Yair Klartag : creating sonic metaphors of our inability to communicate

Born in Israel in 1985, Yair Klartag has studied composition with Ruben Seroussi and Georg Friedrich Haas at Tel-Aviv University, Basel Musikhochschule and Columbia University where he is currently a doctoral candidate in composition. Other important composition studies and masterclasses include George Lewis, Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough and Rebecca Saunders.

His music has been performed by ensembles such as Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra, ensemble Recherche, Ensemble Mosaik, Ensemble Linea, Meitar ensemble, JACK quartet and the MIVOS quartet and in festivals such as La Biennale di Venezia, Schwetzinger SWR Festspielen, ECLAT Festival, Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik, Tage für Neue Musik Zürich among others.

He received several awards and scholarships: 61. Kompositionspreis der Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart, 31st Irino Prize, 1st place at the “I International Composition Competition Ireneu Segarra” (Spain), 2nd place at “7ème Concours Dutilleux”, Audience Prize at “Isang Yun Composition Competition”, “Klon” scholarship from Israel Compoers’ League, AKUM prize, STV-KHS Studienpreis, the Schweizer Bundesstipendium as well as artist residencies in Herrenhaus Edenkoben and Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

I actually don’t have many musical memories as a kid. I grew up in a home without much music (or art in general) and as a kid I wasn’t interested in music at all. I had few experiences around the age of 14-15 that have been significant to my choice to become a composer. Probably the main one has been in mandatory composition class we had in junior high. In one of the first lessons we were asked to compose a piece without any restrictions. I improvised on the piano and came up with a sort of a modal waltz. But when it got to the cadence in the end of the phrase, I just couldn’t resolve it and instead had to break the piece completely into loud clusters. I think that it was my first encounter with the internal need for self expression in art.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?

One of the most important experiences in my music education was reading a biography of György Ligeti, and listening to each piece that was mentioned several times with the score. I have done this since with other composers as well. I find this way of getting to know a composer very effective, as you get a lot of context for the position if a piece in an artist’s output and life.

Apart from Ligeti there are many composers that have been influential – Giacinto Scelsi, Helmut Lachenmann, Rebecca Saunders, Fausto Romitelli – to name a few.

How do you approach the question of “form” especially for longer works?

I used to have a lot of resistance towards the concept of “form” in music. Unlike a painting or a sculpture, I never perceive a piece of music as a whole, but rather as a continuous evolving experience – a series of “now”s. I am still not very interested in the “big picture”, in proportions or calculations of durations. I care a lot about the inner form of a sound – understanding the duration that it needs to unfold and to be perceived. Playing with and against these inherent durations of sounds is one the most frequently used strategies in my compositional tool box.

Recently, I’ve been trying to create more and more connections between distant spaces in my pieces. It’s as if I am trying to replicate certain tendencies of my natural thought process and the way my consciousness works. Topics occur and disappear in patterns that are hard to identify. I am not sure if this creates a form, but it generates local constructions in my pieces.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?

My work process is extremely irregular. It is completely different from project to project. In general, I spend most of the time thinking – having the project in the back of my mind and waiting for ideas and thoughts to come up. Once I have a relatively clear idea, I work on a notation software to realize them. I also like to play and improvise with materials that are accessible to me. They could be traditional music instruments or constructed ones.

Please describe a recent work.

Bocca Chiusa is a recent piece for clarinet and chamber orchestra. Like many of my recent pieces, it deals with inability to communicate. The sonic metaphor is of a closed mouth that is not able to convey meaningful words. The frustration is from music itself as a medium – trying to say something, express a concrete meaning, but continuously failing in doing so.

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