Insights: Alex Brusentsev on Our Experience


While it may not seem like much of a task—especially after composing—deciding on what to say about a piece, any piece, but especially one of my own creation, is exceptionally difficult because no matter what you say (or don’t), you’re influencing the listening experience and consequently defining the piece before a single note sounds. This is no small matter.

So what to say? Most program notes talk about the form, the themes, the history surrounding a piece. Though that can certainly be interesting, I think it ultimately does a disservice to anyone listening to a piece for the first time because it tempts them into a rather static mode of listening and interpreting. Even more insidious is the potential of such program notes to define how music should be and, by exclusion, how it shouldn’t be listened to—who’s  to say that just because a theme is the focus that the pure sound isn’t just as compelling or important? I really believe that there is no ‘correct’ way to listen and that no expert can say otherwise. At the same time, saying nothing leaves the listener either completely unprepared, prejudiced, or otherwise weighed down with previous experiences. So what to say? I think I’ll stick with some ‘facts’ and a humble request:


The Facts:

The piece is called If Winter and it is a setting of Thomas Ang’s poem of the same name. The text is delivered exactly as it appears in the poem with no words moved, changed, repeated, or omitted.

While quite free in many respects, there are structural elements that are quite rigid and (hopefully) readily identifiable.

Speaking of elements, there are quite a few for a piece that is only about four minutes long. Some change. Some stay the same. Sometimes it’s not the elements that change but the relationships between them.


The Request:

Don’t listen for the facts. At least don’t listen to the facts your first time; it’s not about them. Just listen. Listen and explore, as a child might, allowing each moment to just happen, then respond, intuitively, openly. Ooh that’s ugly! That’s kinda nice…and this bit makes me want to wiggle—I wish it would do that more! Don’t listen as a spectator, listen as a participant. When I handed over the music to The Hermes Experiment, it was no longer mine. When they play it for you, it’s no longer theirs. Each individual that listens to this piece, and any piece of live music, is engaging in a creative act: a composer’s idea, becomes the performer’s piece, which becomes the audience’s memory. Don’t listen as a spectator, listen as a participant: anticipate and react! My idea, becomes Hermes’s performance, which becomes your memory, and our experience. Let it be a diverse one.