Faculty Focus: A Modern Classic


Composer John Leupold’s debut album, Exasperating Perpetuation, pushes the boundaries of classical music.


Faculty Focus: A Modern Classic


John Leupold was in the audience in Decker Theatre when National Musical Festival chamber musicians performed one of his new compositions. As the closing notes faded, listeners shared glances of appreciation, a smile, upturned eyebrows, and occasionally, a grimace. 

“As an artist, you want to move people. My favorite thing is to watch the reactions of the people around me.  One person can love it; another can hate it. In either case, you’ve made an impression.”

John Leopold's new CD is getting airtime around the world. Because he is a percussionist, Leupold’s music is driven by rhythm and timbre. “Personally, I feel that harmony in modern classical music has already been exposed. I’m interested more in exploring sound quality, rhythm, and hybrid styles.  When you blend classical sounds, world music, and pop, you create this new thing.”

Described by the Washington Post as “an imaginative exploration of instrumental timbres and ranges impelled by repetitive melodic figures,” John Leupold’s music speaks the language of the universe—inspired by mathematics, a poem, the stars.

“Every composition tells a story,” Leupold explains. “It could be an experience that triggers something. Some fantastical story about a character. Or something physical like a piece of art. As I work on a composition, I keep that vision in my head. 

Written for violinist Francis Liu, “A Slight Angle to the Universe” was inspired by C.P Cafavy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” and requires the violinist to recite the poem while playing the violin.

In “Charismatic Thaumaturge,” each instrument personifies a character, from the high-strung oboe and the boisterous bass trombone to the mediating English horn, which tries to calm the escalating tension between the other two instruments.

The album culminates with “Envisaging a Supercluster,” a piece inspired by the beauty and immensity of three distinct constellations: the regal and austere Leo, the mysterious Monoceros, and the powerful and stern Taurus.

The title track, Exasperating Perpetuation, uses a diminished scale that never changes; rhythm and timbre drive the piece forward. This particular work was a finalist for the Walsum Composition Prize at the University of Maryland, College Park and was premiered by the Left Bank Quartet.

Four years in the making, Leupold’s album was recorded and mastered at Sono Luminus Studios in Virginia, and was released by Ravello Records this spring. Domestic Classical music stations from Vermont to California are giving it airtime, as are international stations. Additionally, chamber concert artists are performing his work live.

“I like going new places that classical music hasn’t gone before. I like pushing the boundaries, but not in a terrifying way. I like to write music that is accessible and that people enjoy, but that still pushes those boundaries.”