Finding Time

Summer is officially here and that means things have slowed down, right? Well, not really… For some reason, this summer seems to be as busy as the rest of the year has been: premieres (both in and out of town), award ceremonies, receptions, you name it. And for most of my life I would have said that such a 365 24/7 regime makes life much more exciting.

A few days ago Toronto Sun classical music critic William Littler complained that the Toronto Symphony doesn’t play year round, but maybe that’s a good thing. We might be losing something essential to our perceptual abilities by never turning them off.

I’ve gotten into heated debates with John Luther Adams about his need to “fast from music” for periods of time. I still don’t think I’d ever be able to do that. (I’m not even able to fast from food.) But certainly to create a piece of music or even to think constructively about a piece of music that you’ve heard requires time away from experiencing something new.

If Mahler had to conduct year round, we wouldn’t have his symphonies. In more recent times, the three recipients of the Ives Living Award—Martin Bresnick, Chen Yi, and Stephen Hartke—have been able to compose some of the most important music in their catalogues, a result of that award affording them time exclusively for composing. Uninterrupted reflective time is vital for creating music. But it is also vital for listening to music and being able to respond to it, especially considering that one’s reaction to a composition often evolves the more times you hear it. Nowadays, if you are really immersed in new music, that’s all too rare a treat.

Then again, both of these things—composing music and listening to it—ultimately have nothing to do with taking a vacation from it. Many European nations close shop for most of the summer, but I’d hate to be there on the day they re-open.

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