Harvey Sollberger, Composer


In the words of Roger Reynolds, “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.” In a nutshell, that's it. Even as Harvey Sollberger's music over the years has drawn on a wide range of stylistic and technical resources, more abstract / constructive concerns centered on musical language and the architectonics of modeling form within musical space and time have been balanced (even contested at times) by the bodily and visceral elements which have been integrated with them in shaping its gestures and overall profile. The result is a kind of potential energy lying captured and dormant in each score, waiting be propelled into life through the body and sensibility of its eventual performers. It's in fact one of Sollberger's contentions that each work is, in microcosm, a kind of “fingerprint” or graph of its composer's psychic and physical metabolism, in short, of what is unique to that artist. As a performer Harvey Sollberger enters into and inhabits and finally projects those varied worlds; as a composer he creates them.

With Stravinsky, Sollberger believes that creative freedom lies in the bridling of imagination and fantasia through discipline, and each of his works is finely balanced on the tensions and possibilities embedded in a unique “ensemble” of constraints and limits. Complementing this is a sense of musical physicality and gesture – “music from the soles of the feet” - formed early on through his intimacy as a performer with the work of such composers as Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, Stefan Wolpe, Charles Wuorinen and Edgard Varese. As his former fellow-student, Peter G. Davis noted in The New York Times in 2009, he was even in their student days “a virtuoso flutist whose highly developed music was . . . brushed with a slightly mad wit and theatricality that gave his style a special appeal.” While, as Mark Menzies points out on his Groves Dictionary article on Sollberger, his work often manifests a quality which seems to be lacking in much contemporary music: humor. Sollberger, in fact, opines that the Classical master he is closest to is not Beethoven or Bach or Mozart, but Franz Josef Haydn, he of the earthy musical joke and the sublime smile. Finally, a number of his recent works have invoked what he calls his modular – or “decentered” - style; for example the 35 minute-long Thin Music/Thick Music for 20 players (2011) can be performed in 198 different combinations ( a continuous performance of all 198 possibilities would require close to two weeks of 12-hour days).

Harvey Sollberger has created a body of music for his instrument, the flute, which, taken in its entirety, is unparalleled since the eighteenth-century. And not just “more flute music,” but work reflecting a hands-on engagement with the unique and previously untapped technical and expressive resources that he helped to pioneer, develop and demonstrate in his groundbreaking work as a performer of his own and others' music. Sollberger has said, “being a flutist, the flute music comes with the territory, but there's a lot more, too.” And indeed there is, ranging from works for soloists, chorus and orchestra through various large and small chamber combinations to solo music for a wide range of (non-flute) instruments. Now well over fifty years into his career, Sollberger's eyes light up at the thought of new possibilities. Currently on the drawing board are a work for piano four-hands for Duo Runedako, music to accompany hitherto undiscovered silent films for Red Cedar Chamber Music, and then, if Time and the Fates permit, a new string quartet.

Walter Hugot, 2013.