To its credit, every New York Youth Symphony program at Carnegie Hall features the premiere of a commissioned work by an emerging composer. On this occasion, the new piece was Conrad Winslow’s “All Decays,” a short, compelling orchestral essay. The piece is like a series of overlapping musical events in the process of disintegration: Brass riffs fragment; melodic lines turn diffuse; piercing sustained harmonies morph into hazy clusters; pulsing rhythms falter and fade.
The composer, acknowledging the applause from a hall clearly dotted with family members of the players, looked rightly proud.
—ANTHONY TOMMASINI; 2014 May 26
Do you think music in notation on paper truly captures the sound you're after? Are there limits to notation as there are limits to words?
Well, I would refer again to playwriting: nobody thinks the script is the play. The play happens on stage; it evolves, strengthens and weakens, through its various productions. Just like a piece of music evolves through the various incarnations of its performances. I mean in extreme cases composers really have only the impulse behind the work, the sort of experience they want, something to do with the form — the succession of sounds and repetitions and changes that maybe articulates the Thing they're after. The score is both sacred and a fairly basic laundry list, but it's certainly not "The Piece." Interpretation is great! The liminal zone between interpretation and authorship is hazardous and thrilling.
—from an interview with CINDA YAGER; 2017 January 26
Nothing was a greater contrast than Conrad Winslow’s Joint Account (commissioned by Carnegie Hall). The video projections were subjects sometimes mundane, sometimes terrifying. A fisherman, a bird, a beating, a boxer’s face, a woman picking flowers. At first in natural light, then relit placed in montage, an equation of tenderness and violence together.
As was Mr. Winslow's music. He writes that it was inspired by Baroque theorist Johann Mattheson, who had written a manual of “techniques on representing emotions in music.” I am certain that in his 13-minute carnival he did exactly that. Assuredly, within the seeming anarchic carnival-like beginning, he created those sentiments, used the Ye Olde 1732 Textbook to produce his effects.
And I would love to listen one day to the music with care. Amid the projections, and the ACO blaring out the deliciously loud discords, the Baroque was lost to my ears. That was my shortcoming, not the composer’s defect. To these ears, it was fun, and, like all the music, singular and frequently daring.
—HARRY ROLNICK; 2015 October 24
Conrad Winslow’s string and wind sextet “Flying Patterns” injected a touch of harmonic thorniness and rhythmic vitality into the program. More interesting, though, was his “[Pinning] Music,” an atmospheric exploration of meaty lower brass textures, complete with subtle slides and juxtapositions of muted and open timbres, expertly played by the trombone quartet Guidonian Hand.
—ALLAN KOZINN; 2009 September 2
The finale brought together the full corps of students, who gave a lively reading of Conrad Winslow’s a cappella choral setting of “Love,” an eight-word epigram by Rochefoucauld. With its playful interludes of hand percussion and judiciously repeated phrases, the piece made its point memorably and pithily in a way Rochefoucauld would surely have appreciated.
—JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER; 2015 April 12
The [Violence of Ragtime] has a fun, bouncing quality to that is, at the same time, not far from irony. As the piece builds, tension grows, with the elements of ragtime implied by the title occasionally peeking through...The synthesizer...had been set to sound like a harpsichord, adding to the piece’s irony.
—IAN VANDERMEULEN; 2008 May 7
'Conrad being John [Corigliano’s] student, there is a definite connection between these two works,' says Miller. 'John’s piece is very easily understood, but Conrad’s is a much more abstract piece, actually very challenging to play, especially in the wind writing. And we’ve built the rest of our program around these two works by selecting pieces that complement them.'
—CONDUCTOR DAVID ALAN MILLER, quoted by PHIL DREW; 2011 March 10
Consider “Chariot,” the work of another student pair, the 21-year-old choreographer Zack Winokur and the 25-year-old composer Conrad Winslow. They were inspired by Baroque aesthetics that led them to deform and torque the idea of ascension, an obsession of ballet ever since the days of Louis XIV (pointe shoes that make you seem taller and lighter; Nijinsky’s aversion and uncanny immunity to gravity). Winslow stretches the welcoming trumpet call from Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” Prologue into a perverted, precipitous climb. The choreography matches the contrivance, and in the golden moment the dancers gather to form a chariot, an athletically aloof armada. The costuming assists the design, with one dancer presented in an absurdly voluptuous dress connected to four massive helium balloons.
“That’s another deformation,” Winslow said. “It’s like she's taking off.” Said Winokur, “It’s a sort of skewed grandeur and presentation.”
—JIMMY SO; 2010 December 7
Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture
...Conrad Winslow's (1985–) CHARIOT (2010)—a ballet scored for an unusual ensemble of oboe, trumpet, amplified harpsichord, and tuba—both stretches and exploits the instruments' characteristic identities, remains tautly controlled and coherent, but bursts with variety both harmonic and gestural.
—ROB HASKINS, ed. JACQUELINE EDMONDSON
As the evening wore on the room mellowed—an effect of either the treatments or the wine (served in mugs). Conrad Winslow's playlist interspersing Western orchestral music with Tibetan monk chants kept us from dozing off as we chatted till past our bedtimes. “It’s about dissonance,” Winslow said of his set. “About how disjointed pieces can come together through ritual.” The thought was more appealing than some of the noise.
—KAT HERRIMAN; 2016 March 31
Conrad Winslow is planting a garden...'It's like landscape gardening, he said. I’m thinking about building the boxes, making a garden, planting things and arranging them in such a way so that you’ve got, you know, purple flowers next to green flowers, next to a vegetable garden,' Winslow said. 'But doing that all in terms of music.'
The piece is divided into three “sound worlds,” each characterized by different feelings and technical aspects.
The first is animated and frenetic; the second more calm; and the third is like vines growing and twisting around one another, he said.
—BEATRIZ COSTA-LIMA, 2015 July 24
'I think visuals are useful if they direct our attention to the performance actions on the stage. If it’s live, it should be necessary to watch musicians make choices about how to play the music.'
—CONRAD WINSLOW & DORIANA MOLLA; 2015 November 12
Although not yet 30 he has amassed a slew of critical accolades and honours, including his Carnegie Hall debut, and several ASCAP awards. He was also one of a select handful of composers to receive a 2013 JFund award, which enabled Winslow to compose a work unusual even by New York City’s fringe-pushing standards, The Perfect Nothing Catalog.
“Composing a work is usually like solving a puzzle for me,” Winslow explains, “and I had been thinking a lot about how to build large musical structures that are neither histrionic-Romantic nor process-driven.” Whilst musing on this problem he had the good fortune to attend Caryl Churchill’s quirky play Love & Information. Winslow describes Churchill’s work as “tossing its eponymous themes through fifty or so rapid-fire scenes of non-repeating characters and situations. The play’s highly-concentrated, almost pointillist structure paradoxically held together the more it fragmented, and gave me a way to build The Perfect Nothing Catalog.”
True to his inspiration, The Perfect Nothing Catalog is a series of fifty self-contained musical fragments grouped into five “movements”. After opening with a mixed-bag of material explored later in the piece, the performers move through a series of tunes without counterpoint or accompaniment, static music textures, rhythmically-driven processes, and what Winslow describes as “mini-pageants restricting my control where the musicians make certain decisions about rhythm, pitch, and tempo”.
However Winslow was eager to avoid the piece turning into a pedantic categorisation of sounds, and so rather than rigidly sticking to narrow parameters within each of the movements, he instead chose to guide the audience through the piece with “tonal quirks and rhythmic impulses” that occur across the score. And, rather ingeniously, he instructs the musicians to stomp their feet with varying rhythms and patterns between each phrase as a sort of palette-cleansing aural sorbet between courses.
—TIM HANSEN; 2015 January
Cadillac Moon’s performance of Conrad Winslow’s ABIDING SHAPES likewise drew out ever more possibilities from the ensemble’s geometry. The rhythmic conversation between percussion and the rest of the ensemble felt vibrant and spontaneous. I was captivated by a passage of excellent instrumental blend between flute and cello that was testament to the molding of timbres that few performers have the ears and sense of nuance for.
—DAVID PEARSON; 2012 December 18
In terms of innovation and challenging traditional orchestral conventions, Conrad Winslow’s Joint Account for orchestra and video was the only piece that really approached that goal. Divided into four movements, Joint Account was based on Baroque theorist Johann Mattheson’s 1739 manual of techniques on representing emotions in music. Rather than adapting the orchestra to the projected video, Winslow instead treated the video as an orchestral color. The video thus marks the musical structure and helps clarify or muddy the emotional objectives of the music. Each of the four movements explored the relationship between music, film, and affect, and the incorporation of film into music was well done.
—SAM REISING; 2015 November 17
Like Music for eighteen musicians run through a meat grinder, with the percussion that recalled nothing so much as the golden era of hard bop for me. [Old Motion Parade] felt like Sun Ra and Charlie Parker had taken a class with Glass and Reich in the sixties. I really did enjoy it immensely.
—SRULY HELLER; 2014 May 25
Conrad Winslow, presented his “pageant to simple [wave forms],” Abiding Shapes. Winslow explored the realm of shapes (such as sine, square, and sawtooth) through dynamics and sound, and—though a bit peculiar—the work engaged the mind and moved outside the box.
—MELANIE WONG; 2013 May 22