Full disclosure: Caroline Shaw has played my music, so I make no claim to objectivity here.
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The day after Paul Moravec won the Pulitzer prize, John Adams started shooting from the hip about the Pulitzer going to “academic composers.” I was annoyed. But I figured, “Okay, he’s being a jerk, but Paul is an established composer writing quality material: He doesn’t need Adams’s permission to be successful.”

Recently, however, Adams has been sniping at younger composers. Yesterday in the NY Times, he took a thinly veiled swipe at Caroline. I know that she doesn’t really need JCA’s permission to be successful either. However, it really ticks me off that Adams is willing to burn the bridge behind him.

So let’s break the cycle of composers eating their young. Emerging and just-emerged composers: remember to pay it forward and to not get crotchety before your time.

3 Responses to “One less sax concerto to track down …”
  1. kurt rohde says:

    This is sad report on numerous levels. There are so few places in the music world for one to enjoy the type of sustained success where a truly gifted composer (like Adams) can strive towards and acquire. I think that those of us who take what we do seriously often look towards such important figures for a a type of guidance, be it active or passive. We hope to learn from them “something” that might help guide us down a path where we can dig deep and make the work we want for people to hear, or possibly provide some assurance so we may overcome our fears and prejudices, or perhaps share insights on how to work through failures and fear in an effort to make music honestly, individually, and generously.

    I have no idea what it would be like to be a prominent “important” composer. It might be terrifying and elating, at times possibly bringing one treacherously close to insecurities that loom large and relentless. Or perhaps it may bring one close to the precipice of hubris, or maybe to a truly insightful, inspired place; it probably does all of this and more. But I am sure it is not easy being in that place of prominence day in and day out, and the weight of responsibility could become a burden instead of a gift.

    That said, all of us deserve respect for the work we do: I think most of us try our best, most of us are quite talented, and many of us have something important to say with out work. Bias and taste and ideology aside, it is foolish to diminish those who have received recognition, especially those who otherwise would go more or less unrecognized. Mr. Adams is a great composer, and I hope that this report of his comment was, in fact, not as meaningfully dismissive as it sounds. Ms. Shaw has written a piece that has touched and moved a number of listeners, and she should be admired for this achievement. Anyone who has created a work that has such a capacity and is subsequently recognized as such in a more public context through an award as important as the Pulitzer should be supported and graciously congratulated. Academia, youth, style, experience, ideology, popularity, “who you know”…these concerns are distractions and excuses, and have more to do with the operation of the music world, not the music.

    If you write a piece that rises above the chaos of the worst of the composer network and all the posturing that is attached to it, and the piece gets well-deserved attention, then all I can say is “May I please listen to it?”, and “Bravo(a)!”

    True humility is the hardest thing for the creative artist; it means that holding onto what is “right” and fighting against what is “wrong” is ultimately flawed. The questions have no real answers and the problems are not truly solvable. Humility is at the far edge of trust, where you can feel the possibility of creating something only you can create, and THAT is as only great as it needs to be.

  2. Petia says:

    I definitely agree a lot of composers have been eating the young and sadly in the long run all it’s gonna do is hurt them.

  3. david toub says:

    A few thoughts:

    1. The Pulitzer Prize is meaningless. Who cares about it?

    2. Adams’ output was much more innovative, creative and frankly, beautiful back in the 70′s and early 80′s. Nearly everything he’s written since Nixon in China has not grabbed me at all.

    3. Adams should not be dissing people who got the same, meaningless award he did. Is Carolyn Shaw’s piece as important as Reich’s Double Sextet? Is she more worthy of the prize than, say, Ralph Shapey or Terry Riley, both of whom have never won it? The answer is purely subjective and, like the prize itself, ultimately meaningless.

    4. I don’t care about the Pulitzer Prize, or any prize, for music. It doesn’t make someone more important as a composer. It doesn’t make that person’s music any better or worse than it is. There are so many politics and external considerations involved, and in the end, who can say on any objective level that one composer’s work is better than another’s? Carter won the Pulitzer more than once; it doesn’t make me like his work. Laurie Spiegel never won a Pulitzer; I really like her music.

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