The World According to Vosk

A Local Composer Enjoys A Month In The Limelight.

By Dave Irwin

TUCSON CLASSICAL COMPOSER Jay Vosk has not gotten rich from his work. Not yet, anyway. But that's not why he writes.

"I write a lot of stuff on spec," he says. "You just have to do it. It's like a compulsion. I'm fortunate to at least be very careful with my time, so I can write the stuff. You just have to write."

Review This month will see two of his works performed in the Old Pueblo, including a world premiere. His Dance Features for Brass Quintet and Solo Percussion, written for Tucson Symphony Orchestra percussionist Homero Cerón, debuts Sunday, January 17, at a TSO ensemble concert; and Jerry Kirkbride will play Vosk's "Oasis," a work for solo clarinet, at the UA School of Music's Faculty Artist Series concert on Monday, January 25.

By his own estimation, the 50-year-old composer has written somewhere between 75 and 100 works so far. They range from solo instrumentals and chamber music to orchestral works and vocal works for soloists and choirs.

"Little by little, people are beginning to ask me to write things," Vosk admits. "Pieces that I thought were forgotten are being performed, finally. The percentage is getting a little better; more and more are getting performed, and I'm starting to get paid for it."

Vosk also plays saxophone, clarinet, modern flute and Native American flute. His background includes jazz and Yiddish klezmer music. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, he teaches Jewish music at the UA, and music appreciation classes at Pima Community College.

"My style is a conglomeration," he says. "Rhythmically, (there's) my jazz background; melodically, some minimalism seeps in; and there's still some vestiges of expressionistic style. I think the idea of expression and soul comes up in a number of things I do. It seems to be helpful when writing and getting heart into the music. I use it when I play jazz and klezmer. I've been playing Native flute lately, and it uses the same kind of soul, music from the heart."

When composing, Vosk prefers starting from small bits of melody and then building around that material.

"I organize in a very motivic way," he explains. "I often take simple information and try to get it abstract sounding. I also vary the genres I do. At any given time, I might work on an orchestral piece, a piece for piano and instrument, and a vocal piece. I do different genres at the same time."

Vosk's Dance Features for Brass Quintet and Solo Percussion was written to take advantage of unusual combinations of instrumentation. The six movements include pairing French horn and timpani, two trumpets with wooden percussion, trombone and marimba, and tuba with vibraphone. It has a strong sense of Americana and the Southwest, with section names like "Hoedown at the Pass" and "St. David Shuffle."

Vosk's "Oasis" is more exotic and world-influenced. "Tucson shares a common latitude with Morocco, Tunisia and Israel, and of course, they all have a desert," Vosk notes. "So I tried to make the piece common to all those things, to split the difference and combine Western with Middle Eastern and Eastern.

"It's a piece I'm fond of. It's somewhat spiritually oriented. It stands on its own, and is pretty portable, since it doesn't need an accompanist. The clarinet has such a wide range--the low notes can function as a kind of percussive bass line, and the upper notes and higher range for melodic material. I wrote it as a piece where the clarinetist almost accompanies himself. Some of my interest in the music of other cultures comes out of that one. Dance Features is more traditional and more American in character."

The composers that Vosk looks to are contemporary and eclectic. Among his favorites, he cites Toru Takemitsu from Japan and Einojuhani Rautavarra from Finland, each only a few years older than he. "I also like some of the post-minimalism people," he adds. "My music isn't that jazz oriented, but I like listening to Duke Ellington and the golden age of jazz, people from the '20s and '30s. These days, it's such an international approach to music that on any given day, I might listen to Pakistani music or Moroccan or Andalusian music."

When asked about the biggest problem with being a composer, the otherwise exuberant Vosk answers, "Getting enough opportunities to make you feel like your work is worthwhile."

Fortunately for Vosk, January will be a good month for people to discover his music.

The TSO presents Brass Quintet and Percussion as part of its ensemble series, at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 17, in the Tucson Symphony Center, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. The concert will repeat at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 14, in the Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2800 S. Camino del Sol. Tickets are $30. For reservations and information, call 882-8585.

The UA Faculty Artist Series continues on Monday, January 25, with Jerry Kirkbride, soloist, and guest artists Rex Wood and Jeff Showell. Show time is 7:30 p.m. in Crowder Hall, on campus at the southwest corner of the pedestrian underpass on Speedway and Park Avenue. Tickets are $10 general, $5 for students and seniors. For tickets and information, call 621-1162. TW

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