Composers at Home: Garth Edwin Sunderland

Our latest interview from home is with NYC-based composer Garth Sunderland. Garth is Vice President of Project Development and Senior Music Editor for the Leonard Bernstein Office and is artistic director of the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble.

What is an early musical experience that has stayed with you throughout your career?

Playing John Corigliano’s Symphony #1 as an undergrad. I heard the NYPhil play it last season, and it brought back to me what an incredible performing experience that piece is. It’s a monster to put together, and just physically and emotionally difficult to perform – but playing it was one of the great experiences of my life.

How did you meet Momenta and how have we collaborated over the years?

A few years ago I produced a festival celebrating the great Danish composer Per Nørgård, and Momenta played a dazzling concert of his quartets. The 8th in particular, Night Descending Like Smoke, was one of the best performances of anything that I’ve ever heard. Yay, Momenta!

Have any aspects of composing changed for you during the coronavirus pandemic?

This is such a terrible moment for the performing arts – it’s awful that at a time when we’d be most useful, we’re most unable to be of use. I’ve been mostly focused on producing lately, with my ensemble Lost Dog, and it was heartbreaking to have to postpone a big festival we’d planned for June celebrating American Modernist/Postmodern composers, who’ve kind of vanished from American concert programs. Momenta was to play George Rochberg’s epochal 3rd Quartet, which aside from having a lot of historical importance in American music, is also a huge and terrific piece that’s almost never done – I can’t wait to to get it back on the books.

Otherwise, I’m working on a new ‘embiggened’ version of my chamber adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place for full orchestra – work-wise, it’s been useful to have this time at home with few distractions, but I would actually really welcome some distractions now.

Do you have a performance of your work that you’d like to share?

This is my quintet, Vortex of Pleasure. I was exploring a ‘neutral third’ harmony, where the 3rd of a triad is a microtone between major and minor. It’s a quirky interval, and the piece is quirky too, toying with tonal implications and cliché, while pretty thoroughly subverting them. I was going for fun and weird, and the last movement’s vulgar in the best way, so maybe it’ll put some smiles on some faces.

What music have you been listening to recently?

Maybe not surprising, but I’ve been gravitating towards the cheerful side – I’ve had Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’ on repeat for weeks. My friend Makoto Ozone, the jazz pianist, has been doing daily Facebook live streams from his living room in Japan, and I’ve been trying to catch those in the morning too. I’ve been meaning to throw on some Penderecki since he passed away last month – his Saint Luke Passion was a revelation when I was a kid – but right now I’m just not up to it (I’m not sure my neighbors are, either).

Is there a particular favorite movie/TV show you’ve recently watched that you’d recommend?

Anything on Youtube with Golden Retrievers. Golden Retrievers make everything OK.

What do you enjoy cooking or eating at home?

My family’s originally from Ohio, and the Midwest knows comfort food. My Mom’s recipe for ‘Hamburger Pie’ is getting a workout lately (I think this is a variation on the classic ‘Hot Dish’). Brown a pound of ground beef (or anything meat-like that can be ground and browned), mix with one can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and one can of green beans (drained). Put the mixture into a pie dish or baking pan, cover with mashed potatoes, and bake at 325 for about 35-40 minutes. It’s super easy, and super tasty.