Everything New Is Old Again
I was fortunate to have been able to join NewMusicBox’s very own Frank J. Oteri and guest blogger Jacob Cooper at the Minnesota Orchestra’s “Future Classics” concert last Friday night. As I’m sure those of you who follow NewMusicBox know, that formidable ensemble presented a program of seven new pieces by emerging composers after a week of workshops and a day and a half of marathon rehearsals. It was a mammoth undertaking; everyone involved deserves major recognition for making it happen.
Before I go any further, let me provide the following disclaimer: There wasn’t a bad piece on the program. All of the composers who had music presented are highly competent, inventive artists, and each piece had something in it (in many cases, lots of things) that left an impression on me. However, I also came away from the concert with a strong impression of what was not there: Specifically, my favorite orchestra music of the past forty years, a literature whose influence was absolutely nowhere to be found on the program.
After a concert of similar (but inferior) orchestral music some time ago, a colleague sitting next to me said, exasperated, “Kontrakadenz was premiered in 1971!” His implication was that if any of that evening’s composers had heard Lachenmann’s landmark piece—a piece a damn sight older than many of them—they must not have thought about it too hard. Kontrakadenz is hardly the only work my friend could have mentioned; there are dozens of fantastic, relatively recent orchestra pieces that seem to have gone in one ear of the American new music community and out the other (assuming they went in any ears here at all!).
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I have a long-standing and only quasi-rational bias against symphony orchestras. The “big business” quality of such organizations and the degree to which market forces necessarily affect creative decisions, makes me uncomfortable. It must be said that the Minnesota Orchestra is, by American orchestra standards, a real risk-taker. No other such group in the country has an equivalent to the Composer Institute. Nevertheless, I’d love to have seen the applicant pool this year, if only to know whether the relatively close stylistic grouping of the seven chosen works was a function of the available music, the tastes of the panel, the orchestra’s (entirely natural) desire to play something that will allow them to sound good, or some multivariable calculus of the above.
Again, let me be clear: All seven of the pieces I heard last Friday were good. Some, I’d say, were excellent. Almost all of them were, in some regard, new. But none of them were new in every regard. This is the gauntlet I want to throw down before the MN Orchestra as they select future Future Classics: Keep stretching. Take even bigger risks. If a score lands in your mailbox that seems utterly bewildering to you, that might be a good sign.
Keep up the good work.