Composers in Focus: Zosha Di Castri
Monday, November 16, 6:30 PM
Composer. Performer. Sculptor. Sound Artist.
Zosha Di Castri’s creative output embodies the interdisciplinary core of Contemporary Music today.
CMS welcomes Zosha Di Castri and offers audiences a rare opportunity to sit in on an intimate conversation between Zosha, violinist Kristin Lee and pianist Orion Weiss. This webinar-style presentation will include live, real-time conversations with Zosha as well as pre-recorded performances of her work Sprung Testament.
Get familiar with artist below.
Artist Profile by Musicologist David Gutkin
Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer and pianist living in New York. Her work, which has
been performed by leading ensembles on four continents, includes concert music, sound
installation, and collaborations with video artists, dancers, and writers. She is the Francis Goelet
Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University.
Di Castri’s music has always impressed me for its extreme timbral and microtonal nuance. She achieves this, in part, through performance indications at once precise and poetic. A characteristic directive, found in The Animal for Whom Other Animals Are Named (2013) for voices and electronics, reads: “on the threshold of sounding, wavering, with some whistle noise escaping.” At times Di Castri creates striking timbres through the use of unusual implements. Hunger (2018)—for orchestra, improvised drums, and silent film—begins with the exquisite sound of a percussionist spraying compressed air at the head of a timpani. But subtle as the sonic world of Di Castri’s works may be, they are never about sound in itself. The timbres she so carefully harnesses serve ends that are narrative, rhetorical, or conceptual.
This follows from the composer’s tendency to derive even purely instrumental compositions from literary, artistic, or cultural-historical sources. Her melancholic Cortège (2010) for thirteen musicians was inspired by the poet C. P. Cavafy’s description of a “strange procession” fleeing a besieged Alexandria (“The God Abandons Antony”) as well as Leonard Cohen’s gloss on that text in his song “Alexandra Leaving.” La forma dello spazio (2010) for chamber ensemble borrows its title from an Italo Calvino story, while “the form of space” in question was influenced by the mobile sculptures of Lee Bontecou and Alexander Calder.
More recently, Di Castri has drawn inspiration from obsolescent technologies. Phonobellow (2015, co-composed with David Adamcyk and premiered by ICE), a musical theater piece for five instrumentalists, electronics, and interactive sound sculpture, tries to imagine the perceptual impact of the high-speed camera and the phonograph in 1877. The centerpiece of this extraordinary theatrical event is an enormous kinetic sound-sculpture, resembling the bellows of an old-fashioned camera. This foray into media archaeology is but one side of the composer’s broader interest in music as a visceral, if unreliable, conduit of the past. In the orchestral work Lineage (2013, co-commissioned by the New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony), Di Castri explores “the idea of what is passed down” through a phantasmagoric assemblage of imaginary folk music, anchored by a haunting microtonal chorale that functions as a point of origin and return.
Di Castri’s widely performed Quartet No. 1 (2016) is also inevitably bound up with the past, despite the electronic-sounding effects she coaxes from the strings, for few genres of Western art music carry more historical weight than the string quartet. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Di Castri called this work “purely abstract” and without an “external source of inspiration.” The string quartet was indeed once the exemplary genre of “absolute music.” But Di Castri’s commentary on the piece also includes a more general statement about musical meaning: “Seeing as I am neither [a writer nor painter], I trust that music on its own has the potential to resound in meaningful ways.” In other words, maybe my emphasis on the extra-musical sources of Di Castri’s music has been misguided. You might do best to forget my words and simply turn your attention to Di Castri’s remarkable sounds.
Reprinted with permission from David Gutkin.
5 Questions with "I Care If You Listen"
I Care If You Listen asked Zosha 5 questions to learn more about her musical upbringing, her choice of collaborators, and more.
The Art + Music + Technology podcast
Interview transcription with Darwin Grosse and Zosha Di Castri.
how many bodies have we to pass through (for percussion)
Recorded at The Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, Reid Hall, Paris, February 2019
New Milestones I: Transitions (Endurance and Evolution)
Violinist Kristin Lee and pianist Orion Weiss perform Zosha's work Sprung Testament for Violin and Piano in a livestreamed concert, plus hear remarks from the composer herself about the work and the meanings behind it.