Matthew Welch’s work, at its core, is about experimental musical hybridity between traditional and innovative forms of Western music and World music. Drawing from over two decades of research and performance interests in diverse musical systems—Western classical and experimental music, jazz and improvisation, Scottish bagpipes, Indonesian gamelan, and music of the Philippine Cordillera—he creates new compositional connections, and develops catalysts for dialogue between seemingly disparate musical forms.
How does a 300 year-old Pibroch tune from the highlands of Scotland relate to intricate Balinese interlocking rhythms? On the surface, they don’t appear to relate at all. However, Welch’s vivid imagination hears these connections, and in doing so, his compositions reveal a complex musical language in which these musics communicate fluently through modal melodies, driving rhythms, and soaring tempos. His music would make one think that Scotland and Bali have always existed as neighbors. In this way, Welch’s artistic vision is like a spyglass into a future where our world becomes increasingly smaller, where people come to understand each other, and where “hybridity” is just a way of being.
Welch began his musical career when he picked up the Great Scottish Highland Bagpipe as a teenager in Pensacola, Florida. He quickly rose to success in piping, and mastered traditional repertoire through competing in pipe bands in Canada through college. There, he also established his lasting interest in classical and experimental music, and began studying composition. In 1999 he moved to Connecticut for graduate school, where his passion for Indonesian gamelan was ignited. He has since traveled to Indonesia to study music five times. After moving to NYC in 2001, his composition career blossomed, driven by his leadership of his flexible ensemble, Blarvuster.
Welch’s studies in Western art music are comprehensive. He is compelled to exhaustively research composers who pique his interest. 20th century music has been a specialty, and he has furthermore internalized the complete works and biographies of Morton Feldman, Igor Stravinsky, and Philip Glass. He also holds a DMA from the Yale School of Music. It is through his strong base of knowledge in Western music history, notation, and techniques that he has developed his other musical investments into accessible voices for the Western concert stage.
Welch’s current project is perhaps his most personally challenging—a full-scale opera titled, And Here We Are—a work based on the memoirs of his relatives who lived in the Philippines from the turn of the 20th century through their survival as civilian prisoners in Manila during WWII. He traveled to the Philippines for six weeks in the spring of 2017. There, he studied traditional music with indigenous artists in the Cordillera, and explored the cities of Manila and Baguio, where his family had lived. And Here We Are, was produced by Welch’s arts organization Experiments in Opera with a sell-out performance at National Sawdust, Brooklyn, NYC in May, 2018.