My music has been the beneficiary of a lot of graciousness and good will this week, with the premiere of my fourth quartet. A number of intelligent and curious people have had some very insightful things to say about what I do.
One estimable critic wrote that my works “explore and re-validate traditional forms,” which makes sense, given what I’ve said about my music, but it’s not quite true. The fact that his statement pretty accurately reflects what I’ve written in the past makes me realize I need to clarify the way I’ve articulated my goals.
The truth is, none of these old forms need validation: they are proven artistic commodities. The reason I have been exploring them — and one could even say obsessively exploring them — is because I like one of the side effects that happens when a composer uses traditional forms.
Composing in Classical forms inevitably begs comparison with masterworks of the past. These comparisons can be flattering or unflattering – I couldn’t really care less which. Either way, the comparisons throw our work in stark relief in ways that I think are beneficial for our self-awareness. And I’m talking cultural – not personal — self-awareness. For instance, there are some ways in which these traditional forms fit current expressive goals quite comfortably, but there are other ways in which they break down under the weight of contemporary experience — they can’t support everything we need to say. In that crevice – between comfort and inadequacy – we are shown exactly who we are, with no place to hide.
And I love that.