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Gregory Wiest Interview

Posted on 09 January 2006. © Copyright 2004-2021 Composition:Today

C:T talks to tenor Gregory Wiest, who collects and performs programs of modern American and English songs.

Tell us something about your background.

I was raised in Laurel, Delaware, USA. I studied at Peabody in Baltimore and Curtis in Philadelphia. I came over to Germany on a DAAD grant in 1977. After my grant ran out, I jobbed around for some eleven years, which meant singing early music, oratorios, chamber operas, operas, chorus work and even dinner theater, before taking my current, cushy opera chorus job.

How did you first get interested in contemporary music?

Contemporary music was at first just part of making a living, since I can count and pick pitches out of confusion. I didn’t start actively looking into it on my own until after an experience I had one day
during a listening break at the Bavarian Radio where I was doing a chorus job. We were recording some piece which was being done just so the BR would have it in its archives, and which would only be
broadcast some time in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t understand why they were willing to put so much effort into a piece of music, which few people would hear. Reminding myself that everyone
complains about modern music but few people do anything about it, I decided that I would try to find modern music which at least I wanted to hear.

On top of that, making a living with standard repertory at some point becomes boring. I find it refreshing and exciting to get to know what is going on in the real contemporary music world.

Your website mentions bad experiences in performing

My perspective is influenced by the state of subsidized music over here, which despite cuts is still amazing. Modern
music is done to fill out a certain percentage of an orchestra’s or a theater’s budget. Whether or not anyone wants to hear it is unimportant. That means that composers can write basically anything they want to without having to worry about ever being accepted by anyone beyond the elite group of people who have to fill their quotas of contemporary music.

Peter Jona Korn once described those elites as being desciples of Theodor Adorno, saying, that their narrow definition of what *modern* is, left no room for music not aimed at ears educated in dissonance.

As a singer, I see the justification for my work, even when singing the works of dead composers, in the number of people who come to listen. When the Gärtnerplatz Theater, for instance, spends months working on a piece that is then performed only 7 times to a very small audience, then I think something is wrong.

I can only explain the problem this way; If a society spends all of its time and money polishing the monuments of its great-great grandfathers and ignores its own children, then it is no wonder that those children write music which no one wants to hear.

Tell us about your current call for pieces.

I have gotten into the habit of putting out a call for scores every two years. This one is just for any combination of tenor, piano and double bass.

My idea with programing works with double bass comes from a work I once did by Arthur Gottschalk. His *Beat* for tenor, piano and double bass combined jazz with classical modern sounds in a way which fascinated me.

I know of works for tenor a cappella only from William Vollinger and Joelle Wallach. It is a challenge to interpret music for solo voice.

Songs for tenor and piano are just fun, especially when working with Nicole Winter, who can play anything and whose accompaniment simply sings along.

The works I choose will be performed the beginning of 2007 in Munich.

What are your plans for the future?

I have no plans. Every program I put on is, of course, my last one, because it is not worth the effort. But so long as I don’t hear anyone doing the music I want to hear, I will have to sing it myself.

How can people find out more about you?

My websites in English in German in French

contain all the information I have available about my projects.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2021

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