Blogging from ISCM WNMD Days 2 & 3: Getting The Word Out

It’s been about 24 hours since last I was able to sit in front of a computer terminal and type, but there hasn’t been a dull moment in between.

ISCM WNMD Delegates
Photo thanks to Sorin Lerescu, President of the Romanian Section of ISCM

Yesterday afternoon there were two concerts back to back in one of the larger rooms of the museum MIMARA. It was great to hear new music surrounded by the paintings of Goya, Veronese, and other famous painters from the past. The first concert featured six new pieces performed by the Zagreb Saxophone Quartet. For the final two they were joined by New Sax 4, forming a saxophone octet—what glorious sounds were mined in very different ways by Mexican composer Mario Stern and Slovenian composer Uros Rojko. After a short break, the second concert began, which was devoted to music for voice with and without electronics. I was extremely moved by a work for soprano and electronically altered vocal sounds called Responsorium by Japanese composer Akira Takaoka. Given the recent tragedy in Japan, his mournful work had an even deeper—albeit probably unintended—emotional resonance.

After that I coralled a group of folks to wander through the old town in search of dinner. My hope was to have a meal at Pod Starim Krovovima, which has been in business continuously since 1830. Apparently not completely continually—they are closed on Monday nights. My bad luck. But we found a terrific modern restaurant nearby that served delectable oxtails which we accompanied with terrific Croatian wines made from local grape varietals. The particularly splendid red bottle we had was made from the grape Plavac Mali (which I first became aware of after seeing Marina Abramovic down an entire bottle of it in a film of one of her performance art pieces exhibited at MoMA last year—I now know why). During dinner I chatted with Slovak composer Daniel Matej, who for years programmed a festival of contemporary music which featured many important American mavericks including John Cage (only weeks before his death) and Steve Reich. It was amazing to learn that he discovered this music through Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond; reading it changed his life and served as a blueprint for the festival.

Effectively getting the word out about composers internationally further hit home during our assembly sessions this morning. The industrious Stephen Lias distributed copies to everyone attending of the just published first edition of Contemporary Art Music in Texas: A Guide to Composers, Performers, and Organizations. For each of the composers included—who represent a broad spectrum stylistically, including jazz—there is a photo, contact information, and a selected list of compositions. In addition, the book comes with a CD featuring recordings of all the compositions that were submitted to the 2011 ISCM World New Music Days, including the two works that will be performed (by B. J. Brooks and Steve Wiest). It is a wonderful promotional tool, and you better believe it will get composers from Texas in the ears of people from all over the world. Now for the other 49 states.

Concerts begin again in another two and a half hours, so now I am free to wander the town in search of more record stores. Yesterday afternoon on the way to the concerts I picked up an LP of Serbian jazz from late ’50s and a Croatian rock band from the early ’60s. I just couldn’t resist.

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