It was a full house at the beautiful and elegant Sands Point Village Club. Port residents came to hear Paul Moravec, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for music, play and explain excerpts from the award-winning piece Tempest Fantasy. The program, which included a sumptuous breakfast brunch, was part of the popular Friends of the Port Washington Library Autumn Leaves series.
Moravec seemed somewhat in awe of having received this award, which is the highest honor available in music. He began by describing the moment when he first learned about the prize. He had just arrived in Taormina, Italy, as he described it "jet-lagged," unshaven and [because the airline had lost their luggage] in dirty clothes." They got a call from his wife's assistant at Random House about an unrelated matter, when the assistant casually asked, "What do you think about the prize?" He asked, "What prize?" He said, "When she told me I had won the Pulitzer Prize, no one was more surprised than I was." Moravec quoted his wife's father, the inventor of many commonly used utilitarian things like suitcase handles, who liked to say, "No one knows how famous I really am." On a somewhat more serious note, he added, "It is a tremendous experience for me. It has changed my life." He said, "Only a few hours into it, I received over 500 e-mails." This was closely followed by a blitz of interview requests from the media and negotiations for recordings and so forth.
Moravec said that he intended to use the prize to be an advocate for the arts in the same way that Aaron Copeland did. "I want to explain that art and music are a very necessary part of the human condition," he said. "There is something about the musical experience that integrates all aspects of the human condition - spiritual, emotional, intellectual and even physical." He added, "Of course, I do this anyway because I am an educator." Moravec is University Professor of Music at Adelphi University, and has also taught at Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and Hunter.
In introducing Tempest Fantasy, the composition for which he won the Pulitzer, Moravec said, "The Tempest has always been my favorite Shakespeare play." The piece was begun at the McDowell Colony in the summer of 2001 and completed at Yaddo in the summer of 2002. In his handout, Moravec wrote, "It is dedicated with great admiration and affection to David Krakauer [clarinetist] and the members of the Trio-Solisti - Maria Bachman [violin]; Alexis Pia Gerlach [cello] and Jon Klibonoff [piano] - who gave its premiere at the Morgan Library in May 2003." The Trio Solisti has issued a CD of this piece with another Moravec work entitled Mood Swings, which, according to the group's web site, was "meant to echo the workings of the central nervous system."
To the delight of the audience, Moravec then played excerpts from Tempest Fantasy, which he described as a "musical meditation on various characters, moods, situations and lines of text." The entire piece is one-half hour long. It is in five movements: The first three movements represent respectively the characters Ariel (the spirit), Caliban (the beast), and Prospero (the protagonist). The fourth movement, Sweet Airs, according to Moravec, arises out of Caliban's "uncharacteristically elegant" speech: Be not afraid the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. The fifth movement, Fantasia, is a fantasy that elaborates on the previous movements. The composition vividly portrays Shakespeare's characters - one can imagine Ariel tripping lightly across the stage and Caliban lurching about. A number of listeners commented that it was pleasing to the ear, not atonal and cacophonic as much modern music is. A typical comment, "Modern music doesn't have to be what I thought it was."
During the question-and-answer period, Moravec said that he got interested in music in 1967 when he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. "I wanted to be a Beatle," he said, "but my sister explained to me that they were all filled up." He sang in an Episcopal Church choir, "tried to play violin, but I was terrible," and learned the piano. He said that he composes at the piano. "To me making music is a physical thing. Then I put it on the computer in the program called Sibelius, which lets me play it back." In response to another question, he said that he started Tempest Fantasy in 2001, put it aside, and then went back to it in 2002. "It was a very hard piece for me to write, especially the last part," he said.
After the formal program, Moravec spent time chatting with some Schreiber music composition students and their teachers. They had studied Moravec's work in class and played some of his pieces. Moravec enjoys working with young people, whom he described as "amateurs, in the literal sense of the word." [That is, someone who loves what (s)he does.]
Moravec has composed 70 compositions for orchestra, chamber ensembles and choral groups. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and a doctorate in music from Columbia. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Wendy Lamb.