Sebastian Currier

23 Variations on America

Sebastian Currier

23 Variations on America

About the Piece

Early in the 19th Century the composer and publisher Anton Diabelli commissioned some 50 composers to write a single variation on a waltz he wrote. This of course led to the composition of Beethoven’s monumental Diabelli Variations, which has eclipsed the variations of the other 49 composers. 23 Variations on America was written as part of pianist Min Kwon’s commissioning project, which sought to create a parallel set of variations by composers living and working in America today.  

When Min and I first spoke about this, I was certainly intrigued by the idea, but then came the obvious question: so what theme were we to write a variation on?  When she answered America the Beautiful, my heart sank. I have never been a fan of patriotic music, but at this particular moment it was much more than that. America had elected (well sort of) a president who was openly racist, spewed vile xenophobic falsehoods, lied constantly, had no qualms about separating innocent children from their parents, created a climate of corruption, sought division and chaos, and despite all that seemed to still enjoy substantial public support. America seemed anything but beautiful. But then I realized maybe there was something interesting in this.  

I’m sure I was hardly the only composer who found this problematic - In the case of Diabelli’s waltz, it was just a waltz. In this instance, the tune carried baggage and forced one to react in a more complex way. The next day I told her yes. I decided to write not one variation, but a series of very short micro-variations, each lasting only ten seconds! A playful reference to the Beethoven, for sure, but I had several other ideas in mind.  If America, as an idea, is beautiful, it is in no small part because of it’s diversity - I mean that in the broadest sense: cultural, racial, ethnic, geographic, religious, educational, political and so on. So these 23 brief flashes pay tribute to the vast tapestry that makes up America. But it’s also a fine line between diversity and fragmentation. Hence, while the piece celebrates difference, it also veers toward fragmentation. It is an uneasy balance.

About Sebastian Currier

Heralded as "music with a distinctive voice" by the New York Times and as "lyrical, colorful, firmly rooted in tradition, but absolutely new" by the Washington Post, Sebastian Currier’s music has been presented at major venues worldwide by acclaimed artists and orchestras.

With works spanning across solo, chamber and orchestral genres, Currier’s works have been performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Kronos Quartet. Recent premieres include Voyage Out (2019) for piano quintet, premiered by the Seattle Chamber Music Society; his violin concerto Aether (2018) for violinist Baiba Skride and the Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Andris Nelsons; Ghost Trio (2018), premiered by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, and pianist Lambert Orkis at Carnegie Hall; and Eleven Moons (2018), premiered by soprano Zorana Sadiq and Boston Musica Viva.

Currier’s music has been enthusiastically embraced by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter who has commissioned, premiered, and recorded several of Currier’s pieces, including his "rapturously beautiful" (New York Times) violin concerto Time Machines, which was commissioned by Ms. Mutter and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in June 2011 with a recording of the performance released by Deutsche Grammophon the following September.

Currier has received many prestigious awards including the Grawemeyer Award (for the chamber piece Static), Berlin Prize, Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has held residencies at the Institute for Advanced Studies, as well as the MacDowell and Yaddo colonies.

Sebastian Currier is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

September 2020

This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with the following credit: Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor

About Discovery Composers

As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents.  They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization.  Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor.  Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility.  In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far.  CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward".  I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities,  whom we felt we could easily move forward.

- Min Kwon