The New Yorker by Doyle Armbrust

What is the point of making beautiful things, or of cherishing the beauty of the past, when ugliness runs rampant? Those who work in the realm of the arts have been asking themselves that question in recent weeks. The election of Donald Trump, and the casual cruelty of his Presidency thus far, have precipitated a sense of crisis in that world, not least because Trump seems inclined to let the arts rot. Headlines along the lines of “What is the Role of X [music, dance, poetry, hip-hop] in the Age of Trump?” have proliferated. (Is it necessary to aggrandize the man by giving him an Age?) Competing tactics of response present themselves. Do you carry on as before, nobly defying the ruination of public discourse? Or do you seize on a new mission, abandoning the illusion of aesthetic autonomy? Many artists report feelings of paralysis. “Engaging isn’t working and neither is disengaging,” the Chicago musician and critic Doyle Armbrust writes, in an arrestingly unconventional program note for a recent Budapest Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

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Primephonic: Podcast Interview with Spektral Quartet's Doyle Armbrust by Doyle Armbrust

'Papa Haydn' and his sense of humour, Chicago's collaborative community and classical musicians immitating stand-up comedians: these are a handful of elements you'll find in this month's primephonic podcast.

Doyle Armbrust, the Chicago-based violist and member of the Spektral Quartet, found time amid the busy days of Ear Taxi, Chicago's cutting-edge contemporary music festival, to sit down with primephonic to chat. He gives a valuable insight into the quartet's latest Sono Luminus albumSerious Business which deals with humour in classical music, bridging the gap from old to new music.

Meet the Composer: Anna Thorvaldsdottir by Doyle Armbrust

Anna Thorvaldsdottir is an Icelandic composer whose work conjures entire environments of sound, surrounding the listener in a dark and forbidding landscape. Anna thinks sonically; her music comes from a deeply non-verbal place, and she has developed a brilliant workflow which allows these ideas to remain mostly whole and unmolested through her creative process. Anna often favors massive ensembles, writing delicate and detailed parts for every player, but even when she is writing for smaller forces, she somehow summons these massive sonorities — detailed, elegant tapestries with a seductive gravity, which pull the listener in with their gradually revolving color and texture. 

- Nadia Sirota

Meet the Composer: Marcos Balter–Failure Is an Option by Doyle Armbrust

For Marcos Balter, stellar composition requires the dedicated, daily practice of an athlete. He doesn't think it possible to unearth and hone brilliant musical ideas without slogging through a whole bunch of failures along the way, nor does he believe that the compositional demigods we revere so highly – Bach, Beethoven, Mozart – birthed only masterpieces. He worries too many creatives get tongue-tied attempting consistent genius, and that their work suffers for it. Marcos has learned to embrace failure, and that these failures can lead to incredible breakthroughs.

Marcos is a composer whose manic energy and relentless work ethic effuse from everything he touches: friendships, pedagogy, and especially his music. His fast-talking, whip-smart style is easy to detect in his intricate scores. His music reverberates and pulses with energy, sometimes in such a small container, or in such a demure dynamic that the score feels almost radioactive.

Marcos Balter's point of view is singular; he can roll with the modernists and the minimalists with ease, and yet his music doesn't really fit any particular rubric. His carefully constructed works have fine grammar, well-planned architecture and often astonishing material. He is a master at finding unexpected timbral rhyme that delights and surprises.