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What Do We Make of Bach?


Product Description

Internationally-acclaimed composer John Harbison's lifelong absorption in the music of J.S. Bach has been a touchstone in all of his work: as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and scholar.   What Do We Make of Bach? collects for the first time many of Harbison's writings on Bach, and is intended as a stand-alone companion to his simultaneously-composed organ symphony of the same title (2018), which together summarize a lifetime preoccupation.  In many ways the book is an extended comment on the musical work, sharing with it a relationship to Bach's music that is both obvious and oblique.  The volume consists of portraits (encounters with individuals revolving around Bach's work), essays (experiences with institutions in which Bach was at the core, together with some thoughts about where Bach's music could take us, now), and program notes (from many written over the last sixty years, a few chosen to light upon the aesthetic and social issues the author finds most essential today).  Through the lens of Bach, this fascinating collection gives us a memoir of Harbison's evolution as composer and performer, and offers a deeply personal history. The depth of Harbison's knowledge pervades the book, and offers a way to begin to absorb Bach's work as a living, breathing model for our musical and artistic selves, both privately and in community.  Written in the light of half a century of studying and performing Bach, Harbison's book - part memoir, part composerly meditation - offers valuable, eloquent insights into the journey of an essential American composer.

About the author

Composer John Harbison is among America's most distinguished artistic figures. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize, Harbison has composed music for most of America's premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. His catalog includes three operas, six symphonies, twelve concerti, a ballet, six string quartets, numerous song cycles and chamber works, and a large body of sacred music that includes cantatas, motets, and the orchestral-choral works Four PsalmsRequiem and Abraham.  His music is widely recorded on leading labels.

First performances in the 2018-19 season include the monodrama If (for Boston Musica Viva, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), the organ symphony What Do We Make of Bach, for a consortium anchored by the Minnesota Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony, together with a companion volume of essays on Bach, and the Viola Sonata, commissioned by a private donor as a consortium of first performances. Last year Semperoper Dresden revived its new production of Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby, after its European premiere there, and following performances in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Aspen, Boston, and Tanglewood. 

Harbison has been composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Academy in Rome, and numerous festivals. He received degrees from Harvard and Princeton before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is currently Institute Professor. For many summers since 1984 he taught composition at Tanglewood, serving as head of the composition program there from 2005-2015, often also directing its Festival of Contemporary Music. With Rose Mary Harbison, the inspiration for many of his violin works, he has been co-Artistic Director of the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival since it’s founding in 1989.  He continues as principal guest conductor at Emmanuel Music (where for three years he served as Acting Artistic Director). An accomplished jazz pianist, Harbison founded MITs Vocal Jazz Ensemble in 2010, for which he served as coach and arranger, and he is pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers (SIN).  In these roles he is adding to his large catalogue of pop-songs and jazz arrangements.

Harbison was President of the Copland Fund for fifteen years, and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome.  He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a Trustee of the Bogliasco Foundation. His music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.  

Other Details

John Harbison
Sarah Schaffer
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