take it as many places as possible, because I believe it’s really worth sharing.