Archive for March, 2005

I am not sure whether people realize the economic role of the composer. The composer is a creator of economic opportunities. A new piece being produced translates into jobs, not only for musicians and performers, but brings X number of dollars for: rehearsal spaces, printers, graphic and web designers, web hosting companies, suppliers, music copyists, recording engineers, publicists, agents, lighting designers, stage managers, stage hands, theater staff, beauty parlors, and even coffee shops, restaurants and bars for the after-concert reprieve, as well as taxis and car services. In other words, the composer’s work creates a plus-value that boosts economic growth. For better or worse, composers are capital-boosters.

However, the support structure is performer and organization oriented. There are hardly any programs that support the composer’s activity directly – even the Meet the Composer Fund requires a non-profit sponsor. The programs support the ensembles, the companies, the organizations that present the work. Finding the right sponsor can be a challenge. The sponsors may have their own agendas that do not necessarily match the composer’s goals.

Is the answer having one’s own non-profit organization? I have two objections: (1) Because of the capitalistic competitive environment that prevails even in the arts, there is a conflict of interest between the composer and the organization, as it aims to support multiple composers. What I have seen happen is the creation of small factions that protect their territories, just like in any other business, nothing fair or democratic about it. (2) Running the non-profit organization is paper-intensive, it takes over the composer’s life and there is very little time left to practice and compose. This is becoming a leitmotiv: why are we compelled to be business people instead of pursuing our artistic expression, which is the composer’s most basic human right.

Why not support the composer directly and help create that economic-boosting plus-value? A growing number of unsupported composers invest enormous sums of their own money, year after year, often re-oriented from other job earnings, into the creation and presentation of their work, which in turn benefits the various economic sectors I mentioned above. Isn’t this a form of exploitation? Why do we do it? We are not pursuing fame and fortune. We do it because the Work must happen, it must be shared, heard. The reward is in the piece itself – it better be worth it.

  • Share/Bookmark

Comments No Comments »

MUSIC UNDERGROUND is about ideas, about philosophy, about relating to what is happening from an outsider/insider point of view. I don’t review music events – let alone the fact that I am unable to attend most of them, even the ones I like the best. I might mention the occurrence of certain events as they strike me for their significance; I might qualify certain events as uptown or downtown or underground, but I am not a critic. I do not make comments on another composer’s music. I am glad that many composers are writing and I think it is a positive manifestation of freedom of expression. But I am not in the category of those who ‘tear each other apart’. This goes against my ethics and I will not stand being called a critic when all I am doing is expressing ideas and attempting to take part in a zeitgeist.

  • Share/Bookmark

Comments No Comments »

Does improvisation have a bad name? I had a discussion about improvisation with a friend who had graduated from Juilliard. He sat at the piano and placed his hands on the keys randomly and laughed…and said improvisation was junk. After years of training and dedication to play anything written for an instrument, doing something spontaneous is a sin, a criminal act, or at least a ridiculous behavior. My friend didn’t like John Cage and thought his entire body of work was a joke. I gave him this piece of advice: if you want to unblock yourself, listen to John Cage with your clothes off and the experience will take on a new meaning.

This discussion left me with a suspicion that the training that is currently prevalent for young musicians is perhaps not creatively motivating. For this reason, I think any program that puts students in contact with composers of the real world is essential. What they don’t learn in school is how new music manifests itself. Someone has to take a chance against the uncharted. Spontaneous creation can be frightening, but certain people have a real talent at this, they can pick up the instrument and create an entire work very quickly this way… but make no mistake: in order to get to this level of spontaneous creation that may occur on a blessed day, one has to maintain a daily creative practice. Improvisation in not junk, it is hard work. There is a thread from one day to the next, and the piece grows like a plant – a bit of sun here, a bit of water there, and lots of patience. So-called improvisation is the result of a dedicated, focused and frequent practice that is much more demanding that the superficial reading of a written piece by under-rehearsed musicians. Unfortunately, this is what I see happening more and more in New York: musicians are forced to rehearse as little as possible for each project, carefully measuring their time and availability against the monthly rent. They cannot give much attention to the music they are performing. Do they really have the chance to ‘feel’ the material? Do it from the inside out? Isn’t this a painful compromise? They are forced to be skilled workers instead of artists. And paradoxically, even if they despise improvisation, they have to call upon similar creative resources to make something happen musically at the last minute. If the player doesn’t feel it, how is the audience going to appreciate it? Sometimes they ‘pull it off’, but sometimes not… I think musicians need to be paid much more, especially for rehearsing, so that they have the chance to appreciate the material they are performing and to do it justice. This is why many downtown composers are turning again towards improvisation – doing it themselves, or performing with people who are seasoned improvisers rather than hiring professional readers, which is mostly unaffordable anyway. There is a craving for freedom right now. Music cannot be just a job, it’s an adventure.

  • Share/Bookmark

Comments No Comments »

Microtonalists are back full force with the Microfest 25th Anniversary festival on March 26, April 8 and May 6 at Faust Harrison Pianos on 58 Street, which explains the unusual amount of classical music on the program, performed in ‘correct’ tuning including…Beethoven and Mendelssohn, plus festival fixtures Johnny Reinhard, Jon Catler, Joseph Pehrson (don’t miss soprano Meredith Borden’s performance she is most likely the only one who can sing this stuff on correct pitch). And nearly at the same time, the other group of Microtonalists with Dean Drummond is doing Harry Partch’s Oedipus at the Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair, NJ, from March 30 to April 3. At least the dates are not in conflict. And Gamelan Son of Lion – more mircrotonal music in Balinese tunings Slendro and Pelog – is back also on March 24 at Greenwich Arts Music School with special guests Joseph Kubera, piano and Bill Ruyle, percussion.

  • Share/Bookmark

Comments No Comments »