Another view of Harvey Sollberger by composer (and friend),
Harvey Sollberger was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 11 May 1938. His musical studies at the University of Iowa and Columbia in New York, culminated in 1964 under the tutelage of Jack Beeson and Otto Luening. Since then, he has been continuously active as a composer, conductor, flutist and teacher and organizer of concerts. This improbably broad pattern of engagement is marked by a signal commitment to the highest musical standards. His protean activism in this country and abroad had, nevertheless, allowed him to compose, by the turn of the millennium, more than 60 works. These have been sponsored and honored by an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, two Guggenheim Fellowships, commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, the San Francisco Symphony, the Fromm Foundation, the National Flute Association, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walter W. Naumberg Foundation, Music from Japan, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Iowa Arts Council and Incontri di Musica Sacra Contemporanea (Rome).
Writing in the Dictionary of Contemporary Music (ed., John Vinton), Charles Wuorinen comments on the significance of the 12-tone system in Sollberger's early compositions. He continues that, beginning with the Chamber Variations (1964) and the Impromptu for piano (1968), Sollberger's music embodied
In recent years, Sollberger's compositional arsenal, while extending the allegiances cited here, has also enlarged to embrace a concern with the potential of architectural sites (Grandis Templum Machinae was inspired by the architecture of Francesco Borromini's seventeenth-century church, Sant'Ivo della Sapienza in Rome), and more recently (in the 1993 composition, The Advancing Moment), technological resources. The New York Times's Jeremy Eichler wrote that, in performance, the latter work:
. . . pitted groups of instruments against each other and built into a kind of pummeling fanfare, full of menacing extremes of pitch and volume. [Its] program note spoke of addressing a world of “false truths and annihilation” . . . This [piece] brought to mind Theodore Adorno's opinion that certain modernist music gave voice to a deeper collective anxiety and fear. Listeners were scared of such music, he suggested, not because it was incomprehensible, but because it was “all too correctly understood”.
Sollberger's commitment to rhythmically craggy and motivically kaleidoscopic music of high expressive energy and gestural force surely arises out of his continuing engagement as a performer associated with a consistently demanding repertoire. As a flutist and conductor, Sollberger has toured extensively – given West Coast, American and world premieres of works by Babbitt, Carter (he premiered this composer's collaboration with poet, John Ashbery, Syringa, conducting Speculum Musicae, in 1978), Davidovsky, Feldman, Holler, Martino, Reynolds, Schnittke, Wuorinen and Xenakis. In sum, the aggregate constitutes a daunting legacy of both concert performance and commercial recordings (on New World, Neuma, CRI, Mode and Pogus).
Orchestras he has been associated with as soloist, conductor or composer include the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, the American Composers Orchestra (New York), the MAV Radio Orchestra (Hungary), the Bari State Orchestra (Italy), and the June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra. What uniformly distinguishes Sollberger's achievement in the re-creative domain is the palpable musical elevation of the product: the music to which he ministers glows in a way that brings about a new listening, a deepening of the conviction that the Musical Project matters.
From 1998 to 2005, Sollberger was Music Director of his own orchestra, the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, in Southern California. With it he freshly illuminated the traditional repertoire – Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky – but also brought into compelling focus sonic visions from our own time, music of Stravinsky, Takemitsu, Ung and Wuorinen, as well as that by numerous younger composers. As a solo flutist, Sollberger received U.S. State Department support for tours of England, France, Greece, Cyprus and Japan. With Charles Wuorinen, he founded, in 1962, and led for years, the seminal New York City-based Group for Contemporary Music. Through his mentoring at Columbia University and the Manhattan School, a generation of younger musicians was challenged to form groups of its own, and did so. His two-disc compilation on Nonesuch Records, Twentieth-Century Flute Music, posed and annotated an argument for the value of his instrument and the music it has elicited. (The set includes work of Berio, Davidovsky, Fukushima, Reynolds, Varese and Wuorinen, among others.) This publication was a watershed event, establishing the flute as a signature voice for music in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
In 1981 the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University bestowed on Sollberger special recognition for his “distinguished service in the cause of contemporary music”. And in 2004 he was honored by the New York Flute Club for his lifetime of service to the instrument. (His Riding the Wind  has become a classic of the flute repertoire.) Sollberger has been Resident Composer at the American Academy in Rome and Composer-in-Residence with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, having previously served on the faculties of Columbia University, the Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University and Amherst College.
No brief overview of Harvey Sollberger's achievement could fairly omit mention of his distinctive eloquence. His writing (on, among others, Mel Powell, Stravinsky, Bartolozzi and Wuorinen) is fueled by his voracious reading in Englisn and Italian, and has appeared in the Groves Dictionary of Music, Perspectives of New Music, the Dictionary of Contemporary Music, and the Contemporary Music Newsletter. When he speaks or writes – and this was all the more true in less electrified days, in his always poetic missives, borne on a uniquely faceted calligraphy – it is a joy and an education.
- Roger Reynolds