Q&A: David Lang

Demetrios Psillos

The Pulitzer Prize–winning composer on his upcoming "collected stories" series at Carnegie Hall.

As a cofounder of the Bang on a Can organization in the 1980s, composer David Lang was a pioneer of the new music scene in New York and beyond. His career (which now includes a Pulitzer) came full circle when Carnegie Hall, that Midtown temple of the classical canon, appointed him Debs Composers Chair for 2013–2014. In April the “collected stories” project—a series of concerts with themes such as “Hero” and “Memoir”—comes to Carnegies Zankel Hall.

Would your twentysomething self have believed you’d ever get this kind of recognition?
I never would have expected it, but it has been really interesting to examine how important Carnegie Hall has been in my life. My first performance in New York was here; my first orchestra piece was premièred here; I am a composer because when I was nine, I saw a Leonard Bernstein concert filmed here.

This appointment gave you carte blanche to do as little or as much as you wanted musically.
When Carnegie Hall said, “You can curate a little festival if you want,” I really think they expected, “Here’s a concert with a piece of mine and a piece of my best friend’s.” Instead I basically said, “I want to do everything that’s possible.” It seemed like it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t use this to bring in new listeners, to widen the argument about why classical music is necessary.

What is the uniting theme of “collected stories”?
The pieces I’ve chosen are not narrative in a metaphoric or semiotic sense: It actually is composers making music to be used to tell a story. In a way this whole festival is me thinking, Maybe I could isolate all the different ways storytelling works in music, and you’ll hear very subtly that composers change their strategy based on what kind of story they’re telling.

The “collected stories” concert series begins on April 22 at Carnegie Hall; 881 Seventh Ave.; 212-247-7800; carnegiehall.org.