John Adams’ and Peter Sellars’ new opera Dr. Atomic will open October 1st, 2005 at the San Francisco Opera. Philip Glass’ Symphony N. 6 “Plutonian Ode”, based on Allen Ginsberg’s poem calling for nuclear disarmament, will take place at BAM on November 2, 4, and 5. Something is in the air: a couple of months ago, Michael Andre gave me a libretto entitled ‘How I Blew Up The World’, a play he wrote some 20 years ago

2005 has been a year of natural disasters, starting with a tsunami in Asia and now a series of hurricanes close to home. This added to the proliferation of terrorism and a senseless war: it seems that after all, Nostradamus was correct, even if his predictions were over the top.

In times of emergency when mere survival becomes the only concern, composing can be viewed as a useless and self-indulgent pursuit, unless the issue of context is addressed. On the other hand, music is comforting and healing and people may need it even more in these circumstances. Although the kind of music that seems to appeal in times of disaster, judging by the post-disaster fundraisers, is mostly simple, commercial pop; the Red Cross (or Red Tape headquarters, I should say) uses a bum version of Bridge over Troubled Waters – it sounds like it is sung by a tone-deaf, alcoholic – for a commercial.

This opens a discussion of how a musical piece addresses context – meaning, real-world situations, versus fictional or abstract elements. This prompts me to re-examine the various elements that come into play when writing a new composition in the 21st century.

A diagram will appear in next week’s blog…

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