He is called Maestro. But lately it seems a better nickname for Alan Greenspan might be Muse.
Already the subject of a series of popular paintings by Virginia artist Erin Crowe, the outgoing Federal Reserve chairman has now inspired a new overture by classical music composer Robert Pound.
Pound's 12-minute piece, "Irrational Exuberance," takes its name from one of Greenspan's most famous utterances, a 1996 rumination on the rapid rise in stock prices. Pound's work had its premiere last week in a performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Pound, 35, an associate professor of music theory and composition at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., said he was watching the news Dec. 6, 1996, the day after Greenspan gave the famous assessment and sent the stock market into a brief tailspin. Pound quickly seized on the concept of irrational exuberance as the theme and title for what he hoped would be a major symphonic work.
"I immediately thought of this wild construction of ideas that seemed to change and surge on waves of joy, perhaps maniacal joy in one sense," Pound said of his reaction to Greenspan's remark. He decided he would need a major orchestra to perform the piece. That opportunity arose last year when he was commissioned to compose a piece for the Atlanta Symphony. He spent eight months on the "Irrational Exuberance" score, finishing in June.
The piece is broken into five sections, some jubilant, some spare and melancholy. The initial section, "Giddy, Reckless," begins with hyperactive flourishes. But the piece later throttles down into what Atlanta Journal-Constitution critic Pierre Ruhe described as a "slow motion waltz" marked by mournful French horns.
The gloomy strains might remind some listeners of the investor despair that followed the bursting of the Internet stock bubble in 2000. But Pound said that, while he follows the markets and admires Greenspan, he did not intend his piece to have any direct connection to the financial world beyond the concept of irrational exuberance.
"I took the quote at face value," he said, adding that his work "doesn't have any of the dark forces" suggested by Greenspan's warning of irrational investor behavior.
Pound is now talking to other orchestras about playing the piece. He said a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center would be ideal. "Washington would be the perfect place for this," he said.