A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the advantages of aging in this profession. There are some perks, though, to being a young composer these days.
The internet-abetted ability to connect directly with audiences around the world is an obvious boon – so well-documented that nobody needs me to provide further comment. But there is another difference I seldom hear mentioned.
When I was in my 20s, there was a general understanding that composers my age had to bide their time, pay their dues, get a few gray hairs, come to grips with modernism, forge a personal style, before anyone took them seriously. The new-music world was ruled by composers in their 40s and older. If we were patient and put in the hard work, our time would come.
Some of that attitude lingers, of course, but two other attitudes have become more prominent: a belief that authenticity can trump mastery, and a belief that young composers hold the key to understanding the present and the future. As a result, young composers are much more frequently thrust into the spotlight than they were 30 years ago. Add to that the proliferation made possible by technology over the last few decades, and professional ascents are happening much more quickly now.
Of course, quick ascents can be dizzying. I’ve known a few composers in their 20s and 30s who have been crowned as artistic successes and have lost their way artistically.
In any case, there is more of a chance, however slender, these days that a young composer will get an enormous reaction based on a small sample of work. That occasionally happened when I was younger, but it seems much more common now.