When you are sitting in the audience, reversed from your position as the performer, do you read the program notes? As the ensemble takes plunge into their own world, are you conscious that someone was inspired to write the harmonies and rhythms that now surround the room or do simply enjoy the sounds? There is truly is no “right or wrong” answer to the questions above, but it does raise some issues on the intentions of a composer as they arrange and unify introspective thoughts into an intangible form called music. In my belief, a notable work should be created with authentic feelings from its composer and must direct its character to an audience with sincerity, regardless if it is positively or negatively received by said listeners. Kevin Puts, skilled in composition, has an ability to capture a person’s attention without stifling his originality to appease the masses. He directs new experiences to musicians and allows himself to express his distinctive musical styles while standing out as a notable artist.
As a rising composer of the 21st century, Puts has caught the attention of journalists, artists, and audiences alike for having a “richly colored, harmonic, and freshly melodic musical voice” in his works. He notes in an interview that a phone call he received from Dale Johnson, artistic director of the Minnesota Opera, changed his life as he was requested to commission music for an opera based on the 2005 film Joyeux Nöel (a true event about a war truce during WWI on Christmas). In the opera, Silent Night, Puts was able to bring life to the characters through his compositions and personal relations to the characters within the set (referring to Audebert’s wife in the “J’ai perdu ta photo” aria and Puts’ own wife being pregnant). The opera’s librettist, Mark Campbell, personally states that people “. . .go to the opera for music, and not for the words”, expressing the idea that Puts’ compositions for the opera is what drove the story and allows for the realities of war to be portrayed by music rather than a vocal description of the past.
While Silent Night, his first opera work, won the music Pulitzer Prize in 2012, let it be noted that a composer cannot simply rely on a “one-hit wonder” to carry their livelihood, nor should they expect an audience to enjoy any of their other compositions. In this instance an authentic composition becomes important as duplication comes off as a hollow object in the false shape of a genuine model. Often, composers attempt to recreate music that has shown promise but its replications will go unnoticed due to lacking character and authenticity that follows the composer’s intent. If music is constantly forced to fit an imagine rather than be its own form, then is the composer aware of how they begin to fade into mundane practice and sound? Puts was once a composer who understood the woes of being labeled as “unoriginal”, as his own work (Network) was once compared to the works of John Adams by his own doctoral professor, Christopher Rouse. It was desperation to “earn” his own voice that drove Puts to explore writing other compositions, such as his Symphony No. 1, which he credits as one of the “private place[s] where [he] can express the spiritual, the epic, the heartbreaking without shame or embarrassment”.
Through his desire to become an original composer, he broke ground within and set fire to create his own music styles that clearly define him as Kevin Puts. He is shown to strive for the blend of traditional writing that is accompanied by contrast between tension and release points as he illustrates and evokes emotion from pure “in-the-moment” feelings. It begs the question: what if Puts was never challenged to “find” his own authentic compositional voice by his professor? Perhaps there would have never been a phone call from Johnson and the Silent Night opera would have only been a thought. Nonetheless, Puts is now a well-known composer that has a clear vision in his mind and is bent on presenting his authenticity into his music without fear of criticism.
– Ashley Venegas
“Composer Kevin Puts: SILENT NIGHT Music that Tells a Story.” YouTube video, 2:07. Posted by “Minnesota Opera,” November 11, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeCa9dR_Sa8
“Full Length Biography.” Kevin Puts. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.kevinputs.com/bio.html
“Kevin Puts on SILENT NIGHT.” YouTube video, 3:50. Posted by “Unison Media,” October 9, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHs7EfchO_4&t=70s
Mooney, Tom. “”Silent Night” at Wexford: How Opera Woke Up to the Great War.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 104, no. 414 (2015): 185-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24347762.
Puts, Kevin. “A Pulitzer Winner Asks: Why Write Symphonies?.” NPR. August 5, 2013, https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2013/08/05/208280751/a-pulitzer-winner-asks-why-write-symphonies
“Works: Symphony No. 1.” Kevin Puts. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.kevinputs.com/program/symphony1.html