No Compromise: Richard Einhorn, Composer

14 05 2012

Richard Einhorn, award-winning composer, wrote the cover feature for the May/June 2012 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America. In his article, Einhorn writes about his sudden hearing loss and how, with his clever uses of existing technology, he continues to work and live well with hearing loss. For the full article, click on this link: Richard Einhorn

Learn more about Richard Einhorn on his website here and the fascinating details about how Voices of Light came to fruition here. To learn more about Joan of Arc, view his program notes here.

I found it especially moving that Einhorn recorded the church bells ringing in Joan’s birthplace and included them in the production. In his program notes, he writes: Just prior to writing Voices of Light, I traveled to France to visit some of the important Joan of Arc historical sites. I went to Orleans where she won her first battle and also to Rouen, where I was deeply moved by the ruins of the castles where Joan was held and the cross erected at the site of her martyrdom. I also traveled to the little village of Domremy, Joan’s birthplace in the southeast, where her house and church, much restored, still stand. I took along a portable DAT recorder and recorded the sound of the Domremy church bell and later incorporated it into my score. I felt that Joan, who so loved church bells, whose voices seemed to speak to her whenever they were ringing, would appreciate the effort.

Excerpted from his website: 

Einhorn has written opera, orchestral and chamber music, song cycles, film music, and dance scores. Among his many projects is the wildly popular Red Angels for New York City Ballet, set to Einhorn’s music with choreography by Ulysses Dove, which had its television premiere on Live From Lincoln Center (PBS) in May of 2002. His film credits include the Academy Award-winning documentary short, Educating Peter (HBO) and Arthur Penn’s thriller Dead of Winter (MGM), starring Mary Steenbugen; and Fire-Eater directed by Pirjo Honkasalo, for which Einhorn won the Jussi (Finnish Academy Award) for Best Musical Score.

Born in 1952, Richard Einhorn graduated summa cum laude in music from Columbia University. Before turning his attention exclusively to composition, Einhorn worked as a record producer for such artists as Meredith Monk and The New York Philharmonic. His production of the Bach Cello Suites with Yo-Yo Ma won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance.

Recent works include The Spires, The City, The Field, a 9/11 memorial premiered by the Albany Symphony. A Carnival of Miracles, a piece written for Anonymous 4, premiered to a sold-out crowd at New Sounds Live and broadcasted live over WNYC-FM. My Many Colored Days is an orchestral commission from the Minnesota Orchestra. He lives in New York City with his wife Amy Singer and their daughter Miranda.

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I had the honor and pleasure of photographing Richard for Hearing Loss Magazine (HLM) in March. Barbara Kelley (HLM’s editor-in-chief) and I met up with him at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. After a great photo session, we dropped Richard off at his hotel and picked him up later to take him to the Meyerhoff, where his work, Voices of Light, was being performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with Marin Alsop conducting. Einhorn composed the piece in 1994, inspired by the 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Live performances accompany a screening of the film. The libretto is based on excerpts from a variety of ancient writings, most of it from Medieval female mystics, and scored for a small orchestra, chorus and soloists. For me, the performance was a haunting, incredibly moving and very profound visual and aural experience. To get a feel for the combination of this powerful film and Einhorn’s remarkable composition, view the 10-minute video segment below. The film is captioned in both French and English.

Barbara interviewed Richard for a companion piece to his article. This interview is included in its entirety below.


BEHIND THE SCENES: Composer Richard Einhorn and Voices of Light

by Barbara Kelley

Richard Einhorn’s acclaimed Voices of Light has been called “a great masterpiece of contemporary music” and “a work of meticulous genius.” Voices of Light is an oratorio set to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Voices of Light has been performed more than 200 times by major orchestras all over the world, including two recent performances with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop conducting.

Einhorn, who has composed many film scores and concert works, had been interested in writing a large work on a religious subject. In 1988, he finally discovered what he would do. As he wrote in the liner notes for the Sony Classical recording of Voices of Light, “Imagine walking down an ordinary street in an ordinary city on an ordinary day. You turn the corner and suddenly without warning, you find yourself staring at the Taj Mahal. It was with that same sense of utter amazement and wonder that I watched Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc for the first time.

“That was back in January 1988. I was idly poking around the film archives of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, looking at short avant-garde films, when I happened across a still from Joan in the silent film catalog. …some 81 minutes later, I walked out of the screening room shattered, having unexpectedly seen one of the most extraordinary works of art that I know.”

The film is lauded as one of the top ten films of all time. Richard’s original score took six years to put together. He says about Voices, “[It] explores the patchwork of emotions and thoughts that get stitched together into the notion of a female hero.”

Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, said, “I don’t think anyone will be able to leave this performance unaffected.” Right: Richard Einhorn rehearses with soloists at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore; from left: Stephen Campbell, Phoenix, AZ; Rachel Grider, Modesto, CA; and Nola Richardson, Sydney, Australia

Another oratorio by Einhorn, The Origin, recently received audience and critical acclaim for its European premiere in Bremen, Germany. Richard also devotes his time to advocacy for people with hearing loss and has been featured in The New York Times and elsewhere. Read The New York Times article about Richard, “A Hearing Aid That Cuts Out All the Clatter,” by John Tierney at http://bit.ly/EinhornNYTimes

A Hearing Loop Installed for Voices of Light Performance
On March 2 this year, Einhorn’s Voices of Light was performed at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This was a special event because Richard was able to hear his own composition. Thanks to Ampetronic and their U.S. distributor, Fred Palm of AssistiveAudio, Inc., as well as the Meyerhoff, a hearing loop was installed in the concert hall for the weekend performances.

Audience members with hearing loss using cochlear implants or telecoil-equipped hearing aids were able to enjoy the performance by accessing sound transmitted electromagnetically by a hearing loop—a wire that circles the room and is connected to the sound system.

After the performance, Barbara Kelley, editor-in-chief of Hearing Loss Magazine, interviewed Richard to learn more about his career.

You were 15 when you began composing. Did you play a musical instrument? I first learned to compose entirely on my own, by experimenting with tape recorders and improvising. I played drums in a rock band when I was a kid, but quickly became interested in writing my own music. I was involved with an avant-garde multimedia ensemble in high school and, as an experiment, wrote a piece for some friends of mine who were modern dancers. The moment I saw my friends dance to my music I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life except compose.

Above: Barbara Kelley, Richard Einhorn and Brenda Battat (Executive Director of Hearing Loss Association of America) after the performance of Voices of Light at the Meyerhoff 

After a year or so, I realized I needed to study formally and I went to Columbia University where I majored in music, studying ultimately with electronic music pioneer Vladimir Ussachevsky and opera composer Jack Beeson. I graduated in 1975 summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, then worked as a record producer for Columbia Masterworks for five years, before pursuing composition full time.

Do you come from a musical family? Nobody in my immediate family is musical. However, my great-aunt Hattie was a concert pianist in the early 20th century. My grandfather was an inventor and worked in East Orange, New Jersey when Thomas Edison was in West Orange. Somewhere in the family, there is correspondence between them! Probably, I got my interest in technology from my grandfather and my musicality from my great-great grandparents.

How did you know you had this aptitude at a young age? I don’t know if I have any aptitude. I have a lot of interest in composing music and I have a lot of ideas. I am also extremely persistent and won’t let go. I work very hard at composing but it’s enjoyable work and I love it. I am thrilled that other people often seem to enjoy it as much as I enjoy composing it.

What inspires you? Sound inspires me the most of all. I live for sound and my primary experience of the world, especially the world of emotions, is through sound, not sight or another sense. I am also inspired by great stories, such as Joan of Arc’s and Charles Darwin’s. I find them both amazing human beings in many different ways.

What projects are you working on now? I have a new piece for Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, a collaboration with the great filmmaker Bill Morrison. It will be an interactive piece called Shooting Gallery, with laser beams, six projectors and an hour of interactive music. I haven’t done anything like it since high school and I’m very excited!

I’m also writing a new piece for dance for two great musicians I’ve worked with quite a bit, violinist Mary Rowell and pianist Judith Gordon. The work will premiere in fall 2013. Further off is a large piece for orchestra and film, again with Bill Morrison. All I can say at the moment about it is that Bill, the conductor, the orchestra, and I are extremely excited about it.

Are there any projects you would like to work on? What is your dream project? I am a dramatic and lyrical composer. I’ve lived many of my dreams. I always wanted to work with Bill Morrison, and already have on the Darwin piece, The Origin. I have always wanted to work on an opera, and it looks like I will. I’ve composed scores for some truly wonderful movies and I’ve worked with some of my favorite musicians—and some of my favorite people.

I feel very lucky to have been able to do so and doubly lucky that my family has fully understood that this is an unusual life, but in many ways a rewarding one for all of us. I want to continue to compose the best music I can for the best musicians I can, for the most exciting projects I can find, and collaborate with artists from other disciplines whom I admire. I’ve met some amazing people along the way, and that has made the hard work and long hours it takes to compose all the more worthwhile!

Special thanks to the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for permitting us to take photographs of Richard Einhorn in the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

All photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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Interview with William Biggers—The Evolution of an Artist

21 05 2011

A few years ago, Bill Biggers contacted me through my blog, requesting permission to use a floral photograph as inspiration for a painting. After visiting his art websites, I wrote back and told him that I would be honored for him to paint from one of my photos. We kept in touch via e-mail and two years ago we met in person in Greenville, S.C. I was visiting my friend Carmen, who had moved to nearby Greer a few years earlier. Carmen and I met him at his home, where he gave us a tour of his studio and work, followed by a leisurely lunch in downtown Greenville.

Bill is truly a Renaissance man—skilled in so many artistic disciplines. While he is a very talented illustrator, painter, and stained glass artist, I especially liked his pottery. I collect Raku and he had some lovely pieces in his home, all created during his incarnation as a professional potter in his studio, Mountain Pond Pottery, at Lake Lanier and Lake Nottley. I felt an immediate kinship with him because like me, he loves acquiring and applying new creative skills. Graphic design, painting, drawing, printmaking, marketing, writing, pottery, stained glass painting—he does them all and he does them well.

Born in Atlanta, GA, Bill now lives in Greenville, S.C., where he creates portrait paintings and drawings on commission. I found his diverse career fascinating and he graciously agreed to be interviewed and share his career and works with my readers.

When did you first discover your creative talents?
I began drawing and painting immediately after eye surgery at age three. I could see individual leaves on trees, birds, distance and most important—single, not double images. That progressed to an impromptu crayon and paint mural on the lengthy hallway to my bedroom. Needless to say, at first Mom was upset but fell into gales of laughter.

Where did you study art?
I continued drawing and painting through high school. I had no formal training until my first classes at Georgia State University, where I majored in visual arts. I studied under the remarkable and late Jim Sitton. Additionally, I took painting courses under the late Joseph Perrin, printmaking under Jim McLean (Editor’s note: McLean retired in 1994 and has since illustrated 11 books, most of them with well-known language guru and punmeister, Richard Lederer), and pottery under a man named Potter.

Did you inherit your artistic talents from your parents?
Short answer—maybe. Late in life my mother surprised us all with a seemingly sudden and remarkable interest and talent in multiple-layer painting and firing on porcelain, which shares some characteristics with stained glass painting. Her work was beautiful.

My father, Bill Sr., was head of the Meteorology Department for Eastern Airlines, and in WWII he taught American and British pilots weather and navigation. After his retirement, photography became his hobby and lasted until he lost vision. My sister, Sydney, is a highly creative interior designer and her daughter, Lea, is a gifted jewelry designer.

What other creative mediums have you worked in?
First and foremost—drawing and painting in all painting mediums—from watercolor to oil, acrylic to tempera. That’s the most consistent media—especially watercolor—which is the most ancient and long-lasting medium. I’ve enjoyed printmaking—especially old techniques of etching and woodblock printing. I’m still an enthusiastic stained glass fan, but had to close my shop due to illness. The physicality was too demanding and I couldn’t do any work for over two years. Now I occasionally work primarily in watercolor.

Tell us about the evolution of your career.
I worked in the graphic design field for 17 years, specializing in visual tools to aid in teaching, illustration, printing, promotional and marketing materials, writing and heading an award-winning design team of artists and photographers. During my GSU tenure, I completely designed the then new Educational Media facility from the ground up with the universities chief architect. The facility design included plans for HAVAC, electrical, space usage, and a complete layout for departments of Graphics/Photography, Film/Video, Distribution, Audio and supportive staff.

I left GSU to develop award-winning consumer catalogs for an importer. Concurrently and five years prior, I developed Mountain Pond Pottery, creating one-of-a-kind and limited edition raku and stoneware. I liked raku because it’s an art with such an exciting process. (The creative process of Raku as practiced today has evolved from methods developed in Japan in the sixteenth century. A Korean tile maker’s hand-pinched tea ceremony bowls so impressed the Japanese emperor that he named the tile maker, Raku, meaning pleasure. The Raku family practices pottery to this day. Westerners have built on that simple and elegant approach by making a wide variety of forms and formulating more distinctive color glazes. After forming, bisque firing then glazing, the piece is thrust into a preheated red-hot kiln at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time of glaze maturity, when the piece is close to transparent red, the piece is lifted out of the kiln with tongs and/or gloves, then plunged into a container of sawdust, straw, or a combustible material like oil rags. The piece is tightly covered and sealed to allow carbons released from the combustibles to penetrate the glaze and clay body which produces the characteristic black clay body and individual and surprisingly unpredictable glaze results now characteristic of Raku—each finished piece is scrubbed when cooled to remove soot, and bears the distinctive marks of tongs or gloves adding character to the form.)

After working with the importer, I was Resident Potter at the John C. Campbell Folk School, while also heading the marketing department there. I also taught and authored a history of the Brass Town Carvers, a then 60+ year old program at JCCS patterned after Winter Work in carving by Danish farmers.

After JC Campbell I traveled west to California to work at the former Pocket Ranch Institute and the Star Foundation. High in the mountains above the vineyards surrounding Geyserville, I produced marketing materials and a motivational video. I was also on the management team for the large 2,000 acre retreat and psychotherapeutic facility.

After several years I returned to the southeast and soon worked as Operations Director and Music Personnel Manager for the Greenville Symphony, in Greenville, S.C. Four years later I had to get back into art and left the Symphony. I took some time off and subsequently returned to my first love—the visual arts. I took a short drive to Tryon, N.C. and came upon a glass studio—Tryon Decorative Glass—owned by stained glass artist Michael Kitchen. We hit it off discussing art and art glass. I was amazed with his work.

Under Kitchen’s instruction, I learned the art of glass painting with multiple layers—painting with ground glass mixed with bonding agents, which remain on the painted glass surface long enough to place in kiln. This assured the ground glass would stay on the painted glass through handling and firing; the pieces were then fired in special glass kilns. I also learned window design and fabrication with Kitchen. At that time he was contracted to create windows for many United House Of Prayer cathedrals and small churches throughout the East and Midwest. These projects were more than inspiring. Kitchen now works with Glass Works Stained Glass Studio in Charlotte, N.C.

Two years later, in January 1998, I ventured out on my own to create Biggers Glass Painting & Stained Glass Design, with glass studio customers throughout the U.S. Throughout my career incarnations, I continued to create portraits, drawings, and products for communications, business, crafts and the arts—my specialty and passion remains portraits. (View Bill’s stained glass painting and design portfolio here.)

Do you draw every day? What is your favorite medium? 
Yes, if you include doodling. Usually it is just a couple of minutes of sketching per day because my stamina is greatly reduced. When I feel capable, I do full drawings and paintings in acrylics and primarily watercolor.

My favorite medium is watercolor—the oldest painting medium. Chemically, watercolors are pigments made from ground minerals and dyed inert powder, held together generally with gum arabic made from the acacia tree. Watercolors capture luminosity and offer a range equal to and often exceeding that of other mediums. I’ve devoted a page to the history of watercolor here on my website.

On average, how long does it take to complete a work?
The time to create a work varies enormously. Paintings take longer than drawings. Other major factors include the amount of detail and style, number of subjects and size. The time is quite variable, especially since I can only paint for short durations.

Can you explain the process on a portrait commission from start to finish? Which commissions do you enjoy the most?
It can vary by medium—oils and acrylic paintings take longer—yet a watercolor can easily be as time-consuming. First comes the initial contact and commission. I ask many questions of my client to get as much verbal information as possible to determine their needs and hopes. A portrait is special to people and I like to give them that opportunity to co-create in the beginning. Ideally I like to work on a thumbnail sketch and feature detail of a live model, and take photographs of the desired position, and from all angles. From there, I take photos of the subject and retire to my studio to begin working. For out-of-town commissions, I rely entirely on photos—requesting not only the preferred sitting, but also as many photos as possible of the subject to get a more complete feeling for the portrait.

It is hard to distinguish which commissions I like most as “I’ve never met a commission I didn’t like!” I like portraits of men, women, children and pets… the rare and occasional landscape or still life… and respect for the nuances of watercolor seem to outweigh any other medium.

How would you describe your illustration/painting style?
I “play” in every style I’m aware of, but for commissions I generally lean heavily toward “new realism,” with intense detail—at least as much detail as I can muster.

What are your influences? What artists inspire you?
Truthfully, that is the most difficult question. As a child I was amazed by artists like Norman Rockwell, Leger, Wyatt—the work of 1950s realists that I saw in magazines and in museums and galleries. As I matured, the love for these artists continued, but a mountain of other artists flooded in—from Expressionists to Impressionists, late 19th century realists to cubists, Fauves—almost every style and within those styles, many artists. 

My likes increased exponentially—I am a great lover of Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. My tastes jump back to the great 15th century European painters and sculptors. Later came appreciation for watercolor’s resurgence in the 2oth century and on to artists like Dali and other surrealists, and Picasso to Braque. Additionally, Motherwell, Frankenthaler, Pollock and just about every major artist known on the Abstract Expressionist scene—their creativity exploded into my artistic consciousness. Then there are conceptual artists like Christo and Oldenburg. A few of my favorites are the minimalists.

I have to mention the giants in stained glass design and painting from the 13th century to the 20th century—the late, great national treasure, Dick Millard. He was a friend, mentor and wild man spirit who died in March of this year. He is missed by his wife, Vicki, and literally thousands of fans worldwide.

My paintings don’t seem to reflect these many appreciations and love for visual diversity. However, I do think that these various movements expanded awareness and somehow enriched my experience as an artist. Additionally, living and working in California, Arizona, and the southeast has really influenced my work. (Above: Bill created this stained glass painting, “Prayer for Nation & The World,” to honor the 9/11 victims.)

How do you keep your work fresh and how did you come to formulate your style? Does it progress naturally? What is your creative motivation?
In a word—I try, but sometimes fail. I work at seeing things as they are in the moment. As to style, it seems to have matured to some extent. Opening my eyes each morning and scanning the room, I’m motivated and inspired by everything that surrounds me—shape, form, details and color—as much as my awareness can conceive. That wasn’t always a good characteristic—I was often described as a daydreamer in my primary school days. Catching up was swift and exciting at the college level.

What are you working on at present?
I’ve spent several months sketching and thinking about a personal project—something challenging—a young lady, hand draped over the back of a wooden chair, heavily lit from one side, only slight bounce of light on deeply shadowed part of face and form.

In the last couple of months I have worked on two caricature pieces for a niece—one for a mud run benefit that eventually was transferred to their team’s T-shirts. Another project was a caricature of her friend and co-worker’s Bon Voyage party. An occasional simple piece for a family member or friend keeps the cobwebs away. My niece suggested I render the Markley Chapel at Greenville’s 200-year-old Christ Church (right). The original artwork was sold at a silent auction to benefit the church’s school. Additionally, I made a few Giclée prints from the image, as well as notecard packages.

I noticed you have wide range of artwork on the walls in your home. Whose works do you admire and collect?
First, Jim Sitton, who was one of my university professors. He was a master of giant drawings with details, scratches and usually indistinguishable tiny forms of near microscopic size covering an entire piece. I also have a photolithograph by Jim McLean, one of the printing instructors at GSU. I was fortunate to visit China in late 1994 and acquired two contemporary Chinese paintings, one of the “Venice Of China” (an intaglio print), and a colorful primitive interior with several people. Both are outstanding and unfortunately, I do not know the artists. The three week+ trip expanded awareness and amazement of my favorite subject—other people. Photo © Bill Biggers

There are other works—photography by friends, a large print from another. My favorite pieces, which I would love to possess, are Dick Millard’s glass paintings and panels.

Tell me about your work with the Greenville Symphony.
After three interviews over three months, I was awarded the position of both Music Personnel Director and Operations Director. I managed the Symphony’s budget, attended all rehearsals and performances, contracted musicians and coordinated blind auditions. I supervised the Symphony’s music librarian and was responsible to the Music Director-conductor, David Pollitt. I suppose I enjoyed the rehearsals the most—seeing a piece be interpreted, then evolve into a performance. I also contracted numerous guest artist performers until the last few months there. In late 1994 Maestro Pollitt was offered a cultural conducting exchange with the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony. Three people were going and a benefactor paid to have me included. In all, I worked no more than three partial days followed by at least 10 days of travel. We first explored Shanghai, then Beijing, then went north to the emperor’s tombs and the Great Wall. Initially, we landed in Hong Kong, but didn’t explore until our last two days in China. A strong memory was the enormous bird market, spanning alley after alley, with species of birds I’ve never seen before nor since. I also enjoyed the Jade Market in Hong Kong. Outside the tents were old Chinese men with cloths covering the ground and many ancient jade pieces. The harbor in Shanghai was incredibly scenic and beautiful. The Chinese food was remarkable, with little similarity to Chinese food in the U.S.

How does the word passion relate to an artist?
First, I think any work, field or endeavor should done with some passion and not always with the major goal of producing income. If you are good at something, you can be a success in many ways. The key is to find that thing—or things—that jets your juices and stirs your passion enough to make each day an adventure.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
That’s easy—a writer and a psychologist.

Describe yourself in three words.
Curious, listener, friend

My Favorite…
Words: Peace & tranquility
Colors: Yellow & blue
Foods: Fish & pizza
Music: Mozart, Lennon, Tyler
Authors: Michener & Dickens, plus a few contemporary authors
Actors: Anthony Hopkins & Javier Bardem
Movies: To Kill A Mockingbird & Schindler’s List

No interview would be complete without the requisite “you’re stranded on a deserted island” question—what five things must you have with you?
Books, music, My Spiritual Path writings, nail clippers, and several pairs of reading and distance glasses (two pair of bifocals)

(Editor’s note: Interesting—he didn’t even mention art supplies! My answer was always something like: cheese, chocolate (never mind how they’re going to be kept fresh), a horde of fine black sharpie markers, a stack of sketchpads, and a guitar for entertainment (I could finally teach myself to play—something I’ve wanted to do for years). Then the obvious question is—why do we not say, “a boat,” so we won’t be stranded any longer!?)

I will never forget: Any slight inkling, step or expansion of awareness, and those whom I’ve loved

I wish I could: No wishes—I like to be surprised.

What is one thing you most want people to remember about you?
I guess, “He lived for a time.”

To see more of Bill’s portrait work, visit www.PortraitsByBiggers.com.

To see more of his glass painting, visit www.BiggersGlassPainting.com.

Both websites were designed by Windy Airey of Windy’s Design Studio.

Bill can be reached at Bill@PortraitsByBiggers.com or WilliamBiggers@gmail.com.