Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Moravec is the featured artist in this issue of “Composer’s Corner.” His long career as a composer, pianist and educator gives him an insider’s perspective as he shares what he’s been doing during the pandemic, his compositional process, teaching, and why winning the Pulitzer Prize in Music “remains a thrilling development in [his] career.”
S: How has Covid-19 impacted your creative output? Have you been able to collaborate with other composers/artists during the lockdown?
Moravec: I’ve been working on an operatic, staged version of my oratorio Sanctuary Road, with the librettist Mark Campbell. We’re also collaborating on a new oratorio for the Oratorio Society of New York about the history of voting rights in America. Last May, Mark and I collaborated with Opera America —and a team of very talented professionals of over 100+ opera singers — to make a virtual performance of our choral work Light Shall Lift Us. It’s up to over 23,000 views on YouTube.
S: What technology have you used to continue your work in a virtual world?
Moravec: Not much has changed — as always, I use the low-tech resources of piano, paper, and pencil (and eraser!), and the high tech resources of the Sibelius Music Notation program for composing.
S: Your chamber work Tempest Fantasy won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music. This is an enormous honor. How did it feel to win this award and did it changed anything for you?
Moravec: My being awarded the Pulitzer in 2004 changed my life immediately and materially, opening up lots of commissions and performance opportunities, among other things. It was and remains a thrilling development in my career.
S: Can you talk a little about your composing process?
Moravec: Every project is different and needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis; it’s hard to generalize. I always begin at the piano, and as the piece evolves, I usually input what I come up with into Sibelius, which I find to be a VERY useful compositional tool as well.
S: Your opera The Shining is a story that most people would not consider being adapted into an opera. Why did you decide to write it and what were some of the challenges?
Moravec: The idea of making an opera out of The Shining came from Minnesota Opera’s then-artistic director Dale Johnson and stage director Eric Simonson. Stephen King’s novel is actually extremely, naturally operatic, as it involves the three basic aspects of opera-on-steroids: love, death, and power…and also lots of ghosts — perfect for operatic treatment!
S: Your catalog is large, and you have several albums available that fans can purchase. As a composer, how did it feel when your first album was released and is there an album you are most proud of?
Moravec: I’ve been hugely lucky to work with so many fantastic artists and institutions in making my albums, that it’s really hard to pick one in particular. Sanctuary Road — recorded by the Oratorio Society of New York on Naxos — is certainly the most high-profile, as it was nominated for a 2021 Grammy.
S: You’re a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University, you’ve taught at Columbia, Dartmouth, and Hunter College, and currently hold the special position of University Professor at Adelphi University. Academia has been an important part of your career. Why is teaching important to you?
Moravec: Being an artist and being a teacher are actually complementary activities — they dovetail nicely. Both activities involve conveying values to people. In its way, making music teaches by example, whereas teaching in schools and universities involves teaching more by precept.
S: Of your many popular works, do you have one piece that you are most proud of?
Moravec: The Shining…Sanctuary Road…The Blizzard Voices…Tempest Fantasy…The Time Gallery…Montserrat…and A Nation of Others — my most recent oratorio which will premiere with the Oratorio Society of New York.
S: What would you say to other artists/musicians who are craving ensemble work and want to continue performing as part of their mental health during this pandemic?
Moravec: Get cracking!