Deeply immersed in a lengthy work these days, and loving it. The challenges of extended compositions satisfy like nothing else. Every session of composing takes a substantial amount of time just to get started; one can’t simply pick up where one left off and make meaningful progress. Details pile up on details, and keeping them all straight while retaining a clear sense of the work’s core tests the composer’s endurance, concentration and clarity of vision.
Efforts like this bring me deeper into a sense of who I am, while simultaneously letting me lose myself in another world. For a few hours a day, I feel pleasantly delirious.
I’ve had so many things to absorb this fall, more than I can communicate coherently. A few things stand out. The premiere of David Lang’s Love Fail trusted its silences and Medievalism with inspiring confidence. Having dug into Gabriel Kahane’s work in preparation for our meeting last week, I was not surprised to find him engaging, thoughtful and direct, and left with the puzzle of how many of his major works – Crane Palimpsest, February House, a work in progress about the WPA — engage with what I assume is his grandparents’ or even great-grandparents’ generation.
And this brings up an intriguing question. In both Lang and Kahane, I am hearing evidence of a reactionary cultural trend that is all the more intriguing because it is coming from such insightful and observant artists. It’s an interesting place to be, a stark contrast to where this culture was twelve years into the last century, when artists were blasting the sacred structures of their art forms from their very foundations. And I use the word “reactionary” advisedly – this is not the same conservatism we have seen cropping up with regularity over the decades, but truly a reaction to what seems an overwhelming cultural momentum, when the truths of yesterday are quickly swallowed up by the news of today and the predictions for tomorrow.
Lest anyone is reading this as a lament, either pro or con, let me assure you it is neither praise nor condemnation: great art can be radical, great art can also be reactionary. It can even be moderate, believe it or not (and I should also add, as people often misread things they find online, I am not talking about politics, but culture). No, I’m not interested in predetermined “right” paths, I’m just curious about how these things unfold, what artists tell us about our world, the world we experience and the world we imagine.
After close to three decades of teaching composition, I find myself with a fascinating studio of young composers this year presenting me with fresh challenges I’ve never faced before. I love that. The work they bring me each week surprises me no end, and it’s startling to realize that none of them resembles another of them, and none of them are doing work that resembles the music I was writing as a student in any way.
And, in case you are wondering, I am fully aware that this post is rambling in a manner that is perhaps not characteristic of my blogging over the years. As I said at the top, I am greatly enjoying the depths I am finding in my extended work these days. Concision is not where my mind is right now. It is time to think of the holiday, and this holiday will bring me in touch with, I believe, thirty relatives, though there may be more than I am recalling. And the end of the holiday will bring me even deeper into my current work, which is a place I can’t wait to discover.
Seasons greetings to you all.