Fear of an Unknown Unknown
Last night I attended a concert of chamber music for woodwinds and piano. As expected, the program was heavy on late-19th-century Paris Conservatoire material by French composers of modest reputation. This literature isn’t my favorite, and, at the risk of generalizing, I think most musicians recognize its limitations. In a pre-performance spiel, the oboe player noted that choosing chamber repertoire for woodwind instruments can often be an exercise in exhuming obscure figures; he praised one, Paul Gilson, for his compositional “strengths,” i.e. distinct formal structures and clear harmonic regions. The oboist also mentioned that Gilson was potty-trained and, in terms of juice facilitation, rejected the sippy cup at an early age. Not really.
I’m reminded of a voting fallacy that emerged during the 2004 election cycle: Although voters were aware that they had been misled by George W. Bush, many chose to support him instead of John Kerry, whose potential for deception was uncharted. In other words, they opted for the known liar rather than the possible liar. Sure, it’s possible that a newly commissioned piece will be bad, but some of the music I heard last night was definitely bad—and I think the concert’s presenters knew it! What will it take to convince such a group to take a chance on contemporary music?
Well, as luck would have it, the last page of the program I picked up at the show contains several lists of names, each associated with a dollar amount. My suspicion is that having one’s name on such a list (preferably one lower down on the page) might be a good starting place. That’s why, as soon as my next paycheck arrives, I’ll be making a contribution to the organization in question—and when I send this pittance along, I’ll be including a letter stating my position.