An Interview with Peter Stopschinski, curator of Beat the Rush

Composer and musician Peter Stopschinski is the current curator of Beat the Rush, the Blanton’s innovative monthly music series held as part of Third Thursday programming. In a recent interview with Adam Bennett, the museum’s manager of public programs, Peter discussed his ideas for the series and his interests in art and music:

Peter Stopschinski. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Peter Stopschinski. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Q: What are you looking for when you select performers for Beat the Rush?

A: I’m trying to find a wide variety of musicians and music to present that reflects the diversity of art in the museum as well as the diversity of music and musicians in Austin.  Within this eclectic mix I’m looking for musicians that are inspired by extra-musical ideas: cinema, art, poetry, performance.  Many musicians play music but there is a smaller sub-category of musicians to which music plays a central role, but is not the entire story of their creative impetus.

This fall we will present a world premiere harp concerto, the scathing and twisted blues-rock of Churchwood, the cinematic instrumental music of Justin Sherburn (who is the pianist in Okkervil River), choral wonders from Convergence and Texas Choral Consort. Also the striking sounds of Line Upon Line percussion.

Q: Who else are you looking forward to hearing at the Blanton?

I invited Datri Bean, who’s the leader of Minor Mishap Marching Band, to play some of her solo work. Minor Mishap is inspired by New Orleans and Balkan brass bands, but they really shred and create events rather than just concerts. Datri has a million other musical outlets which get less attention than the Minor Mishap explosions of costume and raucous music, so I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us! And I am always happy to see what my friend Graham Reynolds is up to.  Guaranteed it will be exciting and beautiful and his knowledge and relationship with visual art is incomparable.  I could keep going.  I really can’t wait to see all of these shows.  I chose them all so it’s the perfect series for me!

Q: You’re premiering your harp concerto this month at the Blanton. I know it’s written for a larger ensemble, so how is it going to be different during Beat the Rush?

A: It went through several different versions to get to this point.  It was initially conceived as a string quartet with piano and electronics and premiered by the Tosca String Quartet at a Golden Hornet Project show at Lamberts here in Austin.  Next I created a solo piano version to perform by myself.  Then I took the slow movement and built an entire five-movement symphony that premiered alongside Graham Reynolds’ Difference Engine Triple Concerto and Jonny Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver. This was at a Golden Hornet Project concert which won the Austin Critic’s Table award for Best Symphonic Performance in 2012.

Elaine Barber, Harpist
Elaine Barber, Harpist

So it was in this symphonic version of the piece, which was then titled Rough Night with Happy Ending that I first introduced the harp.  Elaine Barber, harpist from the Austin Symphony, agreed to play the part and at the concert we decided to put her in the front of the orchestra instead of behind the strings which is where the harp usually lives.  Up to this point the harp played a supporting role but by physically putting her in front of the orchestra I began to see how the harp was really the spirit of the piece. Then last year Elaine submitted Rough Night to the American Harp Society who agreed to feature the piece at this year’s American Harp Society Orchestra Gala Night in New Orleans and Elaine and I began to really beef up the harp part and create an entirely new version of this music in which the harp played the lead role.  As we worked on this Harp Concerto with Orchestra we also created a version for piano and harp that we could perform as a duo.

Q: I love hearing about how many different permutations a single piece can have. I know that piece on your last album (Now Would Be a Good Time) and can’t imagine how it will sound for only harp and piano. One last question: what’s your favorite style of art?

Dallas Chaos II
Peter Dean, Dallas Chaos II, 1982, oil on canvas, Gift of Lorraine Dean and Gregory Dean, 1994.

My taste in visual art varies; there’s no one style or artist that I love above all the others. I have a special attraction to Bosch and Dali. I was never a huge fan of Picasso and I always wondered why. The most “blown away” I’ve ever been by a painting was a Chuck Close self portrait. At the Blanton I am continually impressed by Luis Jiménez’s Border Crossing, the crazy painting of Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald [Peter Dean’s Dallas Chaos II], and I’ve recently found myself loving the non-conformity of the medieval stuff in the permanent collection.

Peter Stopschinski performs at Beat the Rush tonight at the Blanton at 5:30 PM.

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