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Artist of the Week — Hampson Sisler

April 8, 2014 by public · 1 comment

Tsvetelina Mareva`s interview with the composer Hampson Sisler

Hampson Sisler: “Always write to the best of your ability”

H_Sisler

Hampson Sisler is one of the most prolific American classical composers living today.His first works were published at age nineteen starting with the H.W.Gray Co. and going on, with time, to Jos. Fischer & Co., Belwin Mills, E.P.Adams, Inc, World Library, Laurendale and Morning Star. He has written more than one hundred works for solo instruments, organ, voice, choir and orchestra.

Born in Yonkers, New York, on August 13, 1932, he began to show a prodigious talent at an early age and by the time he
was in kindergarten he was already able to play the keyboard by ear at an extraordinary level for one so young. When his
mother was asked from whom he took lessons, her answer was: “He doesn’t take lessons; he just does it!”

By the age of twelve he was taken under the tutelage of David McK Williams and Norman Coke-Jephcott and began
performing professionally on his major instrument, organ, and conducting choruses. He earned a licentiate in Organ and
Related Subjects from Trinity College of Music, London, at age sixteen and achieved the fellowship rank in the American
Guild of Organists at age seventeen – the youngest ever for this distinction.”

Today, in addition to being a composer, Sisler maintains a dual career as an organist and choral director. He has served
seventeen churches, most notably Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, where Abraham Lincoln was an
occasional attendee, and Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where Charles Ives served in the same position in
the early 1900s.

Currently, Hampson Sisler is the music director at the historic St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, New York. His
recent compositions have been performed in Bulgaria, Israel, Czech Republic, Russia and the United States. The majority
of his orchestral works have been recorded on the MSR Classics label. Mr. Sisler is presented world-wide by BV Artists
International.

Mr. Sisler, would you tell us more about your creative path? How and why did you start composing?

Since playing keyboard predates recallable memory with me, I don’t really know; but as soon as I became familiar with musical notation, I started to write down musical thoughts and ruminations.

What is your preferred genre and what kind of music have you written?

Having started out in professional church music, I wrote choral and organ music initially. I like piano too, but I never felt motivated to compose for it. I wrote Concert Band Music, Orchestral Suites, Tone Poems, Overtures, Choral/vocal music, with orchestral accompaniment, Cantatas, Oratorios, Sacred anthems, for SATB chorus, with keyboard accompaniment or a cappella, Music for Pipe/classical electronic Organ and others. Complete names are on my website at www.BVArtistsInternational.com. I have eight CD’s on the market, issued by my MSR Classics Recordings (www.msrcd.com). They were all recorded in Eastern Europe, several in Sofia.

Bulgaria_Hall_Sofia
Hampson Sisler after Sofia Philharmonic`s succesful perfromance of his music in June 2008 at Bulgaria Hall Sofia

As a composer what do you most appreciate in the performer`s art?

I appreciate a skilled, well rehearsed, and expressive performer.

What does it mean to you to be a successful classical composer?

One must be thoroughly familiar and practiced in the compositional modes of the past, starting with monody, ancient counterpoint, baroque counterpoint, romantic, harmonic styles, and modern rule-free music. Then one must write in one’s own era and do so as creatively and individually as possible. But music needs to be both accessible and attractive to both performer and listener on first “go around”. Then the new music has a chance of becoming part of the standard repertoire of the future.

Hampson_Sisler
Hampson Sisler is signing CDs after the World Premiere of the Oratorio The Second Coming

What’s it take to create a “good” piece of music?

See above. One needs to know what is desired in the composition, by way of feeling, length, and resources for reproduction. Style of writing comes next: should it be reminiscent of an older period, completely contemporary, or experimentally original? Next comes musical form: should it be in sonata form, rondo form, fugal form, or some other traditional form, or should it be a free fantasy of some sort? And, finally, how accessible does it need to be; i.e., how skillful will the performers be, or will they be amateur/beginners?

In other words, know your commissioner’s desires and needs well before you undertake to write anything. For if you write what is not wanted/needed, your composition will not be well received.
Always write to the best of your ability. Whatever you write, be sure to set it aside for a while and re-consider it again later on. Never trust your original effort completely.

And don’t resist consulting a trusted and qualified musician for his evaluation. Brahms had Billroth, who inspected his every effort and made cogent suggestions. Other top composers also sought out the eyes and ears of another for pitfalls in their writings. Multiple minds are always better than one alone, be he ever so capable.

World_Premiere
World Premiere of the Oratorio The Second Coming by H. Sisler

Can you tell us some curious occurrences in your composer’s activity, about the composing process?

I suffer from a love/hate relationship with my writings: today I love it, tomorrow I hate it, and the next day, I love it again! But rather than destroy something that displeases me, I aim at repairing it.

Do you feel influenced by criticism?

Valid criticism is always valuable. Multiple good minds on any subject are better than any single one.

What have you learned from your audience? Are there any differences between the audiences worldwide?

Audiences, the world over, are very similar. They seem to value good solo performers over and above conductors or composers. I sometimes feel that is unfair.

What is in your opinion the relationship between science and art and how they interact?

These two disciplines are related. Artists and scientists are introverted, responding to internal stimuli more than to environmental elements. Many great scientists are also very musical.

Would you outline the perspectives of music and trends that you think are most productive?

I would like to see a renaissance of classical art in the United States. Popular modes are over-represented and overcompensated for of late. Erotic music, in particular, is “king”.

The_second_coming
Hampson Sisler CD 2013 “The second coming”

In Bulgaria there are some of your works that are known (The second coming). Are you familiar with works of Bulgarian composers?

Not really. But, then, I don’t have the mind of a musicologist, who knows everything but creates little.
This has virtually happened already. Ukrainian organist, Valery Michailuk, has recorded much of my music for MSR Classics Recordings. Bulgaria, being a Christian country and Roman Catholic, in particular, has many fine pipe organs and organists.

Trans_Cultural_Bonding
H.Sisler latest CD 2014 “Trans Cultural Bonding”

We know that the organ is your preferred choice for a solo instrument. As we have a good instrument in Sofia, would you like to have performed your pieces by a Bulgarian organist?

I am happy to have a Bulgarian organist play my compositions.

Have your works been performed by renowned conductors and performers?

My music has been performed and recorded by orchestras such as: Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Orquestra Filarmonic De Buenos Aires, Orquestra National Do Porto, New York Chamber Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Manhattan Virtuosi, Ensemble du Monde, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Moscow Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra of Odessa, Moscow Chamber Orchestra – Cantus Firmus, Sofia Philharmonic, Sofia Sinfonietta, Plovdiv Philharmonic,

Varna Philharmonic, Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra, Praga Sinfonietta, Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Slovak National Wind Ensemble, Outlooke Pointe Chamber Orchestra(Philippines) and others. Concert halls includes: Henry Crown Hall, Jerusalem Theater (Jerusalem); Rudolfinum, Dvorak Hall (Prague); In New York: Alice Tully Hall and Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center; Honolulu Philharmonic Hall (Hawaii); Kiev Theater (Ukraine); Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires);

Mosterio de S. Bento da Vitoria Hall (Portugal), Tchaikovsky Hall, (Moscow), Big Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonic (Russia), Town Hall (Sydney); Bulgaria Hall (Sofia, Bulgaria) and many other halls, concert series, and festivals world-wide. Some of the conductors I worked more closely are Marlon Daniel, Arkady Leytush, Samuel Wong and Kirk Trevor.

Concert_postcard

What project are you currently working on?

I’m working on a suite/concerto for cello and orchestra based on elements of the universe beyond our solar system. I am dedicating this piece to the renowned cellist Kalin Ivanov (www.kalinivanov.com) who will give the premiere of the piece. Please check my website for any current and future news at www.bvartistsinternational.com/Hampson_Sisler.html

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1 comment so far ↓

  • Frank Gear // Apr 30, 2014 //

    It is refreshing to come across a modern composer who whilst composing in the classic style has a truly modern approach to his work.

    Sisler never forgets that music should create and convey feelings and this he does most succesfully.

    I fear that his music is little known in the United Kingdon. One can only hope that situation changes whilst Sisler is still with us and able to compose many more works that are worthy of being performed and listened to.

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