Potash Hill

Continuous Collaboration: An interview with Matan Rubinstein

Junior Emmett Wood sat down with music professor Matan Rubinstein to discuss composing music, performing, and collaborating with fellow colleague Stan Charkey, who retired last year. 

Emmett: How long have you been teaching here?

Matan: This is my sixth year.

E: What is your curriculum like, and how has that developed?

M: Because there’s been two of us in the music department, my area was basically contemporary music making. And by contemporary, I mean the last century’s worth of time. Composers who are alive or recently dead. So I teach performance, composition, electronic music. I teach all sorts of critical subject matter that relates to these areas. Jazz history, criticism, popular music, experimental practices, and I continuously collaborate with my colleagues.

E: Have you been composing all the while that you’ve been here?

M: I’m active all the time, I compose and I play. I’m more active in New York and Massachusetts, less so around the immediate area. I perform usually once a year in our concert series. I just finished a commission for a solo cello piece, but I’ve done some music for dance. Two years ago I scored a documentary film soundtrack. So I’ve been doing music for film and dance. I never really stop.

E: What were you doing before you came to Marlboro?

M: I was in Wisconsin for about 10 years. I did my graduate studies there, and then was hired by one of the University of Wisconsin schools. So I was teaching jazz studies there.

E: How would you characterize your early career in music?

M: It’s hard to say when a decision has been made to undertake something. I began at a very young age, playing piano. I got my first professional engagement around age 16. My international tour was at the same age. I did my first film score when I was 17. Israel was nice. It was a nice small scene; it could get easy, relatively quickly. Then there was the army. In Israel, it’s a mandatory service of three years. In the army I was an arranger for the army band, which is probably the least combatant job you could have in the army. Along with the chief of staff it’s the only job where you only have one person doing it at a time. And so I had a relatively privileged existence at that point in the army. The Israeli army has a few branches that deal with music, one is marching bands, the other is pop bands—like if you remember the Bob Hope USO shows, stuff like that—kind of variety shows. The Israeli army has these very small groups that go to entertain the troops, and so my job was to write arrangements and rehearse with those groups. It was really a ridiculous job. In a very, very loose sense, I’m a veteran.

E: And you’re always working with Plan students?

M: Yeah, improvisation, electronic music, some sound design.

E: What would you say your favorite project is going on right now?

M: They’ve been very different. Last year, two of the most ambitious plans in the history of Marlboro came out of the music area, an opera, and a portfolio that was everywhere from sound sculpture to orchestra. I’m very proud.

E: What do you like about working with Marlboro students?

M: My favorite aspect of working with people here is how enthusiastic and open minded they are—this is almost without exception. People come here and they are open to unorthodox ideas, and when it is coupled with discipline it’s really a remarkably good experience teaching here. It’s never dull. It’s always interesting and often very rewarding. I get to hear thoughts that I never would have thought of myself, which is always a gift.

E: What did you enjoy about working with Stan Charkey?

M: Working with Stan has been a great privilege. His knowledge of a thousand years of music—you see it nowhere else. In a lot of ways, being with him has been like watching a master at work. He lives music in ways that are fundamentally inspiring. Stan and I presented an environment for students to go find out what they needed to by themselves, and we think about music making in many different ways. We provided a rich frame of reference for students. The thing to remember at Marlboro is that lots of teachers are constantly building on each other in ways that are not explicitly mentioned. There are all these networks that feed into each other. Music is very different from those, and it’s much harder to build this thick network with one person.

E: Any compositions that you’re working on right now?

M: I have two ongoing right now. I just finished one, and one is really long term. I’ll be on sabbatical next semester so I’ll get to do a long form piece. One is based on a medieval poetic form and the other is a weird tribute to Kurt Cobain. I’m collaborating with a student to build the software which will make the track.

E: Any other plans for sabbatical?

M: I am going to spend a few weeks by myself, which I haven’t done in 20 years. I’ll go to Israel for a little while to be in the desert, and there might be some things in Europe. I’ll be busy.