Are there red states and blue states for classical music? We thought, sure, there's most likely more classical events on the blue coasts than in the red flyover states. But Anne Midgette, in the Washington Post, draws a different line: red states who love "the mainstream canon: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and all the byways and tributaries of that stream," and blue state who feel that "what’s being done in new music is more vital and alive than a constant diet of works one and two and three centuries old, wonderful as those pieces are." If so, this week puts the San Francisco Symphony decidedly in the blue state camp. Shocker, we know. We welcome, starting tomorrow, the British composer George Benjamin as the second Phyllis C. Wattis Composer-in-Residence Program inaugurated last year by Sofia Gubaidulina.
The formula is simple: select a live composer, this year, George Benjamin. Invite him to spend a couple weeks, play a large sample of his work, orchestral pieces and chamber music, and have him interact with audiences, and music students. And he chatted with us as well (and others).
We knew he had been influenced by Fantasia as a child. Then he studied at the Conservatoire in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and then at IRCAM with Pierre Boulez. If anything transcends red/blue divides, it's Disney cartoons. Boulez: not so much. Benjamin has been to San Francisco before, where he directed the Wet Ink new music festival in 1992. He answers our questions below.