Max Grafe

EarShot New York Philharmonic Biennial New Music Readings

photo credit: Harrison Linsey

(b. 1988) is rapidly emerging onto the American contemporary classical music scene. Mr. Grafe’s work has recently been performed by Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and bassoonists Elizabeth Garrett and Sasha Gee Enegren; the remainder of the 2013/2014 season will see further performances by Quince and Sasha Gee Enegren, as well as by pianist Han Chen and saxophone-percussion duo Patchwork.

Mr. Grafe has received several prestigious awards for student composers, including several named scholarships for graduate study at the Juilliard School, a fellowship for study at the 2012 Aspen Music Festival and School, a 2011 Jacobs School of Music Dean’s Prize, a 2007 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and a competition-based scholarship for undergraduate composition study at Indiana University.

Mr. Grafe is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition as a CV Starr Doctoral Fellow of the Juilliard School, where he also received a Master of Music degree in composition in 2013. He received a Bachelor of Music degree in composition with a concentration in bassoon from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2011, graduating with music departmental honors and a general honors notation. He has also taken classes in the preparatory division of Mannes College of Music and graduated with honors in composition and bassoon.

Bismuth: Variations for Orchestra is the product of a desire to compose a piece with a high degree of abstraction, many of my recent works having been heavily informed by extramusical sources. Loath to entirely abandon my affinity for intertextuality, however, I titled the work Bismuth in order to highlight the kinship between its own colorful, angular style and the kaleidoscopic patina and geometric edges of a pure bismuth crystal. Musically, the work is laid out in a large arch form with an opening theme and seven continuous variations. Each successive variation is in fact a variation upon its predecessor rather than directly upon the theme, and thus it is the distinctive characters of each variation, rather than the musical materials being treated, that are primarily responsible for articulating the work’s form. After the first three variations—a bombastic and martial Interlude, a grimly humorous Scherzetto, and a lyrical Arioso respectively—the theme is restated verbatim amidst a tumultuous and dramatic accompaniment in the central fourth variation. Subsequently, the characters of the first three variations are revisited in reverse order for the final three variations, and the work concludes with a brief and choked-off recapitulation of its opening bars. Bismuth was composed between October and November 2013 in Manhattan and Wallkill, New York.