A Conversation with Peter Gregson

Photo courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon.

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Cellist and composer Peter Gregson has written music for such films as A Little Chaos (2015) and released a recomposition of Bach's Cello Suites in 2018. WHRB's Ellie Taylor sat down with Gregson to discuss his newest album Patina, on Deutsche Grammophon.

These are some highlights of the interview that have been edited for length and clarity.

Ellie Taylor: Tell us a little bit about the new album, Patina. For people who are not as familiar with contemporary, electronic, more minimal music that explores the theme of absence – compositionally, what’s going on in the album?

Peter Gregson: It’s instrumental music, there are no lyrics, there’s no sort of objective narrative in that respect. I’ve always liked there to be space for engagement, for the listener to think about it and form an opinion about what’s happening, not just having everything rammed down your throat all the time. You don’t need to be told every single piece of information. It’s okay – and good – for there to be space for interpretation. What I wanted to explore with this was the idea of the presence of absence or the absence of presence.

It’s really interesting that you mentioned leaving space for the listener to interpret the meaning or significance. When you were writing some of the work, did you have a particular meaning or significance in mind just for your own process, or were you also sitting with the ambiguity of what the interpretation would be of the music you were writing?

The music is always about something. Although it’s abstract, there’s always something you’re trying to communicate or say. I’ve never felt the inclination to share what that is. If you’re told what to look for, you’ll see it. If you’re told what to listen for, you’ll hear it. A lot of my music ends up in other contexts, used in unforeseen or unplanned ways. I do think you can only really do that if there’s space in the music for someone else’s vision or idea to have impact as well. You don’t want to tell a joke with the same punchline twice. The best joke is the one where the punchline is inevitable but unsaid.This is where the title of Patina comes from. Trying to find a tactile approach to sound, to make a record that has space for us to engage with it – the more you listen to it, maybe the more you hear, there’s a different shadow, or crack, or crevice. I wanted this album to explore decaying and distortion for it to sound like the music has lived a life, and is not just a snapshot in time.

If you could predict where Patina will end up, where will it go?

My favorite, favorite thing for my music to be used for is ballet. I love watching dances and choreography for my music, especially when it wasn’t commissioned as a ballet score. Especially when it wasn’t commissioned as a ballet score. There’s something incredibly wholesome about seeing my music as a kind of foundational layer to another art form.

Ellie Taylor is a producer for the Classical Music Department, and the host of New Releases on Wednesdays from 8-10 PM.