Saturday, April 18, 2009

For Walter Zimmermann

The composer Walter Zimmermann has just turned 60.  For many younger composers — wayward North Americans (like myself) in particular — Walter has been an essential and nuturing presence.  I know of no other composer in this country who has, on the one hand, been so generous with their time and resources and, on the other, so uncompromising and impatient with any effort — whether his own, or that of a colleague — that was less than complete or lacked commitment to the essence or core of a musical idea.  In his own music, Walter has no fear of handling hard topics and his Lokale Musik project, in particular, showed a path out, if not a solution, to making a traditional music (and perhaps even the historically troubled landscape around that music) into something new and transcendent.  Walter is a fine composition teacher and has a special gift for stepping into a moribund scene and making it more lively with his enthusiasms and challenges.  In a country where most artists are content to roll along with the restrictions of institutions and habit, Walter has been a champion of self-reliance and has never been content to do things in the default fashion.  (One of my favorite examples was when he adjourned a scheduled "chalk talk" in Darmstadt for an outing to an rustic Inn on an Odenwald hilltop; he and the late Stefan Schaedler, as independent producers, were responsible for the last major Cage festival assembled with the composer's cooperation in Frankfurt, Anarchic Harmony, and, of course, Zimmermann's self-published anthology of interviews with experimental American composers, Desert Plants, was a decisive influence on many of us).   I am very lucky to call Walter a friend and mentor and my debts to him, both material and ideal, are immense.

(I recently made a small set of pieces facile, called Some Handywork, for piano with limited ambitus for Walter Zimmermann's 60th;  the Bransle above recalls our mutual delight in AGON and the music of social dances). 

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