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The Influence of Pop Music in the Works of Three Contemporary American Composers: Steven Mackey, Julia Wolfe and Nico Muhly


There are two volumes in this dissertation: the first is a monograph, and the second a musical composition, both of which are described below.

Volume I

These days, labels such as classical, rock and pop mean less and less since young musicians frequently blur boundaries between genres. These young musicians have built an alternative musical universe. I construct five different categories to explore this universe. They are 1) circuits of alternate concert venues, 2) cross-genre collaborations, 3) alternative modes of musical groups, 4) new compositional trends in classical chamber music, and 5) new ensembles and record labels.

In this dissertation, I aim to explore these five categories, connecting them to recent cultural trends in New York. In addition to considering social, cultural, and institutional aspects, I also analyze two contemporary classical works, Steven Mackey's "Physical Property" and Julia Wolfe's "Believing," which exemplify alternative classical composers' attempts at exploring and crossing the divide between contemporary classical music and vernacular music styles, like rock and popular music. Through this set of examinations, I aim to show what it is like to be a classical composer in today's society, where popular culture has enormous prestige.

Volume II

The Arctic is inspired by the images of North Polar with its vast, giant and beautiful nature. It is for large orchestra: 3 flutes (2nd doubling Piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English Horn), 2 Clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, harp, piano, celesta and strings in about 15 minutes in duration. The first part is an exploration of a spinning melody of strings and often splashes of color from other instruments. The second part is more serenely scored, culminating in a kind of cosmic dance for the entire orchestra. The third part takes serious effort to build up momentum- as if desperately seeking final destination. The musical ideas reflect on the beauty of tonality.

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