Award-Winning Composer Brian Field is Changing the World with Three Passions for our Tortured Planet
Brian Field’s music is an eclectic fusion of lyricism and driving rhythm that brings together elements of post-romanticism, minimalism and jazz that Gramophone notes “has a winning melodic flow and harmonic translucency,” and Fanfare comments “stretches tonality to and beyond its limits, but always in a soaring, lyrical manner.”
He has received a host of awards, including a McKnight Foundation Fellowship, the Benenti Foundation recording prize; First Prize, Briar Cliff Choral Music Competition; and First Prize, Victor Herbert ASCAP Young Composers’ Contest among dozens of others.
Brian Field’s compositions include music for television and stage; solo acoustic, chamber, ballet, choral, vocal, electroacoustic and orchestral works. His compositions have been performed extensively throughout the United States and internationally and are recorded on a wide variety of labels.
Thank you so much for joining us on our interview series, Brian. Can you share the backstory that led you to this career path?
Music has a unique ability to help articulate the ineffable—a capacity to reach inside and connect with others at a fundamental, deeply emotional level. This is something that has long fascinated and driven me these past several decades along my compositional path.
Starting first as a pianist, then branching into harpsichord and organ studies, performing in vocal ensembles, coupled with studying the vast canon of western music, and exposure to music from non-western traditions have all enriched my compositional attitudes and techniques. It’s a voice and style that are constantly evolving and shifting as I encounter new ideas, new performances and other artists—be they fellow musicians, dancers, poets, graphic artist, photographers…every new encounter creates exciting new branches of thought and possibilities.
One of the causes you are passionate about is climate change and raising awareness around this issue. Can you tell us why that is and how you thought about a musical work on this topic?
Regardless of what country someone might be from, we all are directly impacted by global warming. With the increasing buildup of greenhouse gases across the planet, we are threatened with a climate crisis whose long-term impact is greater than world wars, political unrest or the coronavirus pandemic. We’re all inescapably citizens of this planet and have a shared responsibility to drive change to address this problem.
Ironically, though the crisis is pervasive, it’s also been highly polarized politically by lobbyist groups attempting to cloud issues and minimize the impact of the crisis in an effort to shield industries that benefit from less CO2 regulation. My goal was to create a platform for continuing to extend this discussion globally through a musical channel.
Your recent project, “Three Passions for our Tortured Planet,” is a brilliant work that leaves a big impression. Can you tell our readers more about this?
“Three Passions for our Tortured Planet” is a piece for solo piano in three movements which focuses on key areas of climate change.
The first movement, “…fire…”, is a reflection on the forest fires raging across California and the American West on a recurring, and increasingly alarming basis. The work starts with a “spark,” that flickers and quickly spreads, growing more complicated. The fire begins to rage loudly, and across register, building to a climax which eventually becomes more controlled, as it burns itself out and dies.
The second movement, “…glaciers…”, is a distant, stately movement that depicts the enormous ices on earth’s poles. These slow, ponderous moments are sporadically interrupted by rapidly falling, thundering episodes, depicting the shearing of the glacial ice with ever-warming temperatures.
Concluding the set is the third movement, entitled “…winds…” This virtuosic finale begins with running winds that become increasingly intense and hurricane/typhoon-like in their destructiveness before dissipating into a barely-noticeable breeze.
Brian, please tell us the story behind the process of composing this work? How long have you been working on this project?
I started work on the first movement of the piece in 2020 and finally completed it in late 2021 as a collaborative effort with South Korean pianist and Sony artist Kay Kyung Eun Kim. The big push around the project began in earnest in early 2022 and has been generating significant traction among pianists from around the world who are programming it for recital performance, recording the full work or movements of it, and social sharing it as well.
You are changing the world by bringing attention to the global climate crisis. Can you share other meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on now?
I am concurrently working on several other projects of social importance. One is a work for voice and orchestra on the theme of gun violence in America in collaboration with the poet Amanda Gorman; another is a work for large chamber ensemble regarding Alzheimer’s awareness and the nature of fading memory. Finally, there is a large-scale work which is more satirical in nature on the political and social nature of the United States, an extension of an earlier piece of mine called “Let’s Build a Wall!”
You are a person of enormous influence. What would you advise young musicians regarding a music career today?
I’d advise young musicians, in particular, to stay curious and open to the world in general. Being exposed to new ideas of all sorts may be uncomfortable sometimes and challenge personal orthodoxies, but embracing the discomfort of these ideas will undoubtably influence the way you approach creating or re-creating.
Be passionate about your craft and keep refining, there’s never any one way to build and pursue one’s path; your experiences and who you are will necessarily make your voice unique—don’t be afraid of letting that shine out!
Brian, what's next for you music-wise? We would love you to share your upcoming career plans.
I’ll of course keep recruiting pianists to engage and spread the message of climate change awareness to keep this movement progressing—if you’re interested, please join in at the project website.
I have the new projects I’ve mentioned also moving along, and have several recording projects in production which will be released over the coming months on various labels. And of course performances of earlier works of mine as well, which you can follow on my website.
Thank you so much for sharing your musical journey with us. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!