How Far Would You Go To Hear New Music?

In recent posts here I wrote about trekking to San Francisco to hear Doctor Atomic and the opening night concerts scheduled in two new concerts halls currently being built in Nashville and Orange County, California, that have also piqued my travel bug. Since then, Randy has written an elegant polemic against recordings in favor of live performances. But if you limit yourself to only hearing music live, your choices are pretty…well…limited, even in New York City where opportunities to hear live music by a New York-based composer such as Elliott Carter or Philip Glass, to play the range game, are fewer than a Leipzig citizen’s opportunity to hear J.S. Bach was in the first half of the 18th century.

I bring up Bach because he was rumored to have walked 200 miles to hear Dietrich Buxtehude play the organ. Last Friday night, at a pre-concert talk between Louis Andriessen and Evan Ziporyn, in advance of the opening concert of BMOP’s season which featured premieres by both of these composers, Andriessen talked about how taxing it is to travel even in the era of planes, trains, and automobiles. His words rang all the more true to me as I waited a seeming eternity for the Boston Deluxe bus in both directions, but I was still very happy I made the trip there (plus I got to listen to the entire amazing Julius Eastman boxed set along the way).

Ultimately I made the trip because I’m a fan of both of these composers as well as BMOP, could afford the $30 Boston Deluxe roundtrip, could get free tickets to the concert, and was also able to crash with friends. Would I have gone if any item in the above recipe were missing? Not as certainly, by any means. Boston is a lot closer than San Francisco, but it’s not next door by a long shot.

So how close is close? Even in New York City, it is sometimes difficult to commit to a concert that’s far away, and there are only so many things you can do that begin around 8 p.m. Later gigs are tricky if you have to get up the next morning for a job. I’d probably be in the Issue Project Room at least once a week if it weren’t deep in Brooklyn and I didn’t live at the tip of Manhattan, which means a 2 hour trek home since my subway line runs local after 10:30 p.m. I’ve learned that folks in Boston and the Bay Area are worse off than me; their subways don’t even run all night. What about places without adequate public transportation? If you go to an improv gig at a club and drive there, you run the risk of a DUI for the sake of new music!

Meanwhile, I’ve been an obsessive record collector all my life. And the more than 10,000 hours of music I have amassed up to this point has not slowed me down in the least. Being in Boston last weekend also gave me an excuse to revisit Looney Tunes, a favorite used LP shop, and walk off with eight more opera recordings and a bag of other goodies in many other genres. So, for less than it would have cost me to go Amtrak and zero travel time, I can hear music that no one is playing live anywhere—from Rossini’s opera seria Maometto Secondo and Earl Kim’s Violin Concerto played by Itzhak Perlman (who won’t go near repertoire like that anymore) to some of Randy Weston’s best solo piano performances and the debut of the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, whose leader Michael Kamen died two years ago this month (no hope of a reunion here).

Next weekend, I’ll be heading to Washington, D.C., to hear Leonard Slatkin conduct the National Symphony in the world premiere of a new work by David Del Tredici. There’s no way I can hear that on a recording, so I’m there! But, I’m probably insane. How far would you go?

2 thoughts on “How Far Would You Go To Hear New Music?

  1. Marc

    Pretty far
    I went to Ojai, CA, from Bloomington for a concert Boulez was leading of his own music. I should say that some friends were getting married that same weekend elsewhere in California, though, so it wasn’t strictly for the concert. I also routinely made the 250-drive to Chicago from Bloomington for concerts, both new music and otherwise.

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  2. areguero

    Too far
    When you’re trapped in place where culture runs thin, you are often forced to travel to hear great music, new or otherwise. In a moment of great weakness, I almost paid $150 total between travel and a concert ticket to take a bus round trip from Syracuse to New York to hear the Meridith Monk concert at Zankel last weekend. To make matters worse, the bus was leaving Syracuse at 6 a.m. I started fading around 5 a.m. (I didn’t decide to go until about 2 a.m., so sleep didn’t make sense), and in the end, I couldn’t rationalize the money on a college kid budget. With that said, given the time and money, I would probably travel anywhere for a great concert (especially one involving Meridith Monk and my posse from Eastman, Alarm Will Sound). Now to find a way to get paid for this sort of crazy thinking…

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