Welcome back to her kind; I hope you all had a lovely holiday break (and can manage to hang on for just a couple more weeks before the semester ends)!
This week, I want to dive into another composer I love—one who is still making waves throughout the contemporary scene today: Sky Macklay. Macklay is currently teaching at Peabody, and as a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, she’s working to release a chamber music album that synthesizes her work as a composer as well as her “raucous, multiphonic-rich oboe practice.”
Macklay’s music is filled with unexpected and conventional textures—one can hear this in her piece ‘White/Waves’ and ‘Chopped,’ as well as her iconic string quartet, ‘Many Many Cadences.’
‘Many Many Cadences’ is one of my favorite string quartets, and one of the first string quartets I discovered by a living composer. The piece re-contextualizes traditional harmonies—repeating a series of cadences in quick succession to form phrases and motives. The colors and textures Macklay extracts from the strings through developing the material provides an effective contrast to the bright, piercing nature of the initial motive. It’s wonderfully playful, which is something I strive for in my own writing, as well. At the end of the piece, when the initial motive returns, it’s transformed through the most delightful onslaught of slides—the motive is almost indistinguishable, but ultimately it’s just present enough for the ear to catch on.
Another stunning piece by Macklay is her violin and piano duo, FastLowHighSlow. Immediately, one can hear her playing with textures and registers—which is implied by the title. The piece particularly direct in concept, but it kept my interest the whole way through listening because of Macklay’s unique use of textural combinations.
Aside from her music, Macklay’s outlook on music also resonates with me:
“I love weird contemporary music and sharing it with the next generation,” she explained. “I think a lot of it is sharing my own personal perspective on it—just show how much a particular sound excites me and how beautiful I think it is. I think that’s sort of contagious, or at least let’s people perceive it as a beautiful thing, or something that some person thinks is a beautiful thing. I also think that exposure, experience, experiential education, and experiential pieces are really a great way to do outreach. … That’s something I think more composers should do: write music that has a participatory role for amateur musicians, or for just audience members.”
Finding ways to connect over the beauty of something—sounds, colors, experiences—is the primary reason I pursue art. If you want to connect over the beauty of Macklay’s music, you can listen here on the her kind playlist, or check out her scores on YouTube!