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A Modest Proposal for Sequenza21 2.0

OK, here’s an idea I’ve been working on for a few days… it attempts to combine ALL the projects/ideas into one. What it attempts to do is this:

1. Empower and pay performers – get them excited to be involved
2. Be easily replicable across cities
3. Keep the concert experience short and not too much setup
4. Produce a CD in the process
5. Auto-generate a podcast when combined with interviews
6. Do NOT commission composers – pay performers well – develop some loyalty in the process
7. Combine the ‘variety show’ aspect of the miniatures concert (Miniaturist Ensemble/60×60/Analog Ensemble Micro-Happenings) – with a slightly longer time interval

Well… now here’s the idea:

1. Participating cities/regions will have one coordinator and one core standard ensemble for each concert. (Pierrot quintet, string quartet, etc). That means less setup, less coordination, easy to replicate or do again. By using a Pierrot quintet style group, we can have duos, trios, etc.
2. S21 will go through our comments and blogs and articles and find every person that left an email address. People who write articles and have blogs and/or comment more than X times here will get extra credit. This will be our pool of composers for the concerts.
3. These folks will be invited to send scores/pdf’s to the coordinator for each concert. No anonymous entry. This is about community/music/people. Pinning music to the names of the folks that ‘shoot their mouths off’ here as somebody politely put it.
4. The participating ensemble and the coordinator will pick 10 or so composers and each composer will be asked to write a 5-6 minute piece for that ensemble and for this particular concert.
5. The ensemble will go through the pieces as they arrive and decide if they want to or can play them or not.
6. A concert will take place and be recorded and these 10-12 pieces will be recorded and be in the CD. We make a podcast by adding interviews with the performers and the composers. We can do this by phone if necessary. We can even make a podcast of the concert preliminaries, interviewing the folks involved ‘in process.’

The main things I tried to do in thinking up this process was to remove the hassles we experienced in putting on the last S21 concert. Not too many performers, pay them well, make them the stars. Shorter pieces, no setup hassles and recording as part of the thinking. Get each performer/composer to agree to the license BEFORE the concert.

The numbers can be debated… my thinking has been to develop an easily replicable process; to make S21 a concert/commissioning/performance venue. The shortness of the pieces, I recognize is problematic, but we represent a huge cross-section of composers here. How can we be inclusive and have plenty of variety?

Comments?

Comments

Comment from Lanier
Time: January 14, 2008, 1:55 pm

I like it a lot, Jeff. Good work.

My one concern is how step 5 would work. I like the inclusion of the ensemble in step 4, and I understand the desire for the ensemble to receive playable pieces; but, I think I’d be a little pissed if I were selected, wrote something specifically for the concert (w/o payment), and then was told that the ensemble decided not to play what I wrote. I wonder if some quality communication between the ensemble and the composers before and during the compositional process could help avoid that possibility.

That one concern aside, I’m all for it. And I have no problem with the 5-6 time limit.

A question, too – we’d wind up with separate CDs and podcasts for each city/region, correct?

Comment from Tiven
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:22 pm

Sounds really cool! Maybe S21 would like to do a concert in conjunction with Juventas. We’re a new music group in Boston, focused on music by composers under 35. Let me know if you have any interest.

Comment from Dean Rosenthal
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:32 pm

I think that variety is key, across the spectrum, and note that performers, when paid – even modestly – grumble less, if they don’t like what you write. But respecting a musician’s right to pay is the best idea of all.

Comment from Evan Johnson
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:33 pm

I was going to write exactly, more or less, what Lanier said — I don’t think you can ask composers to write pieces (for free, no less) and then reserve the right not to play them. Either you accept previously-written pieces, or you play the pieces that are written… which might involve more labor-intensive pre-screening, or discussions w/ the ensemble as to what they do or do not want out of the pieces they play, but I think it’s important.

Otherwise I agree that this sort of thing is a very good idea, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

Comment from David Toub
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:36 pm

Jeff, I don’t want to be difficult, but I’m in full agreement with what you wrote 8-)

Minor questions re: logistics—So these would be new pieces composed for the specific ensemble, As opposed to existing works?

I agree with #3 in principle, but my only concern would be that extramusical concerns might be involved in the process if names were visible. For example, if I were picking works, I’d also want to make sure we had appropriate representation from different groups (people of color, women, etc). In addition, there’s the potential for a good work to be left out only because its composer might be viewed negatively. Consider what happened to Ralph Shapey: if his work was judged on its merits alone, he would have received the Pulitzer, but because Ralph was pretty ornery, he got snubbed. Keeping things anonymous wold take that issue away, so someone couldn’t come back at the committee later on and claim discrimination. Just a thought.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:36 pm

Lanier, I’m not tied to any one aspect of the idea – the main thing was to empower the performers IF the piece was just unplayable or not doable in the time alotted for rehearsals. Maybe it should just be an implicit assumption and not a principal. But I just remember from the last S21 concert not knowing, at times, who the final decision-maker was for the concert. Whether we like it or not, the performers always have the last word about who gets played anyways.

Tiven, great! The more performing ensembles the better…

FWIW, I started this post as a comment on Jerry’s brain-storming thread and it just got too involved, as I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about it. Hope nobody minds that I made a thread about it; don’t mean to be presumptuous, just to get the ball rolling.

One other concern I had was having too many little projects (i.e., a podcast, a CD, a concert here, one there) would result in a lot of one-offs and brief successes and a lot of inertia – I was looking for a model of a unifying concert/broadcast S21-branded endeavor for the community in a single project.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:41 pm

Evan, I hesitated to even mention it, I just know that the one thing a performing ensemble is going to absolutely fear is getting forced into performing an unperformable piece because some type of decision-maker has decreed it. You’re absolutely right, pre-screening and even pre-compositional discussions could alleviate this problem.

One sideline idea I had (and it might be painful) would be to document the process with ongoing interviews about each piece and how it’s evolving as a performance.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:43 pm

David, I think that there\’s an implicit paradox in accepting anonymous scores and looking for gender/racial/age/locale variety.  I\’d also like to promote the idea that if somebody really rocked a concert, that the next venue would be encouraged to get ANOTHER piece from that composer.  Success should breed more success…  Let the coordinator and the ensemble bear the brunt of criticism for not programming enough New Yorkers…  ;)

Comment from Evan Johnson
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:45 pm

Evan, I hesitated to even mention it, I just know that the one thing a performing ensemble is going to absolutely fear is getting forced into performing an unperformable piece because some type of decision-maker has decreed it.

Sure, of course. Would it be logistically unfeasible, then, to involve the ensemble in the decision-making from the beginning?

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: January 14, 2008, 2:50 pm

The ensembles AND the coordinator pick the composers…

Because the coordinators and the ensembles are looking at the scores and picking composers, I would hope that composers that are known for writing complex/difficult works would be encouraged to interact and alleviate those concerns in the process of composing the piece. The number of composers picked should be loose in case somebody is unable to meet the deadline.

Comment from Elaine Fine
Time: January 14, 2008, 3:12 pm

You will need to think about how to come up with money for performers (what constitutes paying well?) and composers, hall rental, programs, technical people and equipment for the electronic pieces, and all the other expenses that come with setting up and putting on a concert. Don’t forget about the amount of rehearsal time that it takes for musicians to learn new music, particularly string music that is atonal, and the difficulty that professional musicians have trying to find time to rehearse. I imagine that one single ensemble, unless it is a high-priced group that takes on new music as a regular part of their season, might be too overworked to give every piece the rehearsal time it requires and deserves, especially if the music is difficult. Some student groups might give less-than-ideal readings, but other student groups might give excellent readings (it is kind of a gamble working with students).

I doubt that any of the programs in this hypothetical project would ever happen in my region (East Central Illinois), but if it does I would be happy to play either violin or viola in one or two pieces. If the age limit allows for more “mature” composers (those of us over the age of 35), I would be happy to write something.

Comment from D.
Time: January 14, 2008, 3:27 pm

I think this is a really great idea, if you can get it to work.

Comment from Bill Solomon
Time: January 14, 2008, 7:26 pm

Glad to see that another concert is in the works! I performed two pieces on the first Sequenza concert (by David Toub and Ian Moss) and had a great time. Part of what worked for me was being able to focus on only two pieces in the one month that I had to prepare, allowing me to feel comfortable with the music and to give accurate performances. I think its a great idea to create a sort of “ensemble in residence” and to have the performers help pick out music along with a director or other composers. I do think it is wise to be careful about overloading the performers, even if that means including a couple less pieces on a concert. I think that everyone would agree that quality is more desirable than quantity, especially when it comes to new music; the last thing anyone would want are poor performances that don’t represent the music well. Anyway, I hope that this is worked out, and I’m looking forward to another Sequenza concert!

Comment from Tom Izzo
Time: January 14, 2008, 8:52 pm

I think it’s a great idea. As a few people have mentioned I believe the only sticking point is the selection process with regard to right of refusal on the part of the performers/coordinators but I’m sure there’s a way to satisfy all participants in this respect. I just don’t know what that is just yet.

Comment from lawrencedillon
Time: January 14, 2008, 9:13 pm

You’ve put some good thought into this, Jeff. Here are two issues I see, for what they are worth:

First a word of caution about inclusiveness and variety: S21’s strength as a watering hole for composers is also its weakness as a concert presenter – we have a huge number of voices, some of which are antithetical artistically. I’m all for differing points of view in a discussion, but in a performance I don’t find it too appealing. I don’t think I would be too interested in going to a night of theater if I was told I was going to see ten five-minute plays that boast “maximum diversity.” The equivalent in a concert will really only appeal to composers; it’s the kind of political programming meant to soothe egos, and I’m afraid it gives new music concerts a bad name for audiences. Maybe others feel differently.

The other thing that has me puzzled is this idea of releasing a recording of the concert. For me, live performances and recordings are so different. I have no problem if performer X crashes and burns in measure 14 in a live performance – that’s a risk you take — but I’d never want the recording of that moment to represent my work, and I don’t think performers would want that either. Maybe I’m traveling in outer space here, but I know very few performers who would agree up front to licensing a recording of a live performance. Performers, am I wrong?

Those are my initial reactions.

Comment from david toub
Time: January 14, 2008, 10:26 pm

Lawrence, these are good points. And I appreciate the analogy with theater. However, to my mind, one of the great things about the first S21 concert was precisely that diversity (along with the awesome marimba playing by Bill Solomon of course!). I know that some folks would have been unhappy if the concert were largely postminimalist. Same with atonal, electronica, vocal, or any other genre. The concert presented the diversity that is the S21 community. I think that level of richness is something that is pretty unusual and also something to be proud of. I can\’t speak for others, but when I personally suggest diversity in our programming, blogging, etc. it\’s not out of some PC conviction (I\’m a Mac person, anyway ;-) ) but rather a true desire that everyone have an equal opportunity at representation. We\’re not all white. We\’re not all male. Hell, we\’re not all from the NYC area—both of us aren\’t, for example. Bill Solomon is from Hartford. Steve Layton is a Seattle expat now in Houston. Alex Shapiro is in Washington. Etc. It\’s not about being politically correct, but rather providing different perspectives and different compositional approaches.

In terms of the recording, while I understand any of us not wanting an \”imperfect\” performance floating out there, I guess I\’m just someone who doesn\’t care if it\’s perfect.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: January 14, 2008, 10:34 pm

Jeff’s idea of an s21 “package” approach has a lot of potential. But I think it would be something for a little further down the road; there are a *lot* of details between all of the parts, that would have to be made to dovetail, and a number of issues in each point — both about mechanics and funding — that would have to be pretty well hashed out and settled well beforehand.

I do think that from what I’m reading, there seems to be the right amount of interest to be able to pull off two concerts: one somewhere NYC/New England-ish, using resources of a couple different ensmbles, and one in California centered around Paul Bailey and etc. Both could be recorded, and *only* then what and how much would work as a potential CD release.

That would seem a do-able “next baby step” from the first single concert, without demanding armies of people and buckets of cash.

In the meantime, none of that would have to stop a seperate compilation CD of worthwhile and willing works from already existing (or soon-to-exist) recordings, if enough people show an interest and can provide the musical goods.

I think both of these activities would give us some valuable experience and input in working through Jeff’s package idea, which with some luck & work could be the next logical step after that.

Comment from Tom Izzo
Time: January 14, 2008, 10:44 pm

Would the creation of some kind of “theme” for these concerts make the evening have some kind of cohesion where there might not be otherwise?

Some people don’t like the idea of themed concerts but when they work
I think it makes for an interesting event.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: January 14, 2008, 11:37 pm

Yeah, Tom, the themed idea was what I was going to suggest although it’s more in the nature of the contract with the ensemble/coordinator – that curation be involved and not mere variety.

I also hate these types of smorgasbord concerts. It’s one reason I think this ‘miniature’ approach is weak. The increased time scale and good curation should improve that hopefully.

One thing about the package idea that Steve is alluding to, I think it’s power is that it keeps inertia from taking hold when a road block happens. It’s a ‘model’ that hopefully will inform all of the the little concert decisions that have to be made so that we get it all, concert, CD, podcast, community-building, enhancing S21’s rep as a one stop new music endeavor.

The alternative, frankly, is that we have little pieces all over the place that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. I suspect having a package idea will make it much easier to raise $$$ too.

Comment from Ivan
Time: January 15, 2008, 4:26 am

Why not include pieces already written/premiered: expectations are clearer and repeat performances are as important as premieres. Maybe 50/50?

Steve: I agree that the next step should be a baby-step, as a forum for working out potential difficulties.

It would be great for the performers if they could give the same programme in several different venues (ie a ‘mini-tour’). I like the idea of a McConcert, as long as the fries are organic.

Comment from Mell Csicsila
Time: January 15, 2008, 12:42 pm

Ivan,
I love that. I’ve always been more interested in second performances and beyond. There’s a Frank Zappa line about most world premieres are also last performances.

I don’t know what I can do to assist, but I’ll be lurking here quietly until further instruction.

Comment from paul bailey
Time: January 15, 2008, 1:36 pm

jeff (and all),

I’m not sure if this is a stated goal, but I can see the concert as a way to help
musicians get connected and start new ensembles. I think many of us have observed groups created through the connections created playing in a festival ensemble. the provided dinner or small honorarium was enough to separate the new music enthusiasts from those looking for just another gig.

I see this going two ways;

on one hand I could be a new music version of the Sundance Institute, to bring together young/newer composers and performers interested in new music. The main difference is instead of bringing everybody together in one location let the concerts happen where there is a groundswell of interest.

on the other hand if the stated goal of these concerts is to promote “the best the S21″ community, I suggest the full monty, everybody gets paid, with one or two concerts that are produced and promoted more like a film festival.

besides giving exposure to composers, i think the real opportunities are for composers and performers to meet and create connections that lead to more groups and more performances beyond these concerts.

paul

Comment from DJA
Time: January 15, 2008, 1:40 pm

Hey Jeff,

This all sounds great — much of it is roughly similar to what we did for our Pulse hit at Roulette… all the money goes to the performers, decide the instrumentation in advance and everyone writes for the same set of players, release a podcast interview with each composer before the concert (using audio recorded at rehearsal), record the concert. This is a good system.

Two things you didn’t mention:

1) I hope that the composers will be encouraged to get invovled in the rehearsals. This may also help alleviate concerns about playability — if a composer is well-prepared and knows their music well, they may be able to help the ensemble overcome some of the initial difficulties. (This assumes the composer knows how to contribute to a rehearsal without being a total douche, I know, but hey — everyone here is a good-natured, well-adjusted, sociable individual, right?)

2) To address the concerns about the players having too much on their plate, perhaps you could (A) include two ensembles per concert, one for the before-intermission pieces, and one for after? At least then you’d have the intermission to do the changeover. Or, (B) make the pool of players available for the concert larger — say 10 players total — but have the composers write for some subset of that. Let’s say the pool includes a string quartet, piano, percussion, and four winds — one composer might write a piece for viola, percussion, and oboe; another might write for the winds alone, etc.

Comment from paul bailey
Time: January 15, 2008, 1:42 pm

yikes… no i did not intend to infer i could or ever would be the sundance institute…

the previous post should read “on one hand this could be a new music version of the sundance institute”

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: January 16, 2008, 1:30 pm

Thanks for all of the input and ideas… and the emails expressing concern about this or that aspect. (Even one that said please no commissions – S21 can’t afford to commission me!). At this point, we’re still in the thinking things through phase and awaiting input from some decision-makers about the process and the fund-raising in general.

paul, thanks for reminding me (us) about the coolness involved with pre/post concert meeting and the synergies that are exposed thereby. That has to be a part of this process that will be stimulated! Ivan and Mell, for sure, a recurring program would be cool. A programmatic tour. … Second performances are another worthy goal of the process, either by the same group or another group.

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: January 16, 2008, 1:36 pm

Darcy James, I’m glad to see your comment went through. More than 2 URL’s triggers the comment approval process… Composer rehearsal involvement absolutely key and hopefully would be integrated as part of the post-commission/selection process. Two ensembles, might work in larger cities. NYC for sure… and you’re right would relieve some of the strain of so many new pieces.

paul, the Sundance model sounds great; it’s a new world though, taking the non-localized web community and turning it into a movable feast for interaction between all the community members and interested parties. As far as I know, nobody has ever really made this type of artistic webspace->realspace jump, if so, I’d love to hear how they did it – without localization.

Comment from DJA
Time: January 16, 2008, 2:48 pm

More than 2 URL’s triggers the comment approval process

But my post only contains one URL… ? Anyway, glad to see it went through eventually.

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: January 16, 2008, 3:31 pm

Heh… yeah I noticed that. ;-? Likely the URL for your site + the comment URL.