Believe me, this isn’t a subject I normally like to broach, but I’m going to do it anyway. My apologies to all the composers under 40 who already know this, but allow me to reiterate for those who might have missed the boat: The stylistic encampments of the musical past are a moot point these days. Unfortunately, our country’s academic institutions—from Mills and Cal Arts to Eastman and Yale—keep indoctrinating students of like mind, rounding up the herds in order to pat each other on the back. Furthermore, this stuck-in-the-mud cronyism carries over to the summer festival circuit. The “system” is outmoded, and the divisions imposed by our institutions only succeed in keeping young creators apart, despite the fact that students themselves don’t buy into all the divisiveness. However, there is one place that dares to bring composers of different stripes together, regardless of aesthetic clashes or historical grudges. I was there last week and witnessed an incredibly diverse group of young composers eager to learn about each other’s approach to music with wide open minds. For this reason alone, June in Buffalo is hands-down America’s most important resource to composers in the early stages of their career, no passport required.
Whether these student were there to get their score read by the Arditti Quartet or performed by Red Fish Blue Fish—who are phenomenal, by the way—each participant had the opportunity to have their music critiqued by the likes of composers Charles Wuorinen, John Harbison, Roger Reynolds, and the festival’s Artistic Director David Felder. Back when I was a student, the June in Buffalo mentors consisted of Mario Davidovsky, Kevin Volans, Vinko Globokar, and Donald Erb. This Long Island iced tea approach might have given students the spins a decade ago, but last week the students simply absorbed all the contradictions, i.e. Charles Wuorinen’s observations on the post-minimalist microtonal piece one of the participants presented to him.
Just imagine if a university decided to hire a comparable hodgepodge of faculty and encouraged their composition students to study with every single professor on staff. Although this approach may not be very “academic,” I would imagine the students that matriculate through such a program would gain multiple perspectives to osmose into their own music. While many composers who mature outside of the academy tend to have a wider purview when it comes to issues of music styles, it doesn’t have to be that way. So with music schools receiving mega donations, will any of them have the guts to go out on a limb to create a Black Mountain-type situation? Yeah, I know the answer, but one can always dream.