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James Matheson studied with Steven Stucky at Cornell, and wrote his doctoral thesis on John Harbison. He claims influences from Judas Priest to Nietzsche, in addition to composers such as Chopin, Schoenberg, and Ligeti, as well as Harbison and Stucky. Like Loeffler, Matheson has also taken compositional inspiration from poets, including T.S. Eliot. His music can be loud, but often comes from a quiet place, and is often deft and diaphanous. Matheson has been commissioned by major orchestras as well as chamber ensembles, and was hailed by The New Yorker as, “an American composer who is ignoring style labels and writing synthetic, satisfying music that avoids the glib theatricality of postmodernism.” In September of 2009, Matheson joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Director of its innovative Composer Fellowship Program. He was a recipient of the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2000.
Matheson has written the following about Borromean Rings:
“A key element in the emotional and structural world of my piano quintet is the idea of the Borromean Rings – a chain of rings in which all rings are connected as a unit, but in which no two individual rings are connected. Thus, if one link in the chain is broken, the entire structure crumbles. The metaphor of mutually dependent connectedness, of a chain of relationships in which every nodal point has equal importance in maintaining the survival and integrity of the whole, has powerful musical and spiritual implications. Fundamental to our experience of the world – and of music – is the paradox of the simultaneous importance of unity and multiplicity, of the individual and the community, of the simplest musical idea and the structure in which it resides. Borromean Rings explores this paradox with sensitivity to the fragile connections that make life and music sustainable and rewarding, and which generate the most fundamental meanings of life.”
Jessie Rothwell is a composer, musician, concert curator, and writer.