Mar 14, 2009
Harold Seletsky is a prolific and versatile composer and a virtuoso clarinetist and improviser whose playing is marked by great expressivity and vitality. He has distinguished himself, as both a composer and performer, in the realms of classical music, jazz, folk and popular music.
Born in 1927 in Brooklyn, Seletsky studied clarinet and from 1944-49 music theory and composition with composer-conductor Josef Schmid, a prize pupil of Alban Berg. Soon thereafter Seletsky used Schoenbergian techniques in such early works as the Gradual Variations on a Simple Theme for clarinet and string quartet, Op.1 (1958), the Sonata for clarinet and piano (1958) and the First String Quartet (1963). In the 1960s, Seletsky began experimenting with various microtonal concepts based on equal temperament. Yet in his many quartertone works, Seletsky remains indebted to the composers of the Second Viennese School in that the development of thematic ideas continues to be paramount.
Seletsky explored manifold musical genres including opera, music for ballet and film, song, orchestral and chamber music. Some of his compositions have a political and social dimension. These include Christ in Concrete for narrator and orchestra (1963) and Apathy for voice and three instruments (1980). Seletsky also composed a wide variety of jazz-inspired works, Yiddish songs, music for the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions as well as music for film and television.
Moreover Seletsky pursued a career as a critically acclaimed virtuoso clarinetist, improviser and conductor in the classical, jazz and popular realms. As a performer of classical music, Seletsky played clarinet in the Houston Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, gave his Carnegie Hall debut in 1957 and performed in numerous contemporary music ensembles in the New York City area including the New York Chamber Players, the Inoue Chamber Ensemble, the New Amsterdam Chamber Ensemble and with members of the New York Philharmonic. He performed in the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions Rags and Hot Klezmer and collaborated with the renowned folksinger and guitarist Richie Havens.
As clarinetist and bandleader of the West End Klezmorim, he is dedicated to the performance of old and modern Klezmer music including Yiddish songs, theater songs, and various types of gypsy, Hungarian, Russian and Ladino folk music. Since the mid-1950s Seletsky has also been active as a teacher of composition and clarinet. Among his students are jazz pianist Armen Donelian, Richard Hayms, and the jazz saxophonists Roger Rosenberg and David Schnitter.
Seletsky has received numerous awards including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and awards from the Council on International Non-Theatrical Events, the International Film and Television Festival of New York, the Venice Film Festival, and the American Society for Jewish Music.
VARIATIONS FOR PIERROT ENSEMBLE (2009) is a special world premiere event, in which the composer presents a new work commissioned by family members of Arnold Schoenberg, Nancy Bogen and Arnold Greissle. It promises to be microtonal, but there will be some familar music within it. Seletsky draws influence from the ensemble genre of Schoenberg's landmark piece from 1912, featuring flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, and also from Ives' Variations on America.