Another of Smooke’s 2/22/11 NMBx comments just made me laugh. “Most people’s tastes ossify by the time they reach maturity, and throughout their adult life they seek comfort through repeated encounters with the art of their youth.”
Very Not-So. Born-in-the-bone composers possess a big bump of curiosity about music — about all the arts, about life — which gets scratched regularly, and often. The “non-Pergolesi”s among us know that our individual artistic voices mature over time — that we come into our own just about when a professional baseball player’s career is winding down.
We continue actively to meet music in score and in sound. We constantly evaluate, re-assess, incorporate a new approach or perspective when it works with what we’re all about. We welcome fresh approaches (that aren’t gimmicks), and have no fear to step out, step forward. In short, no calcification!
[ What about academia, you ask? Well… maybe. But I suspect a large part of the slow-to-change, “I-teach-as-I-was-taught” groove comes from the fact that source materials -- anthologies, music history and appreciation texts – just plain do not keep up. But there are fuddy-duddies out there, unhappily. ]
I’m so sure that the next-biggest-thing will be the product of a mature music creator that the annual prize I endow (through IAWM) is specifically for a composer over 30 whose music has not yet been published or performed in a principal venue.
There’s wisdom – seasoned, at that – to discover your position within the continuum that runs from “Time is of the essence” to “All things come to the one who waits.”
~ One happy proponent of ‘hearing it all, all the time’ is Frank Oteri . He often writes in NMBx about his philosophy of openness to all the music out there, as on March 1st: “I’ve attempted to eschew self-selection and try to approach everything with completely open eyes, ears, and heart.”
Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Composers, Concerts, Uncategorized, tags: Composers, contemporary music, critic, first hearing, listening, new music, orchestra, premiere
Music Maker JLZ 26
A recent NewMusicBox column was titled “Changing Tastes” ( Feb. 22, 2011). In it David Smooke discusses, with some wonder, the fact that his musical tastes have changed over ten years.
I certainly agree with one of his observations : “The works that really get my brain buzzing [now] don’t always work in one hearing…. Their elusive logic excites me.” What’s most meaningful here is an underlying acceptance that we’ll want to hear the piece more than once.
This chimes with what Leo Kraft has said many times — that what we get from a first hearing basically is that something in the music calls us back to want to hear it again. The music might delight, irritate, mystify or confuse in a way we find intriguing, but overall it has to have an impact, inviting us back to hear it again. What music shouldn’t ever do is be so boring, so transparent — or signal so constantly about what we’re about to hear that we know too well what will come next — that it leaves us afterward saying “So what?” That’s death for art.
We have no control over the life circumstances of the people listening to our music. We can’t prescribe how folks take in — process, comprehend – what we put forth. All we can do is remain true to the internal prompts that keep our music vital: that it be fresh in concept and intriguing in its clothing out, that it warrant its length ( short or long), and that it offer something to savor through repeat hearings (and in multiple performances).
[ Recently I heard from a performer who was readying a Naxos disc of my music for next year, that the reason he chose one of these pieces was because it mystified yet interested him when he heard someone else play it – he just had to put it through the rehearsal-performance crucible himself in order to find out what makes it tick. ]
Yes, our age demands lots of product. And some of it is intended to have a shelf-life as brief as a quart of milk’s. But if the intention behind what we do is to make something more durable, then we’ve got to do precisely that – honestly.
From Richard Nilsen’s Feb. 27th AZ Republic review of an Arizona MusicFest concert ( Arutunian trumpet concerto, M. Bates “Desert Transport”, Rachmaninoff Symphony #2). His says of one work: “Completely competent, even magnificent in its craftsmanship, but we’ve heard this music before in other contexts. Is that enough to make it musically satisfying?”
But of the Rach: “It was music to break your heart…. When it’s over you come away knowing you’ve been through an experience… of deep, profound emotion. Competence cannot do that.”
Early-bird notice: I plan to post regularly this year. With 4 CDs in various stages of readiness and a new e-book — not to mention beginning the fourth movement of my Symphony No. 4 “Pure, Cool”, this week — there’s a fair amount to chew over.
I’ll link my Facebook page with the direct posts here at S21.
Please stay tuned!
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 critiqued from a panel of judges ( a core or 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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October 3 , 2009
My Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra gets its world premiere in Baltimore on October 7th , and Iâ€˜ll be there. Itâ€™s scored for soloist and large wind ensemble; Harlan Parker conducts the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble with Timothy Hoft as piano soloist. The program also includes Husaâ€™s Music for Prague 1968, and works by Carolyn Bremer and Percy Grainger.
Subtitled â€œSolar Travellerâ€, the three-movement Concerto is a half-hour long, and is definitely absolute music. Over the years Iâ€™ve written works which center in the vastness, wonder, and beauty of sky and space â€“ music that has to do with appreciating natural cycles and the discovery of whole systems outside our normal frames of reference. These pieces are not program music but they all carry descriptive titles. So does the Concerto; its three movements are â€œOutward Boundâ€, â€œNocturne (Lunar)â€, and â€œAd astra per asperaâ€. Its only programmatic element is an embedded technical feature – each movementâ€™s core material is a progressively smaller musical interval, thus mirroring the compressive forces associated with the propulsion necessary to leave Earthâ€™s gravity.
Quite by chance, the Concerto is timely â€“ just in the past two weeks weâ€™ve learned that NASA has uncovered evidence of water hidden on both the Moon and Mars(!). For myself, living in Arizona has as benefit a state mandate that the night sky not be cluttered with light â€“ Iâ€™m someone who faithfully tracks the space station on its night-time visible passes across the skyâ€™s dome, and thrills at the sight.
[â€œSolar Travellerâ€ was commissioned by partnerships of wind ensemble conductors and pianists at Peabody Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Indiana State University, Louisiana State University, Shepherd University, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern Mississippi. Individual state premieres will take place over this season and the next. ]
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September 1, 2009
With â€œBEASTSâ€, the newest movement recently posted, Iâ€™ve been musing on a particular side-note to this summer â€˜experimentâ€™ . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nr6XFT6z1Fo
We started the series because I was annoyed to see some recordings/performances of selected pieces of mine get co-opted for YouTube presentations I considered to be lame, or — in one case â€“ a copyright infringement as regards the art work.
Because I cannot endorse composing originally for a royalty-free medium, my projectâ€™s premise is to use only single movements from larger works, and only music from already-issued LP/CDs, with consent obtained ahead of time from the conductors and publishers.
The response from many (around the world) has been to correspond privately with me about the music â€“ music which they are first encountering via the videos, years after the recordings were issued: Source recordings for these videos appeared first in 1979, 1995, 1998, and 2007. And three of the four movements have been available on the Internet — for free — for at least 2 years
We consider the series is successful on its own terms â€“ for example, Texas Public Radioâ€™s Classical Blog has linked to two of the movements . This suggests the timeliness for a discussion now on the reach, and clout, of this type of communications channel.
Composers should look to develop professional guidelines for projects like these that can serve as targeted conduits to a different, broader audience.
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August 17, 2009
~ A mysterious sequence of night visions.
The newest movement in the suite of four Music/Art videos being posted over the summer months, partnering my husband Garyâ€™s artwork and my music.
â€œ Borealis â€
- now ready to view at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPg8vdqoJg
very different from last monthâ€™s light-hearted first movement,
â€œThe Joy of Danceâ€ ( now widely available ).
The project is a collaboration between the Arizona artists and NY videographer Michael Bregman.
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August 10, 2009
This just in by email last night from a composer back East.
(Iâ€™ve been corresponding with a number of composers since my newest Music/Art video came out last week â€“ â€œBorealisâ€. )
Here is an experienced composer speaking from his heart:
“I dream of the day when I can find large enough uninterrupted periods of time to actually write music as I
want to. Knowing even as I do how hard it is to get any of performed — most of the music I’ve written has been for specific programming needs for specific groups I’ve been involved with so it’s always gotten performed, and I haven’t had the problem of writing something and then hoping someone
wants it performed. But that also has limited me in what I could write since I had to take the technical limitations of
the personnel in the groups into account. And ultimately the greatest limiting factor was the lack of time to
experiment, change, re-listen, explore and finally end with works which allowed/forced me to work beyond what I had thought my capabilities are.”
Weâ€™re in an era of funding contraction. And I fearthat makes it ever more challenging today for an American composer to establish a distinct personality in new music â€“ one which may not gibe so readily with established styles.
Yet some of us continue to make that statement, take that risk.
J L Zaimont
â€œLâ€™audace, toujours lâ€™audace!â€ â€“ Georges Danton
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December 9, 2008
Science Fiction — with all its parallel universes –Â has nothing onÂ the myriadÂ worlds comprising the realm of New Music. Â
Â Â Â
What â€˜starsâ€™ we navigate by,Â whatÂ principles of operation frame and validate our individual bodies of work are exceedingly Â personal, and â€“ more than ever before -Â idiosyncratic.Â Â
Niche mentalityÂ much tooÂ often brings disdain towards those only slightly-different from ourselves.Â I worry that thereâ€™s a Â consistent, fair bit of sniping across our chosen borders. Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â How do we talkÂ meaningfully across these?Â Â Is it possible to exactly hearÂ , with every nuance intact,Â just what another composer is saying? Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Does your worldÂ contain a population greater than one ?Â Â
All hail sympathetic Â translators! (â€œGood fences [should] make good neighbors.â€)Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Zealots need not applyâ€¦.
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August 27, 2008
Weâ€™ll get to $$ matters in a future post.Â Today:Â Pitfalls of paying too much attention to what you think listeners want to hear.
In todayâ€™s NY TimesÂ David Brooks writes about the â€˜airlessnessâ€™Â of designingÂ anythingÂ — in his case, a presidential campaign â€“ by adhering too closelyÂ toÂ focusÂ group feedback.Â Brooks warns Obama toÂ â€œ avoid the focus group over-managing that killed the passion out of men [like] Gore and Kerry.â€
~ Do you tailor your work according to audience expectation?Â To what extent?
In the arts we see this :Â Two Russians Â made an ironic Â career of designing their picturesÂ according to majority wishes expressed by municipal focus groups, coming together to state what theyâ€™d Â like to see in a picture:Â Abraham Lincoln/George Washington;Â a dog;Â some water;Â trees; etc.Â Â Â Â The point wasnâ€™t the pictures;Â they were lame.Â The point was the emptiness of trying to be â€œall things to all peopleâ€. Â
In music, over and over,Â Â I see Â composers looking to erase the personalÂ in their work.Â Â Is it still too painful Â to express directly, without any kind ofÂ protective,Â
dis-avowing filter?Â Â Â Â Â Â Or are these composers looking specifically to give back to listeners what the new-fashioned habits of listening seem to crave?
Perhaps guided by attention spansÂ of slightly greater than a gnat’s length,Â aÂ revisedÂ habit of listening has developed over the last 10 years. Â It partakesÂ of the music,Â dipping into a piece, thenÂ letting attention wander for a bit , then dipping into it at some later point, etc.; and it Â tendsÂ toÂ connect better with single-affect material,Â andÂ — even more –Â with musicÂ which does not Â narrate, journey,Â progress or even developÂ .
Quite different from the previous,Â Â former-age pattern of intense connectionÂ inÂ listening — tracking the musicâ€™s progress closely, pretty muchÂ attentive throughout.Â Â Do Â Â today’s audiences expect Â some additional Â visual/performance Â complement,Â some stimulus to another sense along with hearing?Â
They seem nervous without thatÂ (manifestingÂ ADD on a monumental scale).
[ In 2003 a photographer, snapping me for a photo to go with a newspaper profile,Â remarked that his four-year-old daughterÂ got very nervous whenever there was silence in their home.Â She just expected a bed of noise,Â or someÂ background musicÂ to be present as Â underscore -- not to be Â focussed on --Â but just there; and she was Â tremendously uneasy when that underscore was gone.Â ]
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