Guest List: Raphael Mostel

Today, we have a real treat for you in the form of a Guest List from composer Raphael Mostel who is getting ready to bring a new production of his celebrated “The Travels of Babar” to life this weekend at the Florence Gould Hall in New York, NY.

“I composed one scene for each of the 46 illustrations of the book, with music as wide-ranging as this humorously wild story is,” Mostel shares. “And on top of that musical travelogue, I have now also created an elaborate visual production using Jean de Brunhoff’s original watercolors of the famous illustrations, from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Morgan Library, and private collectors.”

“This production has become a whole ‘voyage’ within ‘Le Voyage de Babar,” the composer adds. “Even those who think they know the book well may be surprised at the many details in the original watercolors. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s staff and crew compared the experience to watching a film being edited live in real time.”

To celebrate “The Travels of Babar,” we had Mostel share with us five (plus a bonus!) pieces that have inspired him. Check it all out below and purchase your tickets for the November 2nd performance in French (7:00pm) or the November 3rd shows in English (2:00pm + 4:00pm) here. Tickets will also be available at the box office.

Monteverdi – “Vespers of 1610”

One of the most astonishing pieces ever composed — and from a time before people knew what a concert was supposed to be. And he wrote it as an application for a job he did not get, displaying every aspect of his astonishing range. Every aspect of this erotic setting of the Song of Songs is riveting — although he got in trouble with religious authorities because of his musical liberties. But it is the spatial conceptions of most of the music that floor me each time I return to it.

John Cage – “Four 3”

As elegant a statement of music as any composer has ever put together. One of the late works of a very misunderstood, and often badly performed, master who I was fortunate enough to call a friend. It’s the minimum required to hold together. Always on the edge of dematerializing or falling apart, but ever having a presence. And so beatific. It’s a blessing to be hearing it. Merce Cunningham used it for his dance “Beach Birds”, which also is largely concerned with balance.

Frank London – “Hatuey”

My friend Frank London, one of the founders of the Klezmatics, discovered this Yiddish-Cuban poem about one of the original inhabitants of the Americas who was murdered by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century by a Jewish refugee from pogroms in Ukraine. Against all probabilities, Frank has transformed the work into a unique Yiddish-Spanish-English opera that was just performed in Havana and last month in Montclair. Needs a little revision, but it’s already almost as powerful a paean to freedom as Beethoven’s Fidelio, but far more polyglot. A total surprise. Magical realism comes to opera. Hats off to you, Frank!

Berlioz – everything, but perhaps most “Damnation de Faust”

Composing is the opposite of routine – putting things together that would otherwise never have happened. And there is almost nothing routine in the work of Berlioz – the “Damnation de Faust” in particular. Filled with stunning surprises. And if you have a chance to hear the Requiem performed as intended — that is, spatially — it will open your ears to sound and architecture.

György Ligeti – “Violin Concerto”

Most people know his music that was used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. All of Ligeti’s music has influenced me, but the Violin Concerto just disarms me every time I encounter it. It’s all about loss and failing memory – the heartbreaking folk-like melody is something he wrote as a teenager, in imitation of a work by Bartôk (also about loss). But here Ligeti never manages to recall it the same way twice although recognizably similar. It’s written in three different tuning systems (simultaneously occasionally). And then there’s that hymn for ocarinas. Against all odds, this exceedingly odd late work of Ligeti from 1992 is becoming popular with violinists and audiences alike.

And I can’t resist a sixth:

Terry Riley – “In C”

As an undergraduate at Brown University, I gave the New England premiere (and at that time only the 7th performance ever) of Terry’s “In C”, the work that put minimalism on the map. Every aspect of this work has been influential. And fun too.