There’s a certain kind of concert that can have a bracing place in the new music world. I’m thinking of the performance organized by and for composers, for which the audience is primarily composers and their friends (sometimes I wonder how composers ever find the time or the social skills to make friends, but it does happen). These sparsely attended performances can be wonderful opportunities to try out ideas that may not be ready for general consumption.

Need I add that many of these performances take place in university or conservatory environs? Need I also add that they can occasionally become toxic events, fostering in-bred, mutual-admiration societies, or vicious, politicized back-stabbing?

Such is not always the case but, as in any arena, good intentions have the potential to turn sour. Thankfully, I’ve had more experience with the beneficial aspects of these performances, and just enough of a taste of the negatives to keep me cautious.

I’m reminded of a comment one of my teachers, James Sellars, made years ago. He compared these concerts to the bake sales his aunts had when he was growing up in Arkansas. “Composers come to these concerts to see what everyone else is putting in their pies this year,” he chortled.

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