Now Hear This: an Interview with Jonathan Cziner

American composer (and recent Dallas transplant) Jonathan Cziner was commissioned to write a new chamber work for this Saturday’s Hallam Family Concert, CLARA’S INFLUENCE. Fine Arts Chamber Players is thrilled to present the World Premiere of “A Household of Three,” Cziner’s piece inspired by the life and work of Clara Schumann. Get to know the composer and a little bit more about the piece.

Jonathan Cziner, composer

What was the genesis of “A Household of Three,” the piece you have composed for the concert?    Emily Levin asked me to write a piece that would pair with Clara Schumann’s trio and I knew I wanted to pay homage directly to her music as well as her husband Robert and her friend Johannes Brahms. Robert and Johannes were more dependent on Clara’s musical guidance and abilities than history would tell us. She was truly at the center of this trio of artists.

What should attendees listen for in the piece?    Listen for various musical quotes of the above-mentioned composers. Many of the works I quoted were written during the time they were living in the same house! Listen for Brahms’ First Piano Trio, First Piano Concerto, and Double Concerto; Robert’s Piano Concerto and Ghost Variations, and Clara’s Piano Concerto & Romances Op. 21.

Is chamber music a big part of your body of work?    For the last few years or so I have been more focused on orchestral music and have been lucky enough to have had my orchestral music performed around the U.S. Since the pandemic started, I have turned my attention more toward chamber music: writing this trio, a piece for harp and guitar, and I am also currently working on a piece for Clarinet and String Quartet.

What instruments did you study, and when did you turn your focus on composing?    I grew up taking piano lessons but as I got into high school, I started composing more and more. Practicing was not my favorite activity, but I loved music, so I wrote my own stuff instead! I didn’t really start studying composition until I got to college.

What type of music did you listen to growing up and what do you listen to now?    My musical taste has always been the same. I have always primarily listened to classical music (Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Stravinsky) but I have my favorite popular artists, too. I love the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Billy Joel. I guess I’m a little old school

Who is your favorite composer to listen to?    MAHLER!

What advice would you give to a high schooler who wants to pursue music as a career?    Bottom line: do what makes you happy, work hard at it, and don’t give up! I was not sure what I wanted to pursue in college when I was in high school, but I knew that I loved music. Once I started down a more serious path I spent (and still spend) hours every day trying to hone my craft and being the best musician and composer I can be! All that being said: the music world is competitive, and you often find yourself dealing with rejection and setbacks. Don’t give up, keep going, and use those rejections to motivate you! I think that this could be applicable to any career path! 

What is your favorite sound?    Favorite sound is hearing the smack of a baseball landing perfectly in the pocket of my glove. Very satisfying. Your least favorite?    One of my least favorite sound is hearing people crack their knuckles.

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear?    An epic concert of all of Mahler’s symphonies played back-to-back, conducted by Mahler himself, including the 10th symphony (which was left unfinished at the time of his death). I think that’s about 14 or 15 hours of music, but I would happily sit there for the whole thing.