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Cellist Norman Fischer on the Importance of New Music During a Student's Formative Years

"How important is it for students to study new music during their formative years?" We threw the question over to American cellist Norman Fischer to seek his advice.

Contemporary music — some of us may like it, some may not. Be that as it may, new music opens the horizons and creates new pathways for the future generation of composers. As musical interpreters and performers, it is our duty to present the work as faithfully as the composer had intended. To what extent then is new music important in a student's formative years? VC reader Susan was keen to know.

What are your opinions of new music? Are there any contemporary composers you can recommend our fellow VC readers? Please leave a comment below, we are keen to know your thoughts.


Norman Fischer Duo

Norman Fischer and his wife, Jeanne Kierman Fischer


Cellist Norman Fischer Discusses Why New Music is Crucial for a Student's Formative Years


Dear Susan,

This is a great question, and one I feel passionate about. These days it is very easy to get disconnected from the fact that real human creative minds wrote the music we play. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a conversation with Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms and ask them what was on their mind? The musical world is changing so fast, it is even more imperative that students gain confidence in dealing with the demands of new scores. One just learns to think in a more creative way.

Nothing gets one's confidence going like being able to play tricky rhythmic passages and render them easily. Also learning extended techniques feels like a playground for developing an ever broader sound world. My students are always surprised at how quickly I can find harmonics all over the cello, a skill I learned early on.

Looking back on my training, I was very fortunate at an early age to dispense with negative prejudice about new music and to have many friendships with composers. Soon I had a reputation for being open-minded about trying new ideas and playing new scores. While I was learning wonderful things about the instrument with my teachers, I felt I was learning to think in a more creative way by looking at scores and deciphering the intent behind the notation. This important skill has helped me with all music that I play and teach.

The Concord String Quartet (1971-87), of which I was a founding cellist, premiered over 50 works.

Of course, not all of these were masterpieces, but as interpreters, having to make a convincing performance of a weak or medium strong piece, built great skills.

This also increases your options one has to perform ANY music. I find this especially true with penetrating any new style that I haven’t encountered before.

 In addition to the important skills learned, new music opens up opportunities for performance and relationships. I am so blessed with having strong friendships with so many people that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for my devotion to new scores. In addition to a wide array of performers, I can proudly say that I have worked with many composers, some who are already legendary such as Bolcom, Cage, Carter, Crumb, Druckman, Dutilleux, Foss, Frank, Golijov, Harbison, Henze, Rands, Reich, Rochberg, Rouse, Sirota, Thomas and Tower. Getting to work with these great creators was thrilling, and in many cases, my input was important in shaping the finished score.

 So let go of any fear and plunge in!



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Norman Fischer is one of the foremost exponents of the cello in the United States. After completing his studies with Richard Kapuscinski at the Oberlin Conservatory, he helped found the renowned Concord String Quartet. As a quartet cellist throughout their 16-year career, Mr. Fischer concertized extensively in the US and abroad, recorded over 40 works, premiered 70 scores, appeared frequently on radio and television, and received numerous accolades including the Naumburg Chamber Music Award, several Grammy nominations, and an Emmy Award.

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