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Rude Question of the Week–Is Nico Overrated?

One of my two favorite young conductors, Brad Lubman (the other is Alan Pearson) is leading the large ensemble Signal in the American premier of The Corridor by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of the most prominent figures in European contemporary music, at Merkin on May 27.  A 40-minute scena, The Corridor is scored for two voices, soprano and tenor, and an ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and a harp functioning as an Orphic lyre.

The highlight of the evening, however, is apparently the world premiere of Stabat Mater by the seemingly inevitable Nico Muhly.

Which leads to this week’s rude question: is Nico Muhly a) the dreams and prayers of a grateful music world or b) not so much?  Discuss.

Comments

Comment from Ryan
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:13 am

Short answer: not so much.

I find it a little crazy that Nico’s premiere takes the forefront to Sir Birtwistle’s American premiere! Birtwistle is a knight, not to mention a ground-breaking composer of many genres. He is truly one of the most innovative composers alive today.
Not to say that Nico isn’t a decent composer, but does his music warrant such high profile performances and commissions on a regular basis? Definitely not.
I wonder just how far he would have been able to get without the Philip Glass connection? Speaking of Glass assistants, I much prefer the music of Trevor Gurekis to Muhly, and I wish Gurekis’s music was programmed more often!

Comment from davidcoll
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:25 am

well maybe if Nico were to get knighted that’d even the playing field? Its a concert program, thats all. I don’t see how one or the other is getting more attention..

Comment from Nadia
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:49 am

your MOM is overrated.

Comment from Ben Frost
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:55 am

seriously she is right, your mom IS overrated.

Comment from Eric Shanfield
Time: May 14, 2010, 12:15 pm

Really, Mr. Bowles? Not cool.

Comment from BipperBali
Time: May 14, 2010, 12:32 pm

ha! a certain mafia is after you now Jerry. The obvious answer to this question is a resounding YES YES YES. Can anyone name the Nico piece that he or she is in love with? His launching pad was not a Rite of Spring or Einstein on the Beach…it was buzz…hype.
I really hope for his sake that he delivers someday otherwise this could burn him out very quickly. In the meantime, in lieu of having good music that he’s written to talk about, we are forced to still say “protégé of Philip Glass” every time we say his name.

Where’s the beef?

Comment from Yvonne
Time: May 14, 2010, 12:45 pm

I don’t think the question is out of line. he is overrated to a certain extent, but there are reasons why he is popular, and it would be interesting to explore that, because clearly he is what the audience likes/loves.

Comment from Seth Gordon
Time: May 14, 2010, 1:30 pm

a) No.
b) No.

You ask as if there’s no middle ground.

Muhly’s good. I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve heard. Has anything been life-changing? No.

But I don’t see there being the level of hype you perceive, either. Frankly, not enough people care about the goings-on in the classical music world for anything / anybody to be the “next big thing” anymore. It’s a battle among small things. Kudos to those who become big small things, I guess.

Comment from Dan Johnson
Time: May 14, 2010, 1:52 pm

Basically: What Seth Said.

But as a card-carrying member of the Muhly Mafia, I’ll say that there’s an awful lot to unpack in this (rude) question, so instead of answering it directly, let me first ask a few (rude) questions of my own: What does it mean when a living composer is “overrated”—that he makes almost as much money from writing his music as Ke$ha makes from sneezing near a live mic? Doesn’t the question of why a (very good) composer with a deep understanding of popular music is more popular than a (very good) composer who pretty much despises popular music really answer itself? Wouldn’t it be easier for us to respect your opinions of his music if you hadn’t so clearly formed them before you ever heard it?

Now, if you’re asking whether Nico receives a disproportionate amount of attention compared to the rest of the new-music world, then sure, maybe the answer is Yes! But does that mean he doesn’t deserve the attention he’s getting, or does it just mean that everybody else should be getting a lot more? Knowing how hard Nico works, and how much pleasure his music gives me personally, I’d have to go with the latter.

Comment from Judd
Time: May 14, 2010, 1:55 pm

Did Brian Sacawa steal Jerry Bowles’s login info?

BTW, check your spellings. I hope next week’s Rude Question is “Is Sir Harrison Bert-whistle overrated”.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:07 pm

Actually, my Mom is dead and I used to be somebody but now I’m somebody else. But, let’s get real, gang. There are a lot of composers who are very talented. Only a handful of them get much attention–regular concerts, recordings, buzz. As in every other creative field those who do are generally those who are most adept at arts politics. Extramusical factors like who you know, who you worked for, who you’ve slept with, how well you promote yourself, who you can persuade to play your work, who you piss off are all ingredients in the making of a successful artist.

Comment from Steve Glassfan
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:10 pm

Yes, Nico is overrated, and Philip Glass is underrated.

Comment from Richard Mitnick
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:26 pm

First, if I have the right Nadia, she is a very nice young woman, very smart, and she should not get into a pissing match in the comment pages of a blog.

Nico is very important. It is widely accepted that he is a gifted composer. Beyond that, what he is doing is showing that it is still possible for a young musician/composer to make a difference ion all of the noise that is around the New Music world today. That is especially important for other younger talented people to see- like those brought forward these days by the American Composers Forum (Innova).

Comment from paul bailey
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:35 pm

i have no idea if he is overrated, but he obviously has a lot of attention and press to live up to which depends on how seriously he (or any lauded artist) takes their publicity.

i’m sure the press surrounding this show is based on the perception that a young, good looking nico will sell many more tickets than crotchety grandpa harry.

this is the whole point of selling tickets

Comment from Jeremy Howard Beck
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:39 pm

For the record, I’ve met Nico exactly once–at a Juilliard Alumnus Lunch thing, so hardly a one-on-one–and he was a very nice, very smart, very funny guy. Also for the record, there are pieces of his I Like, pieces of his I Love, and then pieces of his I No Love So Much. Pretty much like every other composer out there.

But I think he said it best himself, and so I quote:

“It’s been my experience that people who want to talk about style and genre are taking advantage of the noise of that conversation to avoid the actual task of writing or making music. Get back to work and get off the internet!”

And then:

“Am gonna follow my own advice and edit these clarinet slurs right now, and figure out this harp pedaling.”

Maybe if we all stopped bitching and moaning–about who gets what press and who doesn’t get what commission even though He Deserve It and what the Proper Role of Popular Music is in our compositions, if any–we’d have a richer, more vibrant music scene in which we all make a lot more music, the music we make is better, and we all make so much good music that the GP has no choice but to notice.

Imma take my own (and Nico’s) advice and go finish this George Crumb/Vox Balaenae paper. It’s not music-making, exactly, but I’ll need to finish it if I want to get my Masters Degree on next Friday and start making music for realzies.

Comment from zeno
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:45 pm

O for a harp with wings … John C. Adams says (he said so 90 minutes ago) that the next important movement in classical music will come out of (Le) Poisson Rouge, in NYC.

But hasn’t Birtwistle been performed at LPR just as much as has Nico Muhly?

And don’t you just have to love young, new music publicists? …

“Recent works include Panic [1995] composed for the Last Night of the BBC Proms.”

You mean last Millennium?

[By the way, David Harsent is the librettist (in English) for the Birtwistle U.S. premiere, as Craig Lucas is the ‘librettist’ (in English or Latin?) for the Nico Muhly world premiere].

Comment from Matt Marks
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:50 pm

While I’m all for increasing the amount of new music shit-talk throughout the Twitter/blogosphere I don’t really get this. I’d rather read a post on why you think Nico Muhly’s music is overrated than a Tweet-depth begging-the-question-type post. To use Nadia’s “your mom” example (which of course is a term that doesn’t refer to specific mothers), this is kinda like saying: “Is yo mama so fat she has to use a VCR as a beeper or… not so much? Discuss.”. The implication is there; the justification is not.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:54 pm

By the way, I’m a huge Nadia fan too even if she did diss my late mom. (I’m joking, she lived a good long life). And I would point out that I did not I say I thought Nico was overrated; I simply asked a question that a lot of people I know are asking. I’m certain he is overhyped but it will take some time to judge whether he is overrated.

Comment from Brian
Time: May 14, 2010, 2:54 pm

@Judd Haha!

For the record, I dig Nico’s stuff and have registered my thoughts before – http://charmcitycurrent.com/sounddirections/2010/02/16/is-new-music-saving-opera-or-scandalizing-it/

Comment from Thomas Tyler
Time: May 14, 2010, 3:00 pm

Ouch! First off, there are some very memorable pieces: Did you see Elements of Style at the Public Library!? Or the Mothertounge thing at the Merkin, or the Lincoln Center Songbook last year? Those were fucking killer. Second, he seems to write a shit-ton, so my sense is that some will be really amazing and standout (if his Opera isn’t amazing in two years that’s a problem, for instance) while others will be just simply good or functional. But a lot of it (and I see a lot of music) I’ve left saying, wow, that was really amazing. And the misses (I saw one thing I thought was meh) wasn’t BAD or a disaster.

Third, what a fucked up question. Here’s mine:

Jerry Bowles seems to be getting a lot of comments on his blogs and some buzz in the blogosphere. He’ll be blogging next week. Will Jerry’s posts, two weeks from now that I haven’t read, be (a) witty and insightful? (b) a little childish and beneath him?

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 14, 2010, 3:16 pm

I’d go with (b) but I do think that from my perspective (non-musician, non-composer but lifelong provocateur) the question of how much politics (personal/group/sexual) drives music (or art) history is a not entirely trivial one.

Comment from Eric Shanfield
Time: May 14, 2010, 3:36 pm

Mr Bowles’s comments seem disingenuous to me; the form and content of a question always defines the form and content of its answer. If you think Nico’s overrated, come out and say so, say why, I have no problem with that, but to put it out there like that and then say “well, I’m just being a provacateur” seems to me a way of shit-talking without taking responsibility for it, and I find that distasteful.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 14, 2010, 4:57 pm

Well, if you’re going to insist that I have a personal opinion on the music, the stuff by Nico that I’ve heard strikes me as slight and unmemorable, but inoffensive. I have the same reaction to DPR and Timothy Andres. Missy Mazzoli, I like, a lot. Because I am a musical illiterate, my reaction to music is almost entirely emotional. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind, Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Steve Reich’s Tellium, John Adams’ Shaker Loops. Hearing the music for the first time was an event that announced to me that I was in the presence of greatness. Nothing I’ve heard by Nico approaches that.

Comment from zeno
Time: May 14, 2010, 5:16 pm

I’d go with (a).

The first “live work” that I heard by Harrison Birtwistle was his “Verses for Ensemble” on March 30, 1974 — twelve years and two months before I heard his “Mask of Orpheus”.

The first ‘live opera’ that I heard by Philip Glass was his ‘Madrigal Opera’ — now finally recorded — on June 9, 1982.

I was heading to ‘Great Falls’ of the Potomac on an unknown date when I first heard Shaker Loops on the radio, and I of course found the next turn-out.

John C. Adams will be leading members of the National Symphony in a free performance of his totemic ‘Shaker Loops’ at the KC tomorrow night at 6 PM. Free. Various conservatory musicians will then perform Mr. Adams’s perhaps less totemic “Chamber Symphony”. Adams leads ‘The Dharma at Big Sur’ and ‘Dr. Atomic Symphony’ together starting on Thursday. Do, or do not, those works rank with Reich’s ‘Tellium’ and Glass’s ‘Satyagraha’?

Comment from Matt Marks
Time: May 14, 2010, 5:29 pm

DPR….? I got nothin’.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 14, 2010, 5:51 pm

Sorry, typo. DBR Daniel Bernard Roumain http://www.dbrmusic.com/

Comment from Tom
Time: May 14, 2010, 5:57 pm

I agree that Muhly shouldn’t be touted culturally to meet the par of his commercial and critical (read: free advertising) popularity. It’s nothing against Nico’s work, per se, it’s far to early to judge finally if the work is “overrated” – let it stand the test of time further and reach further potential – but I do think it’s off-putting to get the sense arts organizers are merely cashing in on a brand. In that sense, yes, call him overrated.

My personal opinion disclosed, I enjoy Muhly’s work, primarily because I feel like he has excellent influences and taste. As for the execution, it’s well done, but I have a hard time hearing Nico in there. That’s why I prefer to wait til I do hear it to decide if I like him or not.

The worst I could say of Muhly is that it is a funny proposition to find interest in someone for their work with later-era Philip Glass, when likely they are not meaning to associate with The Hours but Glassworks and other pre-Muhly Glass.

Comment from Matt Marks
Time: May 14, 2010, 6:09 pm

Ah, well I feel you there at least!

Comment from Yvonne
Time: May 14, 2010, 8:39 pm

are the most famous ones really as great as they are all hyped up to be? maybe, maybe not. there are many great composers out there who can barely get their music performed/publicized, and then there are those who are fortunate enough to get the publicity and opportunities. NM happens to fall in the latter category, as do many other composers, young and old, “emerging” and “established.”

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: May 14, 2010, 9:46 pm

Nico’s alright, Jerry, though I get your drift and think it’s a perfectly fine question to ask. No, he hasn’t yet showed me a piece I want to take to bed & love-a love-a love-a forever (though Nadia almost makes that particularly persuasive case on her CD). But I’m still listening… DBR on the other hand, along with a certain “bricklayer-working-down-at-the-Psycho_Motel” — nada, zip, not one spark. And it doesn’t matter turntables or treble clefs; it’s that nothing’s going deeper than millimeters there.

Comment from Armando Bayolo
Time: May 14, 2010, 10:05 pm

ha! a certain mafia is after you now Jerry. The obvious answer to this question is a resounding YES YES YES. Can anyone name the Nico piece that he or she is in love with? His launching pad was not a Rite of Spring or Einstein on the Beach…it was buzz…hype.
>>>

Hang on, hang on: you want a Rite of Spring or an Einstein on the Beach (which wasn’t even Glass’ big splash, mind you. He’d been “hyping” himself around New York and elsewhere for years before that “big break”) for a young composer to matter? In 2010? When we’re a fringe of a FRINGE?

Gods, you don’t ask for much, do you?

Listen, regardless of how I, personally, feel about Muhly’s music (frankly, I haven’t heard enough to comment), what difference could it make? It’s a concert. With two BIG premieres. Getting press. Why, as the kids say, be a hater?

Now, I could say something about Birtwhistle not being an American, being renowned only in certain “uptowny” circles, or having a reputation as a curmudgeon, to put it gently, but I won’t, because, ultimately, that doesn’t matter either. I will say this: stylistically, Muhly and Birtwhistle make for an odd programming choice. And yet, having the music of a more accessible composer paired with that of a thornier one strikes me as the PERFECT way to help a not-always-friendly audience come to grips with a thorny piece. Hopefully they’ll come for the one and stay–and, even more hopefully, enjoy–for the other.

Comment from Armando Bayolo
Time: May 14, 2010, 10:09 pm

Jeremy Beck writes:
“Maybe if we all stopped bitching and moaning–about who gets what press and who doesn’t get what commission even though He Deserve It and what the Proper Role of Popular Music is in our compositions, if any–we’d have a richer, more vibrant music scene in which we all make a lot more music, the music we make is better, and we all make so much good music that the GP has no choice but to notice.”

I just had to post that again. As the leader of an ensemble, and a composer, who is trying to do just that, I’ve gotten more than just a little tired of the noise of politics in music. I don’t care who wins what or who doesn’t deserve a break. It’s about the music. It should ALWAYS be about the music. Period.

Comment from Katrina
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:02 pm

Wow, wish I’d seen this kind of discussion when Nico eviscerated Jody Redhage on his blog. It was much meaner and more cowardly than Bowles’s question, and far more damning, but I don’t think a single person responded with this kind of moralizing “how dare ye?!” rhetoric. Where were you all then?

Comment from james
Time: May 14, 2010, 11:46 pm

Sure in the sense of pure contemporary classical music he is overrated. Its simply a side-effect of becoming popular in a crossover pop/minimalistic sense. However, the great thing about Nico’s music is that it weights heavier on the minimal side than pop, IMO. I’ve received hate mail from any negative mention of Radiohead, for instance, who because their music has slight inklings of minimalism, is taken seriously notated…. Or it might be due to their little, or should I say huge, notation competition they held a few years back.

I hate to stray off, because its really to the point. What the fuck is a rock band doing by appeasing to the notational crowd? Well in the end it worked, a bunch of bizarre, once again IMO, fairly nice melodic works notated at some serious academic venues.

Comment from mclaren
Time: May 15, 2010, 1:40 am

Muhly has had the misfortune to get ‘discovered’ by various music critics and cogniscenti, and now he’s this month’s Young Lion on the contemporary music scene.

He didn’t ask for the hype, and he’s not going to produce another Rite of Spring because no one can anymore. As Leonard B. Meyer predicted out back in 1967 in Emotion and Meaning In Music, we’ve entered a “fluctuating steady state” in which all musical styles coexist and there’s no more mainstream. Consequently there no longer exists a musical bourgeoisie to shock. Muhly can’t start a riot with a new composition because no one can. That’s over. Done with. Kaput.

What I’ve heard of Nico Muhly’s music sounds well-crafted and altogether charming. Some people have sniped that Muhly is ripping off Philip Glass, but I don’t hear that. Muhly seems to have carved out his own direction in postminimalism, and what music I’ve heard by him seems delightful.

Does he deserve the hype? Probably not, but then again, so many contemporary composers are so damned good today that it’s extraordinarily hard for any composer to stand out that much today. From Cindy McTee to Alexandra Gordon to Aaron Jay Kernis to Gloria Coates to Pamela Z to Darcy James Argue to William Schottstaedt to Richard Karpen to Teri Hron, it’s just superb American composer after superb American composer as far as the eye can see.

Comment from David
Time: May 15, 2010, 9:11 am

Katrina at #33, I’m re-posting your comment: “Wow, wish I’d seen this kind of discussion when Nico eviscerated Jody Redhage on his blog. It was much meaner and more cowardly than Bowles’s question, and far more damning, but I don’t think a single person responded with this kind of moralizing “how dare ye?!” rhetoric. Where were you all then?”

You make an excellent point. After spending some time reading his blog, I can’t understand why anyone would take time to defend him.

Comment from Armando Bayolo
Time: May 15, 2010, 11:19 am

What about John Adams recent cry of “the emperor has no clothes” towards Eliot Carter on his blog? Is that okay because they’re two grand old men of contemporary American music?

I think composers should be careful when we criticize our colleagues in public. Those who live in glass houses and all that jazz…

Comment from Matthew
Time: May 15, 2010, 11:43 am

The non-Premier of a work should not trump the Premier of a work when both composers are well-respected. Leaving aside the overrated question, there is no indignity in affording Muhly pride of place in the programming.

Comment from Andrew
Time: May 15, 2010, 11:53 am

Why would you have a “rude question of the week?” or pose something like this out of the blue? This discussion would have some integrity if you’d used an actual performance as a jumping off point. Instead you seem to have thought, “I’m going to be an asshole today! HOW PROVOCATIVE.”

Why don’t you:
1 – Apologize for being an asshole who is not particularly rigorous about his blogging, and
2 – ATTEND A CONCERT or listen to an album and write about it intelligently?

I like Sequenza 21 because its thoughtful and the writing is usually strong. This smacks of desperation.

Comment from Dennis DeSantis
Time: May 15, 2010, 11:56 am

How To Win

1) Find yourself in a very small, very inbred niche culture
2) Start a blog
3) Write deliberately contentious blog posts that encourage all 20 of the other members of said niche culture to participate, thus driving blog traffic.
4) ????
5) Profit

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 15, 2010, 12:10 pm

I thought being an asshole was the primary reason to have a blog. But, seriously folks, the last graph gives me a chance to say what a spectacular job I think Steve Layton is doing as editor of Sequenza21. He has improved every aspect of the site–writing, design, contributors, and so much else, since I drafted him for the job. A little known fact is that I picked Steve as editor on the basis of his voluntary interest and contributions. I have never actually met him in real life and I’m not sure he actually agreed to do it before I put his name on the masthead. In any event, I think the site is in great hands for the future. Sometimes us assholes get something right.

Comment from Andrew
Time: May 15, 2010, 12:17 pm

I have to agree with #40. You’re trying to leverage someone else’s notoriety into a bump in your web traffic, which I imagine will be fleeting because this isn’t a particularly enjoyable. I can’t imagine reading this and thinking, wow i love contemporary classical music i want more from Jerry Bowles.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 15, 2010, 12:20 pm

@Dennis Profit? It is, how you say, to laugh. We use our ad revenue money to pay the bills and do live S21 concerts once in awhile and even then I usually wind up making up the difference. For the record, we’ve gotten 500-1000 visitors a day for the past five years and we rarely run contentious posts. Jeez, ask a simple question.

Comment from Dennis DeSantis
Time: May 15, 2010, 12:33 pm

@Jerry, exactly. Step 4 is missing. No one seems to be able to figure it out. I wonder if it’s “4. Diss your potential audience.” I guess we’ll see. Lemme know how it goes.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 15, 2010, 1:09 pm

As my late mother used to say to me: “Forget it, Jake. “He’s a drummer.” :) In any event, I have my Social Security check and my Medicare so I”ll be ok. Sequenza21 is one of the few things in life I have done with no expectation of making money or attracting a wide audience and, oddly, enough it has been one of the most successful thanks to the volunteer participation of a lot of wonderful, talented people who have created a real community. I hope my occasional moments of cranky old guy uncouthness do not discourage anyone from coming back.

Comment from Alexandra
Time: May 15, 2010, 1:29 pm

Omg, seriously, people?? Jerry, I’ve been reading S21 for ages, and of course it’s your baby, and you can make whatever choices you like, but this makes me want to stop reading. Petty, superficial, totally unnecessary. Bye now.

Comment from paul bailey
Time: May 15, 2010, 1:51 pm

i thought it was a reasonable question and the answers seemed thoughtful and pretty much agreed that he is a pretty good young composer that hasn’t written anything earth shattering yet.

in the modern news cycle how long before a critic comes out asking the same thing? the SF press pretty much did the same to Dudamel this week.

via sfgate Music review: Gustavo Dudamel bewilders http://bit.ly/dk1aoB

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 15, 2010, 2:37 pm

Good point, Paul. I just got a note from a good friend this morning that I think helps explain the “rebranding” effort that is going on within the “old” music establishment:

Just got back from Southern California, where I took my wife and one of our sons to see Gustavo Dudamel, the 28-year-old rock-star conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic. He’s being promoted better than the I-Pad, with banners on light poles and the sides of buildings and big ads in the L.A. Times. Unlike the Kimmel Center, where the Philadelphia Orchestra resides, Walt Disney Hall was packed for the concert. My son, who has little patience for classical music, was agog. The orchestra seemed to respond as well; it sounded great. Dudamel’s histrionics reminded me of none other than Lenny. I believe that personalities and promotion, not necessarily a diet of new music, will attract the younger crowd that is currently missing in the great concert halls of America and may give classical music a reprieve.

Comment from Tom
Time: May 15, 2010, 4:21 pm

@Alexandra

You’re a talented composer with work far more touching than Muhly’s. It’s good to keep yourself apart from negativity, but honestly in this case I agree with Paul Baily (#47) that all the “negatives” on Muhly at this point have been very well thought and reasonable. The most negativity is coming from Muhly’s friends.

Were Muhly to find this himself, and likely he does, he shouldn’t find anything ego damaging. I think “petty” arguments like this actually serve a real purpose. If a young kid with everything going for him in a particular field has nothing but yeasayers (yes men, Nico, not your buds in the band) and top-billings and encouragement, most likely his music will begin to tend toward his worst tendencies. Giving people an outlet to voice opposition to circumstance is a worthy cause in my book. If discussion like this burn Muhly’s ego, his music will probably be better for it.

Comment from Eric Shanfield
Time: May 15, 2010, 6:45 pm

I’m not a friend of Nico’s (we’ve met a few times), and I called him out on Jody @DJA, and had much nastier things to say about his comments than Mr Bowles’s; I think he was way out of line and said so. Maybe I was a bit harsh here, I just don’t like it when people imply negative things about others but won’t take responsibility for it. While fundamentally I’m all for criticism and free exchange of ideas, and to be honest this is a conversation I’ve had in private several times (I like some of his music and find some of it derivative and gimmicky, but given his age I’m withholding judgment), I don’t know if this ultimately mean-spirited conversation has much public utility.

When it comes to established composers I have no such compunctions, and I hope we can all agree Birtwistle is one of the greatest composers of our time, whether you like his music or not. I happen to love it like I love taffy, and I love taffy.

Comment from Will Mego
Time: May 15, 2010, 10:34 pm

The point I’d like to make in relation to his hype is the following suggestion:
No, he is NOT overrated…but perhaps the hype is for the WRONG thing. I can easily see where his detractors are coming from, but I firmly believe that Nico will be remembered SOMEDAY as the one of the most notable large scale composers of his time, and the greatest choral (with and without orchestra) composer of his time. Of course, that’s not what the hype is for, is it. I think the hype is in fact a bad thing. Not because of any of the reasons listed in earlier comments, but because it risks keeping him from becoming what I believe he can become. I look to works such as bright mass with canons and the work he did with the Boston SO about being a student at Tanglewood (name escapes me at the moment) as signs of this, but many of the more recent works and projects he’s been involved in as signs that perhaps the hype…hurts. So I view his hype not as people overrating him, but as people giving him what he deserves, although I doubt they (or even he) understand why, and for what. Somehow, I think that unless he’s perverted by the experiences and opportunities along the way (I’m thinking of Lenny B.) that he’ll show his detractors their fears are misplaced, even though this might end up disappointing his fans of his current “hip” period. So negative people, you’re right…but you’re gonna be wrong..unless he is corrupted by all this…in which case you’re right again.

Comment from james
Time: May 16, 2010, 12:45 am

As one of the final thoughts on this entertaining reply thread to a provocative post (is provocation a sin?), who cares?

I posted a reply earlier without reading through all the responses and now that I have, I feel like S21 has turned into Nico’s little fan club.

Nico is doing well, his music is pretty damn good. I bought his CD actually – along with radiohead’s Rainbow-something or other on the same night and enjoyed both for what they offer.

But the question Jerry posed is relevant and I dare say simply rhetorical, accurately so. Both Radiohead and Nico, if they want to be known historically, have to move out of the pop atmosphere. This is not a great way to make a living. Nico is definitely more “classicaly” based but some feel the same way about Radiohead….

Comment from Katrina
Time: May 16, 2010, 12:49 am

Re David 36, seriously, I think this is the most interesting thing to come out of this conversation, and it’s so anthropologically fascinating that I think it bears a bit of elaboration.

Dennis is right that it’s the same 30 people reading these silly blogs. We all immediately knew about this “is Nico overrated?” post, the same way we all immediately knew about Nico’s ridiculing Jody last year (which, for those of you who somehow missed it, was like watching the schoolyard bully pound the sweetest kid in school to a bloody pulp.) Yet only one of these incidents had anyone publicly crying “Bad! Petty! Wrong! Pshaw!” And it wasn’t the schoolyard pounding.

What is up with that? Why does Jerry get a public scolding but not Nico, especially when what Nico did was actually cruel and damaging, as opposed to just petty and stupid (sorry Jerry.) It wasn’t that no one noticed or cared — on the contrary; I’ve never heard so many people fired up about a single topic in this community. Guns were blazing, but with the exception of one or two brave souls (one of whom was his close friend) people emptied them only in the privacy of their own backyards.

The reason for the discrepancy of reactions here, of course, is that a power differential exists with someone like Nico that doesn’t exist with someone like Jerry (again, no offense Jerry.) Nico is perceived to be powerful and well-connected, so people fear the repercussions of taking him to task for bad behavior. But this social phenomenon, this fear of speaking out against those perceived to be powerful in this very small, very niche-y community, sheds a far more interesting light on the role of politics in new music than any hype Nico can cook up for himself.

Comment from mclaren
Time: May 16, 2010, 3:48 am

Armando Bayolo asked: What about John Adams recent cry of “the emperor has no clothes” towards Eliot Carter on his blog? Is that okay because they’re two grand old men of contemporary American music?

No. It’s okay because Elliott Cook Carter Jr. clearly and self-evidently lacks even the most rudimentary scintilla of musical talent. Everyone knows it. Everyone can hear it. It’s long past time someone just said it.

Comment from mclaren
Time: May 16, 2010, 4:16 am

Andrew asks, with touching naievete: <Why would you have a “rude question of the week?” or pose something like this out of the blue?

Boy, have you got a lot to learn about publicizing yourself and building an audience, Andrew.

Two words, kiddo: site hits.

Rude questions do wonders for the traffic. Even better, if you can get some nasty comments, a few shivs gleaming in the dark, some scuffling, a little blood on the pavement. Hoo boy! Them pageviews go through the roof, boy-o.

Layton’s doing what an adroit blog editor does — create a ruckus to get attention for his blog. Next week, probably some pics of a naked cellist posing Miley-Cyrus-style with her Gofriller…the week after that, a guest editorial by some dinosaur serialist to assure us that tonal music is dead and everyone reading this blog is a clueless wanker. The week after that, a guest editorial by some live laptop composer who does real-time programming to create his music, who will explain that scores and live acoustic music belong to the past and concerts featuring 18t-century European instruments like trumpets and violins are dead. Anything and everything to shock the rubes, stir things up, get attention.

You think Louis Andriessen got to be the most famous composer in the Netherlands by accident?

C’mon, Andrew! He did it by blasting air horns at Mozart concerts and scandalizing everyone with leaflets he handed out proclaiming classical concerts to be “a tool of the imperialist elite.”

Layton’s doing a crackerjack job of publicizing Sequenza 21. Just look at the number of comments, kiddo.

David remarked: After spending some time reading his blog, I can’t understand why anyone would take time to defend him.

Because a composer is not her music (or his music).

Dennis DeSantis — bingo! You win the kewpie doll! Now go do it yourself, drive up your pageviews, monetize your music, and get famous. Seriously. Would that all contemporary composers were as savvy and Bowles and Layton at promoting themselves.

Alexandra sniffs: Petty, superficial, totally unnecessary.

Yes…and the problem is–?

Check the news media, folks, it’s pretty much the definition of petty, superficial, and totally unnecessary. We’ve got global warming, Peak Oil, and a creeping police state, and whadda we see on the TV news and read in the headlines? Michelle Obama has poor fashion sense, the White House reporters are pissed off that Air Force One doesn’t have good wifi while in flight, and Obama isn’t wearing a flag lapel pin.

Petty, superficial and totally unnecessary sells. That’s what the public laps up like starving dogs. More petty, superficial and totally unnecessary articles on S21, please!

James avers: Both Radiohead and Nico, if they want to be known historically, have to move out of the pop atmosphere.

And we have a winner! Dialectical Hegelian historicism is alive and well, and has passed down from Karl Marx to Pierre Boulez to good ole David.

Out here on planet earth, that “need to be known historically” claim about contemporary music has gotten debunked so often for so long that everyone should examine this kind of antique lingo carefully for the exotic antique artifact it is. Fascinating — like seeing a coelacanth, a living fossil, breathing and moving around right in front of you!

Nico doesn’t need to do diddly. Nico should just keep on doing what he’s doing, and history will take care of itself. It always does.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 16, 2010, 9:32 am

I agree generally with both Katrina and mclaren, with a couple of clarifications. We do not have a grand marketing plan (or any other kind of “business” plan) to drive up traffic or make money. For a long time now, S21 has been one of the top two or three music blogs on the web without any kind of promotion or strategy or picking fights with semi-famous people. Click on the little flame in the left sidebar and you can see where we stand on any given day in relation to the other blogs in our category. We got about 20 more visits yesterday than we get on a normal Saturday so if a ratings boost is our goal, it’s not working. We have had in the past posts that got far more views and several hundred comments that are so esoteric they make my eyes glaze over. On balance, our non-superficial posts do as well or better than the my infrequent moments of aggressive aggression.

Second, we don’t have an editorial plan. The people who contribute write about whatever they want to whenever they want to. Unless they choose to tell us, neither Steve nor I have any idea what’s coming. (By the way, you’re all welcome to become contributors; just ask Steve or me for a password–as long as what you write is not overtly self-promotional or simply an announcement, chances are we’ll use it.)

I am generally the only person who ever writes negative things about personalities here because, as Katrina so delicately points out, I have nothing to lose. I am not a composer or musician; I don’t go to parties; I am older than most of you and don’t give a rat’s ass about hanging out with famous people. Or, at least, famous people I don’t already know and like for different reasons. As a rule, I think–and I’m sure Steve agrees–we want to be supportive of new music and new music composers. I try very hard to pick only on people whose reputation won’t really be harmed too much by it. It would be nice if Nico played by the same rules.

Comment from Andrew
Time: May 16, 2010, 10:09 am

Uhm, yes I know “site hits” thanks McClaren. That’s my point. Jerry has gone from thoughtful blogger who connects with people who are really excited about music (a few hundred, fine, but that’s why people read) to someone who is trying to be “provocative” and it seems a little desperate.

I just read that Nico takedown of Jody Redhage and here’s the thing: It was harsh and nasty, but he wrote about her music. (After listening to Redhage I kind of agreed.) He put forward an argument after listening to a performer and wrote about it. What we’re having here is a discussion about nothing. Jerry could have taken the time (and usually does) to GO to the Merkin and write about it. We just get, as readers, pre-irritation that its even featured. This argument we’re having has no content – its just trash.

Comment from Andrew
Time: May 16, 2010, 10:15 am

Looked again and the Redhage piece, while obnoxious, has content: there are clips of her music, an argument both about style and about how she fits into the label she’s on, etc. Its a reaction to a contemporary classical artist. Katrina and others may be wounded by it, but its provocative and its based on an argument of some kind. This is just, as Jerry says “the rude question of the week,” which I think is a pretty lazy way to be provocative.

Comment from james
Time: May 16, 2010, 10:32 am

“This argument we’re having has no content – its just trash.” Andrew

Its sort of funny you say that since many people here are kindly implying the same thing about Nico. Content.

Comment from david toub
Time: May 16, 2010, 3:16 pm

I don’t know the dude’s music, so I’m not in any position to have an opinion one way or the other. But, while I certainly am fine with people expressing opinions about whether or not they like a composer’s music (even I’ve been known, on rare occasions, to voice an opinion about composers whose music I don’t like), snark is another thing altogether. John Adams’ more recent music is, to my mind, overrated. Same with Carter, Lachenmann, and a few others. But that’s a reflection of my own taste or lack thereof-I’d never say Carter is overrated or that any of them, despite my dislike of their music, are hacks or anything but capable composers. So let’s be careful here-clearly this Nico guy must be doing something right to piss off quite a few people. Right there, he’s a bit more respectful to my mind.

Comment from Tom
Time: May 16, 2010, 3:50 pm

The adage “no such thing as bad press”, I think, overrules the “slander sells” argument people are posing here in regards to this post. If there’s a marketing scheme happening by posting something of this nature, it’s only including the key-words “Nico Muhly”. Major online pubs with a vested interest in building site hits run multiple stories a week, whether positive or negative, about the most searched-for artists / news events / gossip. The fact that the question is large part aimed at being critical of that exact same method for concert programming is a saving grace for an otherwise hasty posting.

I’m an occasional and infrequent reader of S21, nonmusician, enthusiast (maybe why I am tending to easily side with Jerry’s perspective). Clearly regular readers would prefer to read something a more well thought out and substantive piece, but I do disagree with Andrew (58.) that sound bites or specific attacks on Muhly’s presence and sound bites would’ve made the argument better. The whole point is that those who read music writing are already saturated with lots of information, have probably bought the albums with high expectations, and the piece was set out as a barometer to see what the readers of this blog thought. I get the sense Jerry felt maybe a little too comfortable with his audience rather than hoping to add a new “edge” to the site. It’s obvious people enjoy reading Jerry’s writing and opinion and would prefer more of it rather than being left to fill it in for themselves.

Comment from Christian
Time: May 16, 2010, 5:46 pm

Last night, still full of pride and joy and warm feelings for my students’ achievements and their recognition at a humdinger of a commencement, I got home and turned on the computer – only to see that all hell had broken loose at Sequenza 21.

I’d like to set part of the record straight here. Jerry and Steve have never, ever, given contributors any static about the viewpoints we express on the site. They’ve also never suggested we cover something with an eye toward driving revenue or page views. Indeed we’re given tremendous creative latitude; the experience I’ve had here for three years has been quite positive. I think it speaks volumes about their approach that we have many talented contributors who work very hard to provide the site with content day in and day out.

The notion that we are having staff meetings discussing cheap page view spikes is the exact opposite of the vibe of our ad hoc online collective. We’re not compensated for our work, nor do we ever expect to be. Indeed, as Jerry points out, he has subsidized the existence of both the site and the Sequenza 21 concerts. I’m very glad that the site was willing to take on my blog after Splendid (www.splendidmagazine.com) folded. I can’t think of too many other venues on the internet that would allow me to discuss such a wide range of musical topics.

_____________________________________________________________

Now, part two: Jody and Nico and blogosphere animus.

For those curious, here again is Nico’s post about Jody Redhage and other NY new music ‘scenes': http://nicomuhly.com/news/2009/scene-but-not-heard/

It does seem pretty mean-spirited from where I sit. But obviously, as someone who regularly composes for Jody and has written about her music, I can’t comment objectively on that, other than to say that Muhly and I disagree! And while his critique did reference her music, I don’t think it was particularly detailed. For those interested in a more in depth portrait of Jody’s work, I’d recommend the feature I contributed to Musicworks Issue 102 (Winter 2008) available at: http://www.musicworks.ca/backissues-102winter2008.asp

I think Muhly’s very talented, BTW (as I wrote here: http://www.sequenza21.com/2010/04/nypos-contact-at-symphony-space/) but as someone who has regarded Birtwistle highly for a long time, I’d have liked to see Sir Harry getting top billing on the Merkin show!

Still, I can understand why he doesn’t, since Muhly probably is a better draw in NYC than Birtwistle. If people come for the Muhly and stay for the Birtwistle, its win-win in my book!

I think Jerry was trying to be an agent provocateur. Those who don’t regularly read the site may not be used to his terse yet effective set ups for many conversations we’ve had here on the homepage. I think I’ve overheard folks having the same conversation he was trying to foster here on the web at nearly every Nico performance I’ve attended.

Nico was commenting on “new music scenes.” He was being a bit provocative himself. In both cases, rhetoric escalates and feelings get hurt… and words get hurled.

There’s an old story about St. Francis de Sales. A penitent comes to him and confesses to saying something to besmirch a fellow parishioner’s reputation. As penance, St. Francis asks him to go out onto a windy hilltop and tear apart a down pillow. Then, he is to retrieve every feather. The penitent, aghast, says that’s impossible. St. Francis replies, so is retrieving every bit of damage you may have done to that person’s reputation with your words.

Its a hard parable by which to live as a music critic. But I still think its an excellent cautionary tale for those of us who blog to ponder as we wade into the online discourse. In fact, I might tape it to my monitor as a reminder.

Comment from Matt Marks
Time: May 16, 2010, 7:07 pm

If J-Bizzle actually *did* write this contentious post as a way to drive up hits (which seems unlikely), I’d say more power. I criticized this post’s lack of substance earlier, but that doesn’t mean I think he should stop. Why shouldn’t the classical music world get riled-up every once in a while? One of our main problems is that there’s not enough to get riled-up about anymore!

Even though I disagreed with Nico’s opinion of Jody, and thought it was more mean-spirited than substantive, I admired that he had the guts to put that shit out there, knowing that there would likely be consequences. What made it – and this – so audacious is that it’s simply never done, at least in the U.S. I remember playing a piece of mine when I was in London and a couple people just told me frankly to my face that they didn’t like it at all. I was hurt and offended at first, but then I realized that it would impossible for everyone to like everything I make. Why pretend otherwise?

There are going to be people who think Nico’s music is overrated. There are going to people who think it’s the bees knees. Why should any of them be silent about it?

Comment from Frank Hecker
Time: May 17, 2010, 10:58 am

I don’t have a dog in this fight (not being a composer or musician), I don’t have much new to contribute to this discussion, and I don’t have a settled opinion on Nico Muhly’s music (though this thread has prompted me to go back and listen to it some more). However in a discussion of Muhly and Sequenza21 I’m surprised that no one has apparently referenced the review of Mothertongue that appeared on this very site a couple of years ago. Whether you agree with the review or not, it at least addresses the music itself as opposed to the hype around it.

Comment from Alex Temple
Time: May 17, 2010, 7:45 pm

Hi Matt!

I have to say, I think there’s a big difference between being critical of someone’s music, and being critical of someone’s music to their face immediately after a performance. The former is something we all have to deal with — it’s an inevitable part of being an artist. The latter, though, is plain old bad manners.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: May 17, 2010, 8:29 pm

Thanks for finding that pretty brilliant review, Frank. I had forgotten about it but then I forget a lot these days. Where is jodru now that we need him?

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: May 17, 2010, 8:34 pm

“One of our main problems is that there’s not enough to get riled-up about anymore!”

Howdy from Texas! Shortly before relocating to Houston from NYC, I attended a group discussion at the Brecht Forum with the economics of the independent musician as the subject. It was a full house, with musicians representing New York’s lively rock, hip-hop, classical, jazz, and avant-garde scenes. It was also the most diverse audience I’d seen (outside a few of my own concerts) with regard to age, race, and gender. In twelve years of living in NYC, I’m sad to say that events like the one I’m describing were few and far between (although I had many similarly lively discussions over food and drinks with my fellow creative friends); bitching about colleague no one personally knows on a blog is more the norm.

And at the Brecht people THREW DOWN, you know what I’m saying? Get a room of artists together to talk about money, race, and classicism and look out – you’re gonna hear some things that you will not read in the New York Times, Time Out, or (although I love this site…) Sequenza21. Matt’s friend is on the right track. Face to face dialogue is crucial if you want to engage in serious conversation.

So in a way, I’m telling you what riles me up (composers saying “there’s not enough to get riled-up about” – no offense MoFo ☺), AND I’m sharing one idea for channeling some of this irritation we all feel towards our star-f—ing culture (which Nico did not invent – had to get around to him at some point here…). Maybe a forum like the one I attended at the Brecht forum (hosted by Sequenza 21? or the NOW Ensemble?) where musicians in the realm of classical composition talk face to face about our challenges and differences would yield more helpful data (as opposed to the AMC’s online survey or this thread)?

Come to think of it, it may be that I missed some other public open discussions in NYC where the focus was on the struggles of independent music making (be it classical or whatever) while I was there. That’s not impossible, so let me know…