Never before have classical and rock converged in so organic, compelling and sensual a way as they do in the three short orchestral works by New York composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner on his new release St. Carolyn by the Sea, performed with the Copenhagen Phil and conducted by AndrÃ© de Ridder. The explanation is simple enough: Dessner, born in 1976, has always had a foot in both worlds, classical and rock inextricably mingled within his musical bones.
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Dessner is known to many as one of the guitarists with The National, a band who are famed for their full guitar sound and their lead singer’s distinctively seasoned baritone voice, who sell out the largest venues in the U.S. and have long since conquered Europe as well. But what many of their fans may not know is that guitarist Dessner originally studied classical music (holding a master’s degree from Yale University), and absorbed the influences of composers such as Morton Feldman and Steve Reich when he came to New York. These days, as well as playing with The National, he regularly collaborates with contemporary artists such as Bang on a Can and the Kronos Quartet. “For any classical musician who’s been born since 1960, the music of the era around them is popular music,” says Dessner. “You find that in many variations: former rock musicians who end up going the classical route, or very academic composers who are perhaps re-setting a text by Bob Dylan. You find all kinds of various strands of this. Someone like myself or Jonny Greenwood, we’re actually part of a new generation of composers where our education, our background, our interests are so diverse that you can’t really say ‘oh, that’s a guy from a rock band who writes classical music.’ You should say the opposite: Jonny Greenwood was a classical violist who became a guitarist with Radiohead. But the music he’s interested in is still Penderecki and Ligeti.”