5 Great People | 1 Good Question:
Cellist Jay Campbell is an artist passionately dedicated to the music of our time. His performances have been called “electrifying” by the New York Times; “gentle, poignant, and deeply moving” by the Washington Post.
The only musician ever to receive two Avery Fisher Career Grants—in 2016 as a soloist, and again in 2019 as a member of the JACK Quartet—Jay made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2013.
Jay has worked with some of the most creative musicians of our recent time including Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Matthias Pintscher, John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Chaya Czernowin, Georg Friedrich Haas, and many others from his own generation. His close association with John Zorn resulted in the 2015 release of Hen to Pan (Tzadik) featuring all works written for Campbell, and was listed in the New York Times year-end Best Recordings of 2015. Deeply committed as a chamber musician, Campbell is a member of the JACK Quartet as well as the JCT Trio with violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Conrad Tao and will be presented by SF Performances November 17 with violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Timo Andres in a program of Andres and Janáček.
So what’s our One Good Question to ask Jay?
“Thanks for being part of SFP’s very first PIVOT series performance in 2016 when the JACK Quartet played Georg Friedrich Haas’s String Quartet No. 3 at 11pm, in complete darkness. As an audience member it was an unforgettable music moment. As a player, what do you think your most unforgettable moment has been?”
I’ve often heard people talk about the revelatory experience from their first encounters with things like Beethoven 9, Rite of Spring, A Love Supreme, etc.—powerful, but now very familiar works of art. It’s always very nostalgic, as if new pathways were being blazed in the brain in real time but now are familiar. Not worse or less interesting, just familiar. Of course, you can still enjoy a familiar hike and appreciate deeper subtleties, but there are few feelings quite like new art that opens a new dimension of your own self. So I feel extremely lucky that I get to work with living composers so frequently. I get to experience these new dimensions of expression on a regular basis.
Georg Friedrich Haas’s music is always memorable in this way. His 3rd and 9th quartets are performed in total, entombing darkness. Very literally, all light is completely blocked out. No matter how many times I play them, removing all visual stimuli helps make my sense of hearing hyper-aware of the complexity of pure tones. There is a feeling of being able to hear beyond the initial layer of the music into the sonic DNA of the raw sounds themselves and the complexities of their interactions in the physical space and in my brain.
When the lights come back up, there is almost a feeling of rebirth, and that deeper mode of listening hangs over for a while. I leave the concert a slightly different person, hearing and seeing the world differently, for at least a little while. I leave re-enchanted by the most (seemingly) basic building blocks of music—sound itself—and am reminded of its infinite mystery and depth.