Sudden death of a busy New York composer, 38

Sudden death of a busy New York composer, 38


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2018

The new music scene in New York has been shocked by the death of Matt Marks, a horn-playing founder of the ensemble Alarm Will Sound and a willing participant in vocal and other roles.

No cause has yet been given.

Alarm Will Sound broke news of his death:

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Matt Marks, founding member of Alarm Will Sound. Matt was a one-of-a-kind mix of playfulness and gravity who was integral in shaping our identity as a band. Beyond his personality, his work as a composer, performer, and new-music advocate touched many in our community. He will be deeply missed. Thank you to those who have shared your support. We appreciate your sensitivity during this difficult time.

The critic Allan Kozinn writes:

So sorry, and shocked, to hear that Matt Marks died yesterday. A brilliant young composer, one of the driving forces in Alarm Will Sound and New Music Gathering, a champion poster of sometimes wry, sometimes uproarious social media comments, and a genuinely sweet funny guy, he mixed strands of classical influence and certain currents of pop deftly and astutely in his music, and was one of the bright lights of the New Music — one of the musicians who made it the vibrant place it now is. Just a day before his death, he was among the recipients of an NEA grant to support the staging of his opera, “Mata Hari.”

His own music aside, he was also a brilliant arranger – something he did, like seemingly everything else, with seriousness and humor intertwined. One of his contributions to the Alarm Will Sound repertory was this orchestration of the Beatles’ Revolution 9 (linked below) – something I played for my music criticism class (along with the original) at NYU nearly every year. RIP, Matt Marks and deepest condolences to Mary Kouyoumdjian, another very fine composer, and Matt‘s fiancée, and to all his friends and colleagues at AWS, NMG and elsewhere.

Mary Kouyoumdjian writes:

It is with great sadness and heartbreak that I announce the death of the love of my life and best human being I have been lucky enough to know, Matt Marks. Matt passed away this morning suddenly. Thank you to those who have shared their outpouring of love and support to myself, his friends, and his incredible family. We appreciate your sensitivity during this difficult time.

UPDATE: Gifts roll in for grieving fiancée


  • John Borstlap says:

    Apart from the obvious tragedy, what this chap made is not serious music but pop, with a gloss of PC added.

    In general, this does not seem to be a healthy time for composers, given the death toll in these pages.

    • AnnaT says:

      Not the time or place for you to ride your personal hobby horse, John Borstlap. For shame.

      Condolences to the friends and family of Matt Marks.

    • Andy Kozar says:

      Shame on you.

      Also, do your homework before you say foolish things. It’s clear clear you know nothing of this incredible man’s output. Now not only do you come across as crude, spiteful and heartless, but also uninformed. Nice work.

    • Andy Kozar says:

      Shame on you. How gross.

      Also, I’d suggest being more informed before spouting nonsense online, perhaps even listening to more of his work. So now, not only do you sound crude and spiteful about a tragic situation, but also stupid.

      Nice work.

    • Jaime Herrera says:

      I know nothing about Matt Marks or his music but I admire your honest post and I trust it is accurate. I am not one who believes obituaries which make the deceased sound like Gandhi, or Einstein, or Mozart, or Picasso, or Shakespeare, Churchill, or Salk, or some other one-of-a-kind luminary. With all due respect; for every genius, there are 200 million ordinary people. RIP

    • Jen says:

      Mr. Borstlap, I will remember to write an inappropriate comment about your music when your obituary shows up on here…But thanks, knowing Matt, he got a kick out of your inconsequential words.

    • Jim Lewis says:

      That’s the sort of cruel, thoughtless and hurtful thing an ideologue like Pierre Boulez might have said in his youth. Before he learnt to grow up.

    • Friend says:

      As a friend of the deceased I might add a hearty go fuck yourself.

    • Kurt Doles says:

      Wow, just wow. I hate to claim that I speak for the majority of the U.S. new music community, but on behalf of the U.S. new music community, John Borstlap, please go fuck yourself, you self-important heartless shit.

  • J Graff says:

    “what this chap made is not serious music but pop”

    You suggest a false dichotomy between “serious music” and “pop.”

  • Josh Frank says:

    John Borstlap, in the spirit of Matt Marks, eat a dick. Go fuck yourself. You will never accomplish 1/10 of the impact of what Matt Marks had on musicians, and society at large. I could elaborate for you but not worth my time. You useless piece of shit go back to your cave.

  • Tallis says:

    I’m trying to make sense out of all of this. Someone please help me out. From my limited research: The Performing Arts Fund NL had a budget of €43,000,000 for years 2013 to 2016, a 40% decrease from years previous to 2013.

    Holland’s Fund for the Performing Arts has repeatedly rejected applications for the support of new compositions by John Borstlap. The reason they give is that his music lacks “originality.”

    Mr. Borstlap takes his case to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, and loses (circa 2012 or 2013?).

    Mr. Borstlap, I have spent two hours now researching online. I cannot find any quotes where you praise anyone, but yourself. You present only negative comments. The only positive reviews I can find about your work is quotes from your own websites.
    Your book “Modern Traditionalist Classical Music (Book 1) 2012, has climbed all the way to 5,196,743 on the Amazon best seller list. In 6 years, you have only two reviews for that book. Bro, that’s only 2 more reviews than me, I didn’t write a book. Do you not have more than two friends who can help throw you a bone?

    Do you do anything other than negatively comment and judge other composers? Help me understand why you had the need to write your opinion that Mr. Mark’s compositions are not “serious?” That is your opinion only, and you seem preoccupied with trying to convince the world that you are the authority on these matters.

    LOL. One response (above) “admires your honest post and trusts” that it is accurate.

    One would think, given his usage of the English language, he would have a few choice words for you. But he had more class than that, and he supported fellow musicians, rather than insult them.

    So help me out. I imagine a $10,000 NEA bonus got you all worked up, huh? What will people say about you when you die? Maybe those two people who bought your book will say something nice.

    Maybe quit being such an pompous asshole. Just a tip. Sounds like you could use a little advice. Maybe try a little more dissonance. Maybe even a few tone rows. You know, it builds tension, helps move the music forward. Putting everyone else down isn’t going to make your music better or make people like you more, except for the folks (as above) who can’t even form their own opinion.

    Really, though. Admit it. That NEA grant stings a bit, huh?

    • Burton says:

      JB’s comment was in very questionable taste but the extraordinary offense taken seems hugely overblown. There is no reason to doubt the essential sincerity of his perspective (indelicate though it may be). He judged the output of Matt Marks and found it wanting. Many obviously disagree and the apparent devotion of his friends and devotees is striking and impressive. (I for one very much look forward to getting acquainted with Matt Marks work.) That said, this board is full of polemics and I suspect most find the broad swathe of divergent views welcome. We find ourselves on differing sides of various topics but I find JB’s generally well articulated positions provocative in the positive sense and appreciate a ready willingness to weigh in. Best that we exercise a modicum of restraint even in expressing our hurt and anger. The inflamed, hateful rhetoric and ad hominem insults hurled in response to the original post are close to inexcusable.

      • James says:

        He’s welcome to have any perspective he likes. But using the announcement of a man’s death as a chance to take a dig at his music is distasteful at best, and deeply hurtful to his friends and family. Important note: I never met Matt Marks nor have I heard a note of his music so my reaction is not one of a friend or colleague.

      • Danny says:

        Nobody gives a fuck about his opinion. He’s entitled, but we too are entitled to tell him roundly to go fuck himself. Maybe he will learn a soupçon of human dignity based on the pushback. Though as he has also diminished the work of my friend and colleague with the words “politically correct” and then lapsed into a sophistry about composers (as if we move, think or, execrably, die suddenly as a monolithic unit) that was so alarmingly stupid as to be risible were I remotely in the mood to giggle.

      • Winger says:

        Wrong. The response is exactly what he deserves. If he prefers not to be the target of this kind of vitriol, he should keep his offensive opinions to himself.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Not surprisingly, you got all of that totally wrong. And concerning that book: the 2nd edition has just come out by Dover (NY) after a well-received 1st edition. In the musical world, every professional (sic) knows what Dover is. But the book is for very different people, not for people like you (although they would need it most of all).

  • John Borstlap says:

    When I arrived at the estate early this morning, I couldn’t get through the gate because of a crowd of angry people holding big signs and chanting something incomprehensible. I had to climb over the fence at the back – my dress was ripped! and entered the kitchen area where staff had gathered, worried and anxious. The cook took some utensils and asked: ‘Should I go outside?’ We restained her, it seemed dangerous… I asked what was going-on and it appeared that he had said something about pop music not being serious. It reminded me of the consternation about the Boulez remarks a couple of years before. So stupid! We all know that it is absolutely taboo to say the obvious about what people love, like Princess Diana. An hour ago looking down from the library I saw a contraption, at the back of the crowd, that looked like a guillotine. Isn’t that quite historicist? So, they did know something about history after all.


    • James says:

      You made a snide, snarky, and wholly unnecessary comment about someone who died suddenly 2 days ago. People call you out on it, and your response is not to apologize, but to joke about it? Yeesh. If you ever wonder why no one ever wants to play your music….

      • John Borstlap says:

        Just for the record (I know, reading is quite difficult): a) human tragedy was ackowledged; b) a purely musical observation was made, without (!) any judgement; c) a sad, general conclusion about life was added. That is all. The rest is misreading, primitive reaction, ad hominum attacks with selective quasi-information, etc.

        • Heather S says:

          Not the time for a “purely musical observation” (that was a judgment, you troll). Seek help for your narcissism and lack of compassion, the world has enough self-centered elitists already.

        • Roberto says:

          John, my man, I went to your website and read the wiki – saw the photo… you have the best parody account in all of music! The effort to write books and your own wiki AND to create a 1990s type website to show off your 1890’s “works” really motivate me to be the best troll I can be… really looking forward to your obituary! Will leave awesome comments there as well, there might even be another 1-2 comments posted – like your amazon reviews (the fan and academic and critical and theoretical and everything else [bases] seems a little quiet these days regarding your output). But, not to worry, both you and I know that in 200 years, it will be your glorious name that will echo through the halls of classes like “Post-post-post-post-modernist-historicist-Classics 101 (Music from the XXI century that was a few centuries too old…)”.

    • Danny says:

      Stop. Seriously. This is not about you and your trolling. Take your persecution complex and shove it up your ass.

  • Tallis says:

    John Borstlap,
    Your four sentence response begins with a patronizing comment and three of your sentences use passive voice, with usage of three adverbs. It is my opinion, you are not a serious writer. I have not read any of your books, but I would like to assume they are well written. It does appear, however, they are not well received.

    I invite you to respond specifically to some my comments, from my previous post. As I wrote (above), I could not find any additional information and asked for

    Sometimes we use the passive voice because we do not want to express who performed the action. Other times, it is simply indicative of weak writing. I encourage you to use active voice to strengthen and clarify your prose.

    You wrote “A purely musical observation was made, without any judgement.” Actually, your observation is an opinion, which is indeed a judgement. Your hubris is perhaps to blame for your mistaken belief your opinion is fact.

    You have not specifically addressed any of my comments asking for clarification or more information. I welcome your response to the points I brought up, and invite you to clarify or correct the points I addressed.


    • John Borstlap says:

      There is no need to either defend or clarify….. certainly not in relation to funding – I live of commissions from abroad and don’t need any of the deficient systems operating in the field of contemporary music, which are mostly some 50 years behind the time (not modern enough). For people being curious as about reception, there is sufficient information available:

      And for people who hope for condemnation I would like to highlight this reaction:

      Anonymous German orchestral programmer in 2016: ‘This music is so beautiful and well-made, that it cannot be accepted as contemporary music, it does not reflect our troubled times’.

      Fortunately, extensive fullfilment of this urgent need can be found in the following reflections of our troubled times:

      • A says:

        No clue about any of this art… however, my heart goes out to the loved ones of Matt Marks. Mary, stay strong and know that Matt will always be with you.

        As for John Jockstrap… you are a real piece of work… you are lower than whale shit… your web page is a joke, you are a joke… I have never seen anyone praise themselves as much as you do… perhaps you cannot have compassion or care for anyone else on this earth because all you care about is about yourself. You and your music sucks… I listened to some of it before I wrote this just so I can see what your about… Yea pretty garbage like your post.

        You are a truly pendejo

      • Kurt Doles says:

        John, you might as well take up beekeeping, because you aren’t going to have any music programmed on this side of the Atlantic until you die (and beyond) because you’re a TREMENDOUS asshole. I know there are other tremendous assholes who will still have their music programmed over here, but you’ve now proven IN PUBLIC what a tremendous asshole you are, and — speaking as a new music presenter of some minor renown — if I see your name appear in the repertoire list of any potential ensemble, I’m going to reject them, and let them know why. If I see some agency promoting music from Europe and your name is involved, I will reject them (and everyone else they represent) wholesale, and let them know why.

      • Jim Lewis says:

        Hi John, I have excellent news! Glenn Branca has just died too. He’s barely cold and his family are still grieving. So dive in! No better time than now to pour scorn on a world than has consistently failed to recognise your genius!

        • John Borstlap says:

          You are scum, did you know that? You better look for another website, something you will enjoy.

  • Jane Parsons says:

    Can you please all stop fighting and say how sad that a young talent left us much too soon? I wish his family strength and love to get through this. Regarding the comments about pop music not being serious: No professional musician worth his/her salt would put down another musician and judge them.
    I experience,as a professional cellist, such comments from dilettantes and amateur musicians. Especially when a person dies it is not right that Mr. Borstlap verbally extinguished the life work of Mr. Marks. So many people are very insensitive to others these days. Mr. Borstlap, a person who can not feel what is right, wrong or badly timed is most likely not a good musician. I feel sorry for you.

    • John Borstlap says:

      For a change, a serious comment deserving a serious answer.

      If you had read carefully, you would have seen that I did not make any judgment of the quality of this young man’s music, since there is nothing wrong with writing pop music, or entertainment music, or whatever music people feel writing for fun, but said it was pop music with a PC spin, should be clear to any discerning person. But Norman presented this, in itself tragic, news in a way which suggested a serious composer:

      ‘Sudden death of a busy New York composer’. I don’t then immediately think of pop music, if this is appearing on a site dedicated – mainly – to CLASSICAL MUSIC.

      And the videos say enough. So, people who read in my correction a begative judgement about the music as presented in the videos, don’t understand the difference. Also, I expressed worry about all that news about dying composers – of any kind. I mentioned that it was a tragedy. So really, people feeling offended have a problem with the normal distinctions between art music and pop music, not with me being inconsiderate.

      The highly embarrassing thing in this thread is the crazy comments from people failing to read what I had really written, for someone who has just died, THAT is the embarrassing element.

      Maybe I should have understood Norman’s easy vagueness about genre distinctions better.

      • AnnaT says:

        Maybe you should understand, once and for all, that you are not the freaking arbiter of what constitutes classical or serious music.

      • cock forcedslap says:

        here’s a serious answer: fuck right off

      • James says:

        You still seem to fail to realize that commenting on whether someone’s music is “serious” or “pop” on the post announcing their death is highly distasteful. No one cares at the moment whether his music sounds like serious or pop music to you and it sounded highly judgmental no matter how you try to spin it. This is not the time for your opinions to be shared on what genre of music his music falls into. Can’t you take a look at this reaction, examine what you wrote and how it was received, and just apologize?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Is this a site of obituaries or a site about music? You should look-out for quite another site.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Norman: Can you please do something about the repeated use of the “f” word.

  • Hypocrite Reader says:

    A quivering maw,
    licking up our rage:
    your only succor,
    your love and life.
    The masters you worship,
    if forced to wake and scan your craven log,
    would plummet, unrecognized,
    back to nauseated sleep.
    How sad
    that already before this verse ends,
    I can hear the melancholy click of keystrokes,
    see the jaundiced light of your screen,
    smell your id’s lonely kick.
    No wisdom will come.
    No wisdom will ever come.
    A breastplate of tin
    protecting nothing:
    Borstlap the canon’s shit-buzzard.

  • Winger says:

    What a pathetic comment on the quality of this place and its readers. This brief piece about the sad death of a young composer has become a free-for-all of personal attacks and irrelevant, offensive commentary.

    The classical music industry deserves much better.