Rock musicians usually have been free about acknowledging their influences – country, bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, Latin music and more. But there’s one exception: classical.
Maybe it’s out of lingering embarrassment over those self-indulgent prog-rock bands of the early 1970s – Emerson, Lake & Palmer, particularly – and the bombastic metal bands with their Wagnerian pretensions. Too, once punk and alternative ushered in the notion that inspired amateurism was nirvana, the virtuosity demanded by classical didn’t seem a comfortable fit for rockers.
But there’s always been a “cool” side to classical influence on rock. The New Music/electronic music experimentalists – older composers like Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Pierre Henry and also younger Americans like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass – have provided ideas and inspiration. In particular, the latter group’s use of repetition, percussion and sound collages was as much in synch with the radical edge of the 1960s and 1970s as was rock.
“Rock musicians have always had diverse backgrounds –the Beatles were receptive to composers like Berio and Stockhausen, and the underground in New York was directly involved with experimental art and composers like La Monte Young,” says Bryce Dessner, 37, who has a Master’s degree in music from Yale University and is a guitarist with the Brooklyn-based band the National. (His brother Aaron also is in the band.)
A new album of the Kronos Quarter playing four of Dessner’s classical compositions, Aheym, has recently been released on Anti- Records. It is Dessner’s recording debut as a composer.