“Sixteen Options of Coffee Within Walking Distance:” An Interview with Joshua Green

David Johnston

We chatted via email with 2011-12 Con Edison Composer-in-Residence Joshua Green, who will start his residency at Turtle Bay Music School in Jan ’12.  Joshua talked to us about his inspirations, his plans for the residency, and loving New York.

2011 Composer-in-Residence Joshua Green


You just completed a masters from NYU in Scoring for Films and Multimedia.  So – who are your film composer heroes?

Wow, this is a tough question.  There are so many great film composers that are doing so many interesting things. I’m always so amazed by the chops that some of these guys have!  I suppose if I had to narrow it down, the ones I grew up listening to range from the usual suspects like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Danny Elfman to Elliot Goldenthal, Carter Burwell, Thomas Newman…  Of course, there are amazing scores by composers that don’t necessarily label themselves ‘film composers’ like John Corigliano’s beautifully haunting score for “The Red Violin” and Osvaldo Golijov’s exotically seductive score for “Tetro.”  Of the newer generation, I think that Michael Giacchino is doing some really great things as well as Alexandre Desplat (especially “The Ghost Writer”). I could go on and on.

What’s your job when you’re scoring a film? How does that work?

This is something that I would love to explore with the students at Turtle Bay.  There are so many analytical and emotional questions to ask while watching a film and so many ways of answering them in a musical way. There is definitely an artistry to scoring that gets easily overlooked in the scheme of things.  But when it comes down to it, the score is what can bring a film to life.  The composer needs to be able to heighten and enhance anything from the on-screen action to the subtle unspoken emotions, the punch line of a joke to the growing anticipation around the corner.  You really have the power to bring something new to the film!

You’ve studied in Vienna, gotten a masters, and worked on films for people like Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg. Now you’re using this residency to compose for a jazz dectet. That seems like a big jump. Why jazz now?

Actually, it seems the jazz dectet is going to have to be put on hold for the time being.  Hopefully I will have time during the residency to compose for the ensemble, but I am actually beginning a Tenor Saxophone Concerto featuring Todd Groves.  Todd is a really dynamic performer with incredible control over the instrument and a tremendously diverse background; I’m really excited to be working with him on this project.  The concerto – which is currently in a very rough sketch form – will be written for Sax, String Quartet, and Drum Set.  The quartet that will be collaborating is the PUBLIQuartet.  They are an incredibly talented group that really knows how to push the boundaries and interact in an exciting way.

However, back to your question:  I am a jazz musician and have studied and performed jazz throughout my life, so writing it is very natural for me. Although the majority of my writing isn’t necessarily ‘jazz’, I have written a few big band pieces and actually many of my concert pieces are heavily influenced by the bebop (and post-bop) language.  The idea for the jazz dectet came during a time when I was writing a lot of chamber music, listening to a lot of Gyorgy Ligeti and Anton Webern, and studying the scores of Gil Evans.  In my mind, that cocktail could only really lead to one thing…

What’s rewarding about being a composer in NYC? What’s challenging?

Besides having a Staples and sixteen options of coffee within walking distance, what more could a composer ask for?  I would have to say the most rewarding aspect of composing in New York City is being surrounded by music at all times. Not only can I see a show any night of the week, but the buzz of the city and the rustle of the park provide for such an inspiring and vibrant landscape.  The 6-train on a Saturday afternoon I would call challenging.  But in terms of being a composer, the most challenging aspect of living in New York City is reminding myself to slow down!  The city is notoriously fast-paced and efficient for all of the right reasons, but when it comes time to write, one can easily forget to take a deep breath.

What do you hope to accomplish with the Con Edison Residency?

I know that with this residency I will be situated in an ideal environment for composing.  I hope to utilize that opportunity by inviting various musicians to work with me in a comfortable, productive environment. Not only do I imagine that Turtle Bay’s enthusiasm and passion for music will be motivating for me as a composer, but I know that this excitement will translate into the emotion of the music and the fervor of the performance.  With these surroundings, I hope that I can complete the Tenor Saxophone Concerto, share the compositional process with the students, and perform a finished product for the people who inspired it.

What’s next?

Well, I have several films coming up over the next two years that I look forward to announcing as each one begins to take shape.  Two of my films – “The Gospel According to Matthew” and “Brother Rob” – will be televised this coming October on the Documentary Channel.  Meanwhile, I plan to get the Tenor Saxophone Concerto into the concert hall and get back to that jazz dectet that I have been neglecting.  Projects always like to surprise me along the way, so I’m sure this paragraph will be completely reshuffled within the next forty-eight hours!

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