In this series, KMFA Story Seeker Natalie Zeldin explores Austin musicians and groups that are "on the edge" between classical and...something else. This is her eleventh article in the series. For more, see her last article where Christabel Lin makes classical fun again.
Peter Stopschinski is a composer who writes music for plays, operas, and musicals. He’s currently working on a slew of local and international projects. Peter was the co-founder, with Graham Reynolds, of The Golden Hornet Project, a nonprofit organization that commissions composers and presents alternative-classical programs. In 2015, he left Golden Hornet to pursue his career as an independent composer, but he continues to collaborate actively with the organization. Next week, he is gearing up for the encore performance of Mozart Requiem Undead, a production that he helped direct and organize.
KMFA: What was your first experience with music?
I was always surrounded by music. My mother taught piano and harp in the house, and my dad was a big classical music fan. I don’t have an outstanding first memory but music was there all the time. It was a part of daily life.
KMFA: When did you start playing piano?
Around kindergarten. Then I started playing viola around second grade.
KMFA: You and Graham Reynolds started working together in 1999 when you co-founded the Golden Hornet Project. How did you meet him?
We both played in bands in town, so we used to cross paths in the Austin live music scene. I heard a rumor that he was writing some string quartets, so I said I had some string quartets that I had written (which I didn’t…). So we got a string quartet together and it turned out that both of us were bluffing: Neither of us had written the music until after we already made the plans!
KMFA: Golden Hornet is an organization on the cutting edge of the alt-classical music. How and why did you start it?
We started by presenting string quartets. We sort of grooved with that zeitgeist. We got introduced to all kinds of composers around the world and what they’re doing these days with alternative-classical music. I got a great education. It was the most amazing “grad school” that lasted forever!
KMFA: What do you enjoy about writing music?
I can answer that question pretty simply. It’s a mirror--a full representation of life but it has no rules or morals. You can do anything you want and it’s totally okay. People will say this or that but the truth is that you can do anything you want.
KMFA: So would you say that you have a rebellious personality?
Musically speaking, yes! I let it fly when I’m making music because the consequences are very small.
KMFA: When you’re composing, what exactly is it that you write that feels so risky?
That’s a good question--the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This summer, I’ve been putting out 50 albums of backlogged work. I had a filter set where I thought these things from before were not releasable for whatever reason. But I realize I enjoyed these things and it’s really changed my whole perspective. The risk is a perceived risk for your own audience. For a long time I set the filter too high by saying “Oh, this is ‘too experimental’ or ‘too abstract’ for my audience.” But people want artists to give them something authentic. I want you to love what I love, not guess what I love. Be yourself and then people will appreciate it...or not!
KMFA: Golden Hornet brings classical music to unexpected places. Why?
The two main reasons are accessibility and enjoyability. Classical music came from the church and then went to the palace--two places that aren’t exactly relaxing. But even Bach’s music was played in taverns, and Mozart’s as well. I don’t think the idea is as new as people think.
KMFA: Mozart Requiem Undead is a complex project of commissioning contemporary composers to rework some of Mozart’s famous Requiem. The concert received a lot of awards and it’s back for an encore performance as part of Texas Performing Arts. Where did the idea for the project come from?
The idea came out of Golden Hornet Project, which has been reworking classical pieces for a long time. Mozart’s Requiem has a full scale with an orchestra and chorus, and it has unfinished materials. Brent Baldwin and I got together and worked out the basic concept, and Graham Reynold jumped on board. We ended up commissioning eight composers. It’s like a mixtape of all of these different styles representing today’s classical music scene. It’s a conglomeration of different styles, but they’re all tied up together by themes in Mozart’s Requiem.
KMFA: Besides preparing for Mozart Requiem Undead, what else are you working on now?
I’m putting out 50 albums on my website for free. I’m also about to go to Australia to watch an arrangement of Verdi’s Macbeth that I wrote for an opera company there. It’s a really creepy Macbeth; I took out the happy music and just kept the dark music--and then added electric guitar. Right now, I’m about to walk into the first rehearsal for a Bertolt Brecht play at St. Edward’s University that I’m writing the music for. That show’s gonna run in early October.