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Jay Greenberg

  • Composer


Jay Greenberg press reviews

The Associated Press Sits Down with Jay Greenberg  
Jay Greenberg has already composed more than 100 musical works, including five symphonies, 17 piano sonatas and three piano concertos. And he's only 14 years old.
In terms of output, he's more than halfway to Beethoven's magic number of nine symphonies, 32 piano sonatas and five piano concertos.

Fate knocks at the door of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Fate — in the form of Sony Classical — knocked on Jay's door and recorded his Fifth Symphony, written when he was 12.

The work, played by the London Symphony and conductor Jose Serebrier, is on Jay's first commercially recorded CD, "Symphony 5 & Quintet for Strings." The album, released in August, also features the Juilliard String Quartet and cellist Darrett Adkins.

Jay has been compared to the child geniuses Mozart and Mendelssohn by some highly respected figures in classical music, including the violinist Joshua Bell and the composer Samuel Zyman.

But his curiosity extends beyond music. This summer, he studied filmmaking in New Haven, Conn., and participated in a two-week program in Princeton, N.J., studying forensic science, philosophy, military strategy and digital photography. In September, he enters 12th grade. He hopes to study film, philosophy, math and chemistry in college.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Jay gave insight into his remarkably creative mind.

AP: How do you get an idea for a piece of music?

Jay: It comes to me. Usually it chooses the most inconvenient moment to do so, when I'm miles from the nearest sheet of paper or pen, let alone a computer containing music software.

AP: When you compose, what is your technique?

Jay: I sit down and start writing.

AP: And it just flows out?

Jay: Generally. In the past it just used to flow out and I'd leave the piece as it was. But after a while I found out that sometimes some of my earlier pieces lacked a coherent structure ... or sounded very strange or ... were plain impossible to play. The first piano concerto, for instance. I wrote parts for the horn that go about an octave higher than the horn can possibly play.

AP: I got a sense of Bartok in the quintet. What composers influence you?

Jay: My main influences from both the writings and music are — my own three B's, which are Bach, Bartok and Bernstein. ... And then also Prokofiev and Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and a few others.

AP: Your Fifth Symphony seems operatic. The beginning has this mysterious motif, almost like John Williams' "Jaws." What were you trying to express?

Jay: I don't know if I was thinking of anything in particular. ... I was kind of bored, actually, to be honest. I was in the middle of a history class and we were basically supposed to be taking notes on something I already knew, so I was just sitting there staring at a map when suddenly I remembered that I had some music paper in my backpack. So I pulled it out and started writing the first page of Symphony Number 5 — in piano reduction.

AP: How long did it take?

Jay: From the beginning of October until Election Day I think. I was working mostly at school — during that class and one of my free periods later on. That's about an hour and 20 minutes a day.

AP: So instead of studying your lessons you were composing?

Jay: During some of the lessons I paid attention — the ones before tests and quizzes and things. So it wasn't every day — most days.

AP: The third movement in particular is very beautiful. You described it in your liner notes as a mathematical formula that has no beginning and no end.

Jay: Yeah. It just sort of comes out of nothing and goes up to a climax that it doesn't quite reach and then descends back down to nothing, except it isn't exactly nothing because it leads immediately into the next movement.

AP: Why did Sony start with your fifth symphony instead of your first?

Jay: I selected it because they wanted a big orchestra piece.

AP: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Jay: In 20 years I see myself about 34, 35 years old, and I'll probably be on the planet Earth unless they started offering private spaceship rides to the moon.

AP: Will you still be composing?

Jay: I might be. I don't know. I can't really see that far in the future. My crystal ball is not functioning. It's down. Server's down.

 - Martin Steinberg, Associated Press August, 2006

Quintet for Strings Reviewed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune  
All the talk in the music world these days about Jay Greenberg isn't just marketing hype. He is the real thing, as it turns out, a gifted, smart composer of serious concert music, and he's only 14. A fine performance by the London Symphony of Greenberg's Symphony No. 5 has just been released in a pairing with the same composer's Quintet for Strings, performed by the Juilliard String Quintet with cellist Darrett Adkins.

The Connecticut native is currently a scholarship student at the Juilliard School. He writes music that is tonal and could be called Romantic, but it's not the kind of lush, imitation-Brahms that we used to hear in the 1970s, nor does it owe anything to Minimalism. It's grounded in a strong sense of structure and a feeling for orchestral color that is vivid and apt, but never gaudy.

The symphony, conducted with assurance by Jose Serebrier, opens invitingly with a growling, halting figure that reappears constantly throughout the movement and works in contrast to a sweet theme articulated by a solo flute. The second movement, set off by an ominous beat from a snare drum, is a traditional scherzo, busy and energetic, while the third movement, a Fantasia that seems to be the heart of the work, offers brooding, exquisite lines for solo flute and viola and, as the music gains in tension, rich, muted brass in the manner of Richard Wagner. The finale is noble and exultant in the style of Mahler, but expressed in Greenberg's own voice.

As for the String Quintet, in three short movements Greenberg shows his skill at balancing the interplay of his five voices, while giving each of his musicians compelling music to play.

What's interesting about these two pieces is the mix of technical skill and an emerging personal voice. To be sure, that voice isn't fully developed. But Greenberg, who already has five symphonies, five concertos and a dozen piano sonatas to his credit, is well on his way. - Minneapolis Star Tribune September, 2006

Jay Greenberg Featured in Times-Dispatch  
 "In an interview, Jay explained that the music just comes into his head. It may happen while he's walking, in school or even during tae kwon do lessons.  "Usually it chooses the most inconvenient moment to do so, when I'm miles from the nearest sheet of paper or pen, let alone a computer containing music software," he said.  He remembers what his mind plays -- and it's often not just the melody and harmony, but which instrument is playing.   "Sometimes it's just a passage," he said.  "For instance, I'm walking down and I hear a certain cadence played by two oboes, a bassoon and a didgeridoo.   So then I go home, and from that I take more ideas for other melodies and things that will eventually come together to form a complete piece."   - Martin Steinberg, AP

Jay Greenberg in the New York Times  
"Mr. Greenberg, who at 12 was working on his Fifth Symphony, received this fleeting mention: “He has mastered the art of orchestration, and his Brahmsian music positively glows in the ears. For him, it is 1904 and anything is possible.”

That November CBS profiled Mr. Greenberg on “60 Minutes,” showing him at the Juilliard School, where he was studying composition on full scholarship: a first for a composer, at least in the school’s modern history. Mr. Greenberg’s parents — Robert, a linguist, and Orna, a painter, neither one especially musically inclined — recalled their amazement when their son, at 3, asked for a cello and invented his own form of musical notation.

In the years after, he would reveal an uncanny facility in writing out the music that played in his head, already fully formed, and in memorizing scores in a single reading. What’s more, it was said, his mind could process two or three compositions at once, on “multiple channels,” even as he went about normal day-to-day activities."

Jay Greenberg In the August Issue of Parade Magazine  
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Next week, Jay Greenberg—a Rollerblading 14-year-old—will celebrate the release of the first CD of his compositions. The spirited and confident Jay Greenberg Symphony No. 5 & Quintet for Strings (Sony Classical, $19) are performed by the Juilliard String Quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra, and they sound a high, hopeful note for the future of classical music. A former music student at New York’s Juilliard School, the busy composer began playing a cello at 3 and already had written five full-length symphonies by age 12. - August 6th 2006