The esoteric path is fantastical, messy, open-ended, and something few other composers would attempt. The bourgeois path is cleaner, grounded in everyday reality, and something many other composers might take a crack at.
The benefit of taking the esoteric path is the approval of my respected colleagues and the possibility of the honors one is occasionally accorded within the profession. The drawback is the likelihood that relatively few people will find what I’ve done to be of interest.
The benefit of taking the bourgeois path is the possibility of greater audience approval and more performances. The drawback is less respect from the profession.
Which one do I prefer? Actually, neither. My colleagues already treat me well, and audiences are already kind to me. Another honor, another performance – they are always highly appreciated, but I’m not starving for either, and neither one is a substantial motivation for undertaking a multi-year project.
More importantly, both paths are equally challenging, from a compositional standpoint. Despite conventional new-music wisdom, innovative work isn’t really more difficult to pull off than more traditional stuff. There are lots of other parameters that can make a piece difficult to write, or not difficult to write, besides its uniqueness quotient.
So which path will I take? I’m mulling both of them over, and I’m gradually accruing ideas. I’ll make a decision when I get hit with that one idea that just won’t let me go, the idea that I can’t resist sinking my teeth into for the long haul.
At that point I’ll know which path my idea will take me on, and who will like it, and who won’t.
Will I ever question my decision? Almost certainly. I question everything I do.
But it won’t matter in the end. Ultimately, I have to satisfy the person who climbs out of my side of the bed every morning. And he seems most comfortable when he’s enjoying his work, despite the benefits or fallout.