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September 28, 1990 - Image 91

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


HI 1

B prow


Special to The Jewish News


andall Woolf got a
hearing last month,
and sitting in judg-
ment on him was a discerning
audience at the prestigious
festival of new music at
Tanglewood in Massachu-
setts. On trial: Woolf's first or-
chestral composition —
"White Heat." The verdict?
According to the experts: guil-
ty of writing a powerful piece
of music.
Mr. Woolf, 30, has now ex-
perienced one of the greatest
thrills a young composer can
have — witnessing the perfor-
mance of his first piece for or-
chestra. "White Heat" was
commissioned by Tanglewood,
the summer home of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra,
and performed by the
This isn't really the first or-
chestral work for the native
Detroiter now living in
Boston and teaching at Har-
vard University. He's written
three others. It is, however,
his first performance. In the
world of new classical music
— works generated by living
modern composers — he says
that's an achievement
because it's hard for up-and-
coming talent to get exposure.
There is tremendous competi-
tion and not enough venues.
"It's an enormous problem,"
he says. "There are 5,000
university jobs, so there must
be at least 15,000 people who
are trying to get their pieces
played. You can definitely
count the number of oppor-
tunities in the country to get
an orchestra piece played, for
example. Surely there aren't
more than a hundred oppor-
tunities to get played by a
really big orchestra."
The festival at Tanglewood

is one of them. The Detroit
Symphony Orchestra has also
performed works of new
Classical composition was
probably the farthest thing
from Mr. Woolfs mind while
he was growing up in South-
field. He says his earliest in-
terests were rock, rhythm and
blues, and jazz.
At the age of 10 or 11, he
began playing piano and by
the time he was a teen, he
was playing in rock bands at
clubs and high schools.
Sometimes he'd play on the
wedding and bar mitzvah cir-
cuit with his grandfather,
bandleader Sammy Woolf.
"They'd do the standards and
we'd do the rock songs," says
Mr. Woolf didn't discover
classical music until he got to
college. He was studying
music at Michigan State
University, but didn't care
much for the program. At the
time, he purchased his first
Beethoven album, found
while rummaging in the
bargain bin at a local record
shop. He listened critically
and he liked it. A lot.
"I decided to listen to some
Beethoven because I heard he
was good and his quartets
were good. I just dropped
everything and started learn-
ing how to do classical com-
position," Mr. Woolf recalls.
He also dropped the music
program at MSU and became
an English major, which he
says gave him more time to
In a sense, says Mr. Woolf,
composing is his calling
because it combines creativi-
ty and his love for music.
Besides, he confesses, he was
never that good a musician,
and to him composing is a lot

Randall Woolf in Boston.

like playing his first musical
"I was never very good at
the performing part," says Mr.
Woolf. "And in rock music or
jazz you're improvising.
That's like composing. That's
the part I enjoyed the most
and was better at that than
the playing."
Mr. Woolf followed his com-
posing bent to Harvard,
where he completed his doc-
toral degree last January. He
writes what he calls new
music, and is part of a young
breed of composers who write
works "somewhere between
Minimalism and New
Romanticism — like John
Cage or Philip Glass.
"Unfortunately, there real-
ly isn't a word to define the
kind of music my friends and
I write. But it would be very
much like what Aaron
Copland was to his genera-
tion. It's called concert music.
I call it classical music to
distinguish it from popular
music. Maybe I should call it
Mr. Woolf is also a founder
of ExtensionWorks, a six-year-
old consortium of the new,
young, Boston-based com-
posers and those musicians
who play the newly written-

pieces. The group includes his
pianist wife, Kathleen
Mr. Woolf says you'll hear
different influences in his
work — rock, R & B, jazz,
Beethoven. He writes at the
piano and then enters the
composition into a computer,
which translates the piece in-
to full orchestration and
prints out the finished score.
His commissioned piece,
"White Heat," a single, ten-
minute-long movement, was
written in six weeks and took
another four to orchestrate.
Once the bugs were worked
out on paper with the help of
his mentors, the work still
needed a live laboratory — a
full orchestra — to be fine-
tuned, to see if it really work-
ed. Tanglewood was the
While Mr. Woolfs root in-
fluences may be musical, he
says many of his composition
names have scientific origins.
Take "White Heat" for
"When you heat a metal,
first you get red, then orange,
yellow and when it turns
white, you've got all the dif-
ferent colors. It looks like a
unified white beam of light,

but inside, you have all the
different color frequencies
running around. I liked that
image when I was thinking of
the piece. The music is fast
and intense.
"And I also thought it
would be very hot outside
when it was played, and it
He is extremely pleased
"White Heat" was performed.
He hopes it will be played
again and adds that several
conductors have expressed

Though he is becoming
well-known in Boston and in
some musical circles, Mr.
Woolf says a major frustration
is getting new music heard by
the general public.
The lack of access, he says,
has little to do with the quali-
ty of the pieces being compos-
ed. He knows that the music
would gain more popular ap-
peal if given more trials.
"Some of it has," he says.
"And there are a lot of young
composers now who are doing
music I think would be very
popular with young people,
who like rock and things like
that. It's a similar kind of
sound, but with a more com-
plicated approach." 0





Harvard, Tanglewood,
`White Heat' and new
classical music occupy
this former Detroiter.

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