This weekend, Great Noise Ensemble began its 2010-11 concert season with two performances at the New Voices Festival, a festival of new works for voice organized by composition students at the Catholic University of America. Since Great Noise is in residence at CUA, we presented two evenings on the festival: one, last night, consisting of works selected from a nationwide call for soces; the other, on Friday, shared with CUA student composers and ensembles in which we presented John Harbison’s 1989 work, Words from Paterson.
Our next concert, on October 24, is the Washington premiere of De Materie. It garnered a significant blurb in this morning’s Washington Post’s Fall Arts Preview.
It’s on, baby!
The following is a lecture I will be delivering to the 2010 Interamerican Festival for the Arts on September 2 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I am indebted to Christian Carey for editorial help.
Guerrilla campaigns, although defined most famously, perhaps, by that controversial icon of our neighbor to the northwest, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, have occurred throughout history on occasions when a small fighting force has faced off against a larger and more powerful opponent. Guerrilla fighters can, after a battle, easily blend back in with the general population, making it extremely difficult for the opposing forces to identify and strike at them, thus helping their efforts both militarily and politically. But, what do I mean by “guerrilla new music?”
In music today, so-called “classical” music or concert music, it’s safe to say, is a niche art form. The majority of the population is largely unaware of this rich and varied repertoire and concert music has thus become less commercially viable than it was, say, in the mid-20th century and thus less culturally relevant. If we judge this solely on sales statistics of recorded music (themselves tricky at a time when the record industry in general is in flux) we find the sobering—if unsurprising—statistic that classical music constitutes a mere 3% of total record sales with, as Anne Midgette puts it, “sales of 200 or 300 units [being] enough to land an album in the top 10.” Within this cultural niche, contemporary music is itself a niche, new or “modern” music having a reputation for difficult thorniness. The contemporary composer, and those performers who specialize in contemporary concert music, need to adopt, then, a position similar to that of guerrilla fighters in order not just to survive in the field, but to thrive and, hopefully (and ideally), change hearts and minds.
I am using a somewhat violent analogy. Music, thankfully, is not warfare and cooperation, not violence, is our methodology. Indeed, what I call for when I speak of “guerrilla new music” is a methodology based and dependent on an attitude adjustment towards new music and its presentation. This is a position that is gaining strong ground in the new music field and is quickly being noticed by more traditional “classical” music organizations.
Much has been made of late of the so-called “alt-classical” movement, particularly as represented by composers like Missy Mazzoli, Judd Greenstein and Ted Hearne, ensembles such as Flexible Music, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), eighth blackbird and Alarm Will Sound, and the New Amsterdam record label in New York. This movement, if it may be called one, seeks to blur the boundaries between popular and concert music (or high and low art) and its exponents write and perform music that is often difficult to comfortably classify within a single genre. Genre Distinctions are nonexistent to the alt-classical composer.
My own ensemble, Great Noise Ensemble, has been associated with this movement by at least one critic (and one documentary filmmaker). I am not entirely comfortable with this association, although that is primarily because of my own inability as a composer to move fluidly among genres, even while accepting influences from music other than concert music. I do, however, feel solidarity with these artists in at least one sense: “classical” music is not the art of dead men, performed incredibly formally by people dressed very uncomfortably.
No, “classical” music is a LIVING art form. It is continually evolving in ways that often resist labels. We music guerrillas seek to reclaim it from the museum culture that has prevailed in the concert hall since the mid-19th century, a museum culture that has treated the concert hall as a surrogate church and in the process cheapened music’s very transcendence by slowly alienating it from its audience. The very term “classical” implies an unchanging structure, possibly made of marble, set and immovable. It is ANATHEMA to what we, as artists, do and seek to accomplish!
It is not the sense of the canon, however, that the Guerrilla Musician must repudiate. We must learn from the past and embrace it even as we experiment in new directions. We must learn from the errors of Modernism and its attitude of never glancing backwards. The music of the future will take care of itself, just as the music of the past has taken care of itself. We must write the music of the PRESENT.
The ideal Guerrilla Musician, like the guerrilla fighter, must be flexible. Guerrilla Musicians are just as comfortable performing the classics by Mozart, Beethoven and the other usual suspects as they are those by John Adams, Bryan Ferneyhough, Ken Ueno, Jennifer Higdon, Roberto Sierraor Frank Zappa. The Guerrilla Musician thus rejoins the population and becomes embedded within an established musical culture, fighting to change it from within.
The Guerrilla Musician must be a polyglot. Ours is a global concert hall and we must be conversant, if not even fluent, in languages other than our own. The Guerrilla Musicians in Great Noise Ensemble are known to perform and/or engage in scholarship about traditions as varied as North African and Middle Eastern music, rock, jazz, salsa, Indian raga and various folk musics. Our compatriots in the alt-classical movement are equally conversant in electronica, country, hip hop and other such vernacular styles. The Guerrilla Musician is as comfortable in the concert hall as s/he is in the night club.
The Guerrilla Musician must welcome his/her audience. S/He must challenge and uplift, educate and entertain, but s/he must NEVER alienate his/her audience. The tuxedo—especially the tail tuxedo—must NOT be a part of the Guerrilla Musician’s gear except when s/he is infiltrating the museum.
I have been rather intransigent in my language so far. My nature is not belligerent, although I am very passionate about this issue and this attitude’s power to resuscitate the apparently moribund concert music scene. I should clarify that I do not intend to or advocate the “destruction” of the “museum.” Museums are very nice places and have their place in society. They provide a way for us to experience and learn from the living art of the past. The symphony orchestra, the repertory opera company and the chamber music and recital series have their place in our world and must not be repudiated. They can, however, be transformed by the Guerrilla spirit and be revitalized by it. The Guerrilla Musician can have his cake and eat it, too.
The Guerrilla Musician must be savvy. S/He must not rely solely on government funding for financial support or on the traditional print media for critical and promotional support. We have at our disposal incredible new resources of media dissemination and audience building that have democratized opinion and taste. At very little expense, the Guerrilla Musician can advertise through social media in a way that would have required an extensive support network just fifteen years ago. We must learn to use these tools to our advantage and to the advantage of our art. Through the use of Facebook, My Space, Linkdin and Reverb Nation I, personally, have been able to expand my reach as a composer and develop relationships with musicians, presenters and promoters across the globe, yielding opportunities throughout the United States, Germany, Denmark, Holland and the United Kingdom. Great Noise Ensemble itself was founded using social media in the form of a simple classified ad on the web site Craig’s List.com and we have used services like Google and Facebook to expand our audience through online advertising and press releases.
The world is changing rapidly. Musicians have lost many of the formerly existing avenues for the promotion and dissemination of their work. Musicians, however, are nothing if not adaptable. A guerrilla sensibility as I define it is crucial for the survival of the contemporary musician. Mere survival, however, is not the Guerrilla Musician’s goal. No. His/her goal should be the total transformation of our musical culture. If art reflects the soul of a nation, then it is our patriotic responsibility to create art that represents the type of soul we want our nation to have. Just as man cannot live on bread alone, neither can he live solely on Lady Gaga. A spiritually healthy nation is a nation with a polyglot audience, and a polyglot audience, like a Guerrilla Musician, should be flexible, savvy, smart and as comfortable in the concert hall as they are in the night club. Contemporary musicians, especially composers, have long failed our audience by sitting in a corner lamenting our state and letting a single strain of our varied and exciting musical traditions control the marketplace. Contemporary music may never share as large a share of that marketplace as the top 40 (or its 21st century equivalent), but through guerrilla music making we can reclaim a more prominent place in that market and in the cultural life of our nation.
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Speaking of competitions:
Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia! announces its first Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia! Composer Competition. The Competition seeks to promote young composers who are interested in Asian culture, music and traditions.
In partnership with numerous local community groups, Seattle Symphony honors and celebrates Seattle’s Asian community with an annual Celebrate Asia! event. The concept originated in 2008, when local Asian leaders wanted to find a way to strengthen bonds with the broader community through a cultural celebration. Celebrate Asia! is part of Seattle Symphony’s Around the World series.
Seattle Symphony, presenting its 108th season, has been under the artistic leadership of Music Director Gerard Schwarz since 1985. Maestro Schwarz has led Seattle Symphony to international prominence, with more than 125 recordings, 12 Grammy nominations, 2 Emmys and numerous awards. Maestro Schwarz celebrates his Farewell Season as Music Director in 2010–2011, after which he will become Conductor Laureate. Newly named Music Director Designate Ludovic Morlot will begin his role as Music Director in the 2011–2012 season. The Orchestra performs in the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. The Symphony is internationally recognized for its adventurous programming of contemporary works, its devotion to the classics, and its extensive recording history. From September through July, the Symphony is heard live by more than 315,000 people.
Award and Performance
The winning composer will receive a $1,000 cash award and an opportunity to visit Seattle for the world premiere. The winning score will be performed by Seattle Symphony and conductor Carolyn Kuan on January 14, 2011, in Benaroya Hall at the annual Celebrate Asia! concert.
All composers born after January 1, 1968, are eligible.
Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Music Director
Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony Vice President of Artistic Planning
Carolyn Kuan, Celebrate Asia! Conductor
Samuel Jones, Seattle Symphony Composer in Residence
Entry Fee and Deadline
- Works must have Asian influences (for example: Asian folk melodies, Asian stories and legends, Asian traditional instruments).
- Works must be original and accessible.
- Works should be 3 to 6 minutes in duration. (30 minutes rehearsal time is currently scheduled for the composition.)
- Works should be for orchestra or chamber orchestra with instrumentation no larger than 3333 – 4331 – T+3 – hp – kybd – str. Woodwind doublings are allowed.
- Interested composers should submit:
- - A legible, bound, full score
- - A recording of the piece on a CD (midi-format is OK)
- - A clear description of the composition’s Asian influence(s)
- - A biography, with current address, e-mail address, and phone number
- - If selected, professionally prepared parts will be required 60 days before the concert.
There is no entry fee. All entries must arrive no later than Friday, September 24, 2010. Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia! is not responsible for lost or damaged material. The winning composition will be announced before Friday, October 22, 2010.
Send submission to:
Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia! Composer Competition
ATTN: Amy Stagno
P.O. Box 21906
Seattle, WA 98111-3669
Questions and inquiries may be emailed to: email@example.com
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Last May I began my monthly task of searching for composition competitions, calls for scores, etc., and came upon the Indianapolis Composition Competition. I noted the substantial cash award, plus the performance by the ICO as part of Indiana State University’s 44th Contemporary Music Festival. The announcement stated that:
The Indiana State University Contemporary Music Festival/Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Composition Competition was established to recognize outstanding composers of orchestral music. In addition to a monetary prize, the composer receiving first place will be invited to attend a performance of the winning composition by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra as part of the Festival’s activities. The winner also will be invited to speak at the Festival on a topic relating to his or her music. Other guests featured at the three-day Festival include the Principal Guest Composer, Gabriela Lena Frank, guest pianist Michael Kirkendoll, guest scholars, and composers participating in the Music Now concert. Since its beginning, more than 200 established and emerging composers—including eighteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize and five winners of the Grawemeyer Award—have participated in the Festival.
My immediate reaction (particularly to the bolded sentence) was “Ok, Joe, you have 0.01% chance of even being seriously considered. Is it really worth the time and $20 entry fee?” I pondered my options for a bit and came to the conclusion, that yes, it was worth the time and entry fee, because if I did NOT enter, then I had a 0.0% chance of obtaining anything. So, I entered, and had completely forgotten about the competition until I received an email and letter last week stating that I had, in fact, won the award. I was stunned. OK – now what?
I contacted the hosts and awarding organization and thanked them for the award, and told them that I was honored and happy to accept. They said “Great! Now send us the parts!” I responded, “OK, I will!” I hung up. Then a sense of dread immediately ensued – I was planning to make some minor revisions to the piece following its premiere in April 2010 and I had not yet done so. I reminded myself to stay calm, clear my mind, and then I set to work. I finished the revisions in a couple of afternoons, and am now preparing the parts.
Now that the initial shock of winning the award and the stages of hurried preparations are behind me, I reflected upon my initial thought – not to enter – and must laugh a bit at myself. Had I not entered, I would not have won. My advice to all of the “young and emerging composers?” Enter every competition you can. If you do not have a piece that fits the instrumentation, then take a year and write one for the next year’s competition (if it is annual). I am not suggesting that composers should “dive-bomb” every competition, rather we should take the time to search for competitions and calls for scores (I do this once every month), mark the competitions that we feel are important, and work diligently toward our goals. We are the best arbiters of our music. If we do not make the effort, who will?
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[Ed. note -- please welcome a new contributor to S21, composer Joseph Dangerfield. As a Fulbright Scholar, Joe spent time at both the Moscow Conservatory and Maastricht Conservatorium, and is currently Assistant Professor at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.]
.. .. .. ..
The act of composition, by which I mean the act of artistic creation, is, in reality, very private. We all have private thoughts and ideas, some of which we share with others; some we keep to ourselves. During the conception of those ideas, do we share our train of thought with others? I would say, not typically. So, why was I worrying about what an audience might think of a piece that I had not yet written? Upon careful reflection of the question, my answer astounded me: I considered the audience in the early stages of my work because the academic environment in which I was typically surrounded virtually demanded it. In other words, I felt the subconscious need to “please” the local academy with my work, for various reasons. While lecturing and composing on a Fulbright Grant in Europe (2009-10), I felt no need to consider the academy, the audience, even in a peripheral sense, or anyone else. I was able to focus on my musical and artistic intentions, and compose while thinking only of myself and the performers for whom I was writing. The end result was a piece that I am very proud of, which received an exceptional performance, and an outstanding response from the audience.
While abroad, I also did a lot of reading, which I normally cannot find the time to do in the typical academic year. However, the most engaging book I encountered this year was Glenn Watkins’, The Gesualdo Hex. One of the passages that I found particularly enlightening, with regard to my current quandary, was about composers and serialism, and how the discussion about the merits of such a doctrinaire system ensued during the 1950′s and 60′s.
Watkins begins by stating that Schoenberg, after the period of composition for which he was strictly “serial,” became less interested in allowing the system to control what he wrote, referencing Schoenberg’s late style, and his lengthy correspondence with Leibowitz. The communications between them are quite telling, and give an excellent insight into Schoenberg and his music. Watkins further provides evidence that Boulez was only interested in strict serialism for approximately two years (1950-52), following which he warned composers against such ” arithmetic masturbation.” Berio eventually also agreed with this statement saying that serialism lead to a “tendency to deal with formalities rather than substance.” Watkins goes on to state that according to William Bolcom, “Milton Babbitt’s scientism in the United States came from a different perspective that ultimately congealed in the university composer, who was challenged to provide an intellectual cachet to match that of engineering, philosophy, or science departments.” Watkins further quotes Bolcom: “Composition had to become ‘intellectually respectable’…and serialism felt like science.” Watkins concludes by providing other examples of composers who went through a window of system-controlled composition to find their unique voice. One element that appears to be consistent is that each composer at one point determined that a system was not a replacement for artistic creativity, rather it was one useful tool that could be changed and manipulated to meet one’s artistic needs.
Obviously, there are a lot of similarities between Watkins’ statements and the internal debate that I was having, which led me to the following questions:
1) Are we as composers, today, pressured to write in a particular way or ‘style’ that is perpetuated by the academy, our teachers, or even the audience?
2) If so, how do we overcome the pressure, use what we find relevant, and set out to create an art that is uniquely our own?
Now before you say: “Yes, yes, Joe. We are well aware that serialism can be arithmetically stifling,” I want to point out that the most interesting part of my current conundrum is that the pressure that I feel at home is not to write music of the so-called avant-garde, which I like, but to write more conservative music. At the college where I am currently an assistant professor, concerts of contemporary music receive an audience of maybe twenty; most of them begrudging students that are there to meet specific course requirements. I am told that is because it is a “conservative community,” and no one is interested in and/or understands new music. That statement concerns me as an educator; others are willing to simply allow that moniker to be the reason for not trying to expand the community’s understanding of ‘music as art.’ For instance, while living in Cologne, Germany last year, I worked with German composer/conductor Robert H.P. Platz, a protégé of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The city of Cologne is a beacon for contemporary music. There are concerts presented daily, and usually, to full halls. Robert and I had several discussions about music, modernity, and how fortunate he was to reside in such a place. He told me that “Cologne was not always a center for new music – It is so now due to the forty years that Stockhausen worked to educate the public. He also invited innumerable composers to Cologne for concerts, thereby exposing everyone to a variety of new music. Now there is a network in Cologne that is sustainable.”
I had a similar experience working at the Moscow Conservatory with Ukrainian-born Russian composer Vladimir Tarnopolski and the Ensemble Studio New Music. Tarnopolski, now a professor of composition at the conservatory, was once a student of Edison Denisov. After Denisov’s departure from Moscow to Paris, due to the stifling atmosphere created by the totalitarian regime, Tarnopolski worked tirelessly to bring contemporary music to the forefront of the Russian consciousness; A difficult task following the Soviet era. In 1989, he initiated the Association of Contemporary Music in Moscow. In 1993, he formed the Centre for Contemporary Music in Moscow, and its premiere ensemble, the Ensemble Studio New Music. The conservatory even created a special department to house the centre and the ensemble. In 1994 Tarnopolski began an annual festival of international music called the Moscow Forum, the main focus of which is the integration of Eastern European contemporary music with contemporary music from Western countries. What began as a single-minded effort is now a tireless force. The Centre, its ensemble, and the festival all enjoy enormous success, and perform works by some of today’s most interesting and vibrant composers.
Now that I am back in America, I have renewed hope and vigor, and a healthy dose of self-confidence, which I believe I allowed to wane over the past few years. A colleague and I have formed a new ensemble, called ensemble: Périphérie, whose mission is to promote contemporary music by presenting stimulating and inspiring concerts of new chamber works, by commissioning new works from both emerging and established composers, and by inviting audiences to join us in recognizing great art of our time. One of the primary goals of ensemble: Périphérie is to bring greater exposure to composers and works that are underperformed and neglected–that is, music that lies on the periphery. Our hope is, that with time and effort, we will be able to help bring contemporary music to the forefront of American culture, in the same way that contemporary art has enjoyed prominence here.
for more information about ensemble: Périphérie, please visit our website: http://www.ensembleperipherie.com/Index.htm for more information on Joseph Dangerfield, please visit: http://www.josephdangerfield.com/index3.html or his blog: http://domainemusical.wordpress.com/
 Glenn Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex, (Norton, 2010), p. 125-128.
 Michael Hicks, “Exorcism and Epiphany: Luciano Berio’s Nones,” Perspectives of New Music 27 (1989): 254.
 Luciano Berio, “Meditation on a Twelve-Tone Horse,” Christian Science Monitor, 15 July 1968.
 Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex, (Norton, 2010), p. 125.
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I am having trouble starting this piece. I’m almost done with it, in fact, but I can’t seem to get it started. It is a piece for an unusual combination, commissioned by the Amsterdam based ensemble, Hexnut, which specializes in a kind of jazz and world music inspired style of performance that is frenetic and more than a little theatrical. After a few false starts that led to a drastic change in the piece’s concept, I arrived at a solution of what the piece should be: a set of eight, short (none more than 2 minutes, one is only 15 seconds long) pieces each commenting on an etching from Francisco de Goya’s 1799 collection, Los Caprichos.
The piece has been written largely out of order, but, as the individual movements have been completed I’ve managed to collect them in a cohesive and I hope dramatically satisfying order. I still need, however, an opener, and that’s where I’ve gotten stuck. Ugh!
It’s not unusual for me to get stuck at the beginning. I used to compose from beginning to end. Certain pieces still work out that way, in fact, but increasingly I find it easier to pick up a piece in media res and build outwards from the middle, towards the edges. Working in this way helps me to organize my musical materials effectively and organically without having to work out the opening or ending of a piece right away. Endings are easy to write, for me at least, especially once I have the middle, since that tends to dictate the direction my pieces need to head towards. Openings, on the other hand, are quite difficult, I find. They need to both draw the audience into the performance of a work and set up the musical argument to come. A lot is made out of effective endings, but an effective opening is, if not more important, at least just as important .
How do you do it?
I’ve been following the Bravo TV reality series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” (fifth episode this week). It tracks a group of young-ish artists, most of whom have already been exhibited, and assigns them a fresh project each week to be conceived and completed in about 1.5 days.
The completed works are then displayed in a private gallery showing, followed by a critique from a panel of judges (a core of regulars, plus one fresh prominent figure per week; one week it was Andres Serrano.) The projects range from utilitarian-but-arty (design a book cover for a classic novel re-issue) to almost-unspecified (“do something outrageous”), and at times the artists receive their assignments by lot, with no say as to the subject agreeing with their own affinities (or preferred medium).
Although it’s the usual winnowing-out design typical of such programs — and I don’t at all care who gets tapped as eventual winner — I’d pinpoint the same two interesting elements within each hour-long segment:
• The very different processes each of the artists follows in interpreting the assigned project. These are profiled in some detail — surprise! — and follow the gradual development of each new work. This manages to take up a big slice of the program, some 20+ minutes. It’s exhilarating to see cameras paying attention to a working-out that stems from labor which is primarily ‘head-work’. And rare.
• A refrain in the judges’ comments, present virtually every week: that the works they find successful do *in some respect* provide for viewers to respond to the piece — and actively. (For example, they very much admired works in which the artist incorporated a mirror, or sign-in boards to register comment, or placed him/herself actually physically into the piece; etc.)
Of course the judges want the artist’s individual personality to be expressed in the piece; but beyond that, and far from an auteur context where a viewer is only meant to “receive” an utterly complete document, the judges want the art to invite the viewer to respond, so that the work is ‘incomplete’ unless and until someone reacts to it in a way that registers to other viewers. (This forested tree demands the listening ear be there! so its fall can be heard.)
There’s plenty of opinion flying about throughout the episode — in addition to the judges, the artists themselves comment liberally on one another’s work throughout the show. If you pay no mind to the trumped-up personality conflicts and the bland or fatuous criticism (or the commercials), the show can be worth screening.
The level of the works — particularly those by three of the competitors still ‘alive’ — is certainly professional. And the prize is $100,000, plus a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the program originators.
Would that composers could reap the same on-camera attention for our head-scratching hours…!
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NOW it’s an Event!
On Wednesday, June 16, the Peabody Institute (where I teach in the music theory department) approved the budget for a theory department sponsored residency for Louis Andriessen in association with Great Noise Ensemble’s performance of De Materie on October 24, 2010. That means that for the week preceding our performance (we’ve yet to finalize dates for the Peabody events as of this writing, so stay tuned) Louis will be in residence at the Peabody working with students in my graduate Minimalism seminar, giving a lecture to the composition seminar and other activities similar activities as yet to be determined. We will also have the pleasure (both exciting and slightly terrifying to me) of having him present at rehearsals for Materie in Washington as well as at the final performance, not to mention a second performance of Andriessen’s music in Baltimore with student ensembles from the Peabody Institute.
Yep, it’s an event all right!
A Matter of Publishing
Putting on a work like De Materie is a COMPLICATED endeavor! In order to perform this piece Great Noise Ensemble will have to expand its ranks from its core of 16 musicians to a whopping 59 instrumentalists. This is not counting the eight part chorus, two solo singers and two narrators required to perform the work. That’s a total of 71 people! Then there are all of the myriad percussion instruments (among the rare—and expensive—to find items required: car bumpers, boo-bams and about 11 nipple gongs), two synthesizers and—rarity of rarities—a contrabass clarinet. At 100 minutes of music—but only four movements long—the piece is also rather difficult to rehearse, requiring an expanded rehearsal schedule from that which we usually adopt.
All of that is, apparently, child’s play next to actually securing the performance materials.
I first placed an order with Boosey and Hawkes, publishers of Louis Andriessen’s music in the United States, in late May. After answering a slew of questions about the nature of the ensemble, our annual budget, etc., all of which is pretty standard and easy enough to do on their web site, a contract was issued. Just as that contract was on its way to me I received a phone call from Boosey and Hawkes informing me that their initial estimate and quote had been erroneous and that, since the work is technically an opera it requires a grand rights license and an entirely new agreement would have to be issued.
Now, Andriessen himself considers this a concert work. “I believe it is much safer to see it as a very large instrumental, symphonic work,” he writes in his book (co-edited with Mirjam Zegers), The Art of Stealing Time (p.191). “The only thing is, there is a lot of singing in it and that is not so often the case in a symphony. “ The idea of staging it wasn’t even Andriessen’s! It was, rather, the director of the Netherlands Opera who suggested staging the work and hiring Robert Wilson to direct its first performance.
So, because of that, the work is considered an opera and we must first secure a grand rights license to perform it. So I spend the better part of the next week (during which I receive the original license agreement, now moot!) renegotiating the terms with Boosey and Hawkes to be able to secure performance materials in time for the chorus master to hire appropriate singers and for our principal percussionist to figure out where to find all of the necessary players and instruments to be handled and the soloists to receive their scores with plenty of time to learn this often challenging music.
“Those Mahler symphonies in which there is singing,” Andriessen continues in the passage quoted above, “are a rare example. That man should simply have written operas. But, due to a confluence of circumstances, that didn’t work out (he probably didn’t have a good librettist). He also hated the opera ‘business.’”
I can’t imagine why!
(To be fair, Boosey and Hawkes was extremely gracious and helpful throughout the process, which was completed just a few hours before I wrote this on June 7. So, really, while it was somewhat tedious to have to start the process over again, it was nowhere near as complicated or difficult as I thought it would be thanks to Boosey’s courteous and excellent staff. )
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II. Every Journey has a First Step…
The road to October 24 has been a long one. My first proposal to anybody about the project that would become the Great Noise Ensemble performance of De Materie came in late 2006, when I approached the cultural liaison at the Dutch Consulate in New York (at the time a man named Cees de Bever, who has been an extremely supportive advocate for this project, but who has moved on from government work to take on a position in The Netherlands) about organizing a festival of events (I am nothing if not ambitious!) around the commemoration of Louis Andriessen’s 70th birthday in 2009. Obviously, a festival did not materialize (no pun intended—okay, maybe a little) but a seed had been planted. When, in 2008 the Music Center at Strathmore, a major performance venue in the D.C. suburbs announced a call for proposals for its 25th anniversary season, Great Noise Ensemble proposed a performance of De Materie. Unfortunately, because of the economic realities that hit while that contest was taking place, the Strathmore decided to go with a more commercially viable project, but they informed us that they liked our proposal very much and would like to keep it on file for a later season. We then explored the possibility of taking it on in 2010-11, but their projections for ticket sales for such an event were not encouraging and they, unfortunately, had to decline De Materie at this time, booking us instead to do a performance of music by Marc Mellits in their more intimate performance hall in January, 2011.
My dream of performing this piece sometime around Louis Andriessen’s big birthday year seemed to be slipping away from me. Then, I mentioned the project to the head of the Music Department at the National Gallery of Art, who has been a great supporter of Great Noise Ensemble for a number of years now, and who found that he had room in his schedule and his budget, given the pledged support from the Dutch consulate, for this project.
The road I’d embarked upon now had a clear destination.
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