In Our Time is an ongoing series of wide-ranging conversations with artists whose creative lives and work have left an indelible mark in music, the arts, and culture globally. In Our Time was conceived by the longtime President of Nonesuch Records, Robert Hurwitz whose unique history with each of the artists adds perspective and insight.
Caetano Veloso, called “one of the greatest songwriters of the century” by the New York Times, is among the most influential and beloved artists to emerge from Brazil, where he began his musical career in the 1960s. He has more than fifty recordings to his credit, including fifteen on Nonesuch.
Absorbing musical and aesthetic ideas from sources as diverse as The Beatles, concrete poetry, the French Dadaists, and the Brazilian modernist poets of the 1920s, Veloso—together with Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, his sister Maria Bethânia, and other poets and intellectuals—founded the Tropicália movement, permanently altering the course of his country’s popular music.
Veloso and Gil were exiled from Brazil in the late 1960s, relocating to London for several years. They returned home in 1972 and found that Tropicália had remained intact and their audience had continued to grow. Veloso’s music has evolved greatly over the years. Incorporating elements of rock, reggae, fado, tango, samba canão, baião, and rap, Veloso’s music is sometimes traditional, sometimes contemporary, often hybrid. At once an astute social commentator and balladeer of highly emotive love songs, Veloso is one of the most respected poets in the Portuguese language.
Robert Hurwitz served as President of Nonesuch for thirty-two years, beginning in September 1984. When he took over Nonesuch, it was a classical label and the home of the legendary Explorer series. After he became the head of the label, he redefined its role in contemporary classical music and modern composition, expanded its mission in world music, and began recording and releasing artists from a wide range of musical genres, including jazz, music theater, folk, bluegrass, and rock.
Among the artists he has signed or worked with are composers including John Adams, Laurie Anderson, Timo Andres, Louis Andriessen, Donnacha Dennehy, Henryk Gorecki, Philip Glass, Adam Guettel, Nico Muhly, Astor Piazzolla, Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewki, Stephen Sondheim, and John Zorn as well as performers and songwriters including Björk, Devendra Banhart, David Byrne, Jeremy Denk, Bill Frisell, Gipsy Kings, Richard Goode, Tigran Hamasyan, Kronos Quartet, Gidon Kremer, k.d. lang, Lake Street Dive, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Audra McDonald, Natalie Merchant, Stephin Merritt (and the Magnetic Fields), Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Mandy Patinkin, Punch Brothers, Randy Newman, Joshua Redman, Chris Thile, Dawn Upshaw, Caetano Veloso, and the World Saxophone Quartet.
The Boston Globe said, “Under Robert Hurwitz, Nonesuch Records has been an oasis of artistic excitement. When one picks up a Nonesuch CD, there is a sense of occasion, the feeling that the artists in question have been assembled not as an exercise in star power, but as an exercise in artistic exploration.” And the New York Times Magazine said, “In a business now largely run by accountants and M.B.A.’s, Hurwitz is, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, ‘one of the few left who practice the making of records as a craft.’”
Hurwitz has remained closely involved with Nonesuch’s creative activities as an Executive Producer on a dozen projects a year; he is also the Chairman Emeritus of the company. He has taught at the New School for more than a decade, and has been teaching at UCLA for the past few years as well.