How Old is Young?

At a showcase of new opera and music theater last night, prosaically titled On The Edge!, a cross-section of new pieces and works-in-progress were presented by American Opera Projects, Center for Contemporary Opera, Encompass New Opera Theatre, and Music-Theater Group. Master of ceremonies Janet Coleman capably underscored the excitement of the evening, and for a moment she seemed caught up in the imminent edginess about to take place on stage, promising the audience “brand new, original music theater composed by really brilliant, young composers.”

Her statement proved to be no hyperbole as far as the music was concerned. Most of the work that evening was indeed brilliant. My pet peeve is that word young, because as it turned out, there was quite a lot of grey hair on stage during the pre-performance banter between the creators and Coleman. Fact is, the four composers featured range in age from 37 to 72, hardly young in my book. Maybe the Y word accidentally slipped out with the avalanche of new, original, and brilliant—some of the most popular buzzwords of contemporary classical music.

If you think about it, the fossil fuel of classical music and opera—the pieces that audiences keep coming back to hear over and over again—were composed by an impish Austrian who died at the ripe age of 36. Did Mozart set some sort of precedent for youth worship? Considering that most grant and commissioning opportunities these days are only available to composers under the age of 35, it seems a clear line can be drawn between young and old. But then again, mature work is sometimes created in youth, and elder composers are often praised for works exhibiting youthful energy.

And with today’s popular music created and consumed by a dominantly tween demographic, it seems the concert hall crowed is left pining for a similar fountain of youth. Somehow the sum of these bizarre contradictions still allows us to label middle-aged or just outright old composers as young. It makes no sense to me. I mean, how old is young anyway?

5 thoughts on “How Old is Young?

  1. Garth Trinkl

    Randy, isn’t it your own “bizarre” musical and cultural capital city where the major league (most major league?) opera company produces operas (and assorted acts of operas) according to the whims of a distinguished tenor who is about 70 years of age and who is close to retiring from singing; and where the major league (most major league?) Philharmonic society is led by a 75 year old aspiring opera composer who commands a performing salary of close to $2 million a year allowing him leeway in placing his occasional creative products around the globe? (And who has a cultural capital conducting contract extending until he is close to 80 years old?)

    While the mention of Amadeus’s genius is permissible here (this being a classical music professional’s and classical music lover’s portal, as well as a new music professional’s and new music lover’s portal), please let us not ignore the ripe geniuses of


    Monteverdi

    (who composed his three greatest operas between the ages of 40 and 75), Wagner, Verdi, and Janacek.

    Randy, did you ever consider it a bizarre contradiction (of globalizing capitalism?) that the MET, which produces about 27 operas every season, can’t yet bring itself to commit to producing one American opera each season? (Why should the MET bother, being as it is located in a rich cultural capital?)

    Isn’t it also a “bizarre contradiction” that the leaders of the American Music Center can’t seem to muster the youthful, creative passions and energy, on behalf of its members, to press the “powers that be” at the MET to commit, publically, the company to producing one American opera each season?

    (We will forgive lovely MET executive Sarah Billinghurst who, a fortnight ago, mistakenly told the MET radio audience of 10 million, that the MET was producing, next season, Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, when she, of course, meant Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy. Easy enough, isn’t it, these days to confuse First Emperors and American Tragedies, no?)

    Garth Trinkl

    Washington, D.C., Berkeley, CA, and Lviv, Ukraine

    Reply
  2. itsudemo

    Isn’t it also a “bizarre contradiction” that the leaders of the American Music Center can’t seem to muster the youthful, creative passions and energy, on behalf of its members, to press the “powers that be” at the MET to commit, publically, the company to producing one American opera each season?

    “Youthful, creative passions and energy” will always be trumped by The Market. I’m sure if some marketable name came along with a new opera, say Adams or Glass (or, God help us, Billy Joel) the MET would be only too happy putting it on their schedule.

    I, personally, don’t much care if The MET produces a new American opera every year. There are hundreds of venues in NYC for new music, even opera. The MET just isn’t one of them. No big deal. I wouldn’t go to the (other) MET to see new works by American painters or sculptors. For that there’s MoMA, The Brooklyn Museum, and hundred of galleries all over the city. And no one complains that the (other) MET doesn’t show new American art as often as they’d like. It’s just not an issue.

    For those who want new opera every year, I might suggest moving to Los Angeles, where the LA Opera will be performing Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel this year (a co-commission with Lincoln Center, actually), and Howard Shore’s The Fly in 2006. Shore is Canadian, yes, but the librettist (David Henry Hwang) is American, so close enough. And with David Cronenberg directing, it should be… hmm… “bloody” good?

    Reply
  3. Garth Trinkl

    I wouldn’t go to the (other) MET to see new works by American painters or sculptors…. And no one complains that the (other) MET doesn’t show new American art as often as they’d like. It’s just not an issue.

    itsudemo, I think that you are missing something if you don’t go to the MET museum to see what (new) works by American artists are included in the 10 or 15-year old, two-level, Contemporary Art wing; or the more focused exhibitions of contemporary American drawings, prints, photographs, and video works exhibited in a central hallway and side annex. And I believe that other people, including American visual artists, do complain (or have complained) about the level of the MET’s commitment to exhibiting works by American artists, as part the museum’s overall mission of exhibiting human creativity over the past 10,000 years.

    For example, I am happy that the MET museum exhibits works, in its Contemporary Art wing, by

    Alison Saar,

    among other leading American visual artists (including


    Bill Viola

    ). If the MET opera — and the oligarchs who control its funding and productions in the absence of adequate national public funding — wanted to be a part of American culture, it could easily (with a little pushing) effect a mid-course correction, and commission new American operas by the likes of Christopher, Anthony, and Thulani Davis, Anne Le Baron, Beth Anderson, or Elodie Lauten — as well as Steve Reich, Richard Danielpour, or Aaron Jay Kernis.

    Thanks for the heads up about the Goldenthal and Shore works scheduled for premieres by the Los Angeles Opera. Unlike the MET and San Francisco Operas, the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington Opera (and others?) have publically committed to producing one American opera every season.

    itsudemo, do you feel that Los Angeles has now supplanted New York City as America’s cultural capital?

    Randy, do you know whether the American Music Center has plans, in coming years, to relocate itself to Los Angeles, if indeed Los Angeles is America’s new 21st century cultural capital? Does Frank or Molly perhaps know?

    Garth Trinkl

    Washington, D.C., Berkeley, CA, and Lviv, Ukraine

    Reply
  4. itsudemo

    I think that you are missing something if you don’t go to the MET museum to see what (new) works by American artists are included in the 10 or 15-year old, two-level, Contemporary Art wing

    Yes, yes, I do stop by the contemporary art exhibits when I’m at the MET. But that’s not their focus. If a friend comes to town and want to spend the day seeing contemporary art, I take them to MoMA, or to the galleries in Chelsea, or to any number of other places unless there happens to be a particular show / piece at the MET we want to see. Yes, they have a couple of rooms here and there for modern works, but it’s an aside, an appendix, at best a chapter or two in a multi-volume History of Art compendium. It’s the equivalent of the number of premieres put on by the whole Lincoln Center enchilada in a year.

    The point is, who cares if the (opera) MET puts on a new American work each year? I certainly don’t. There are enough contemporary music performances in this city that on any given night one has to choose between two, three, four equally exciting performances of new music one could attend. Any day this week, if I wanted to go hear new American music live, I could. I’ve seen premieres of at least a dozen new works this year already, and there are countless others I’ve missed. Maybe they weren’t in big world-famous venues like the MET, but so what? I’ll take BAM or the Miller over the stuffy old MET any day. So I say again: I don’t much care whether the MET presents premieres, or even works by living composers at all. Our plates are full. The MET? Inconsequential. Let it rot.

    do you feel that Los Angeles has now supplanted New York City as America’s cultural capital?

    In L.A.’s dreams.

    Reply
  5. Garth Trinkl

    Yes, they have a couple of rooms here and there [at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ] for modern works, but it’s an aside, an appendix, at best a chapter or two in a multi-volume History of Art compendium.

    Very true, itsudemon. And that is consistent with the MET Museum’s mission, and is as it should be; for the MET Museum is indeed seeking to celebrate over 10,000 years of humankind’s creativity.

    However, the MET Opera is only seeking to celebrate the last 400 years of humankind’s musico-dramatic creativity, and therefore modern and American musico-dramatic creativity should play a larger role in its mission, and would play a larger role in the MET’s artistic life, in my opinion, if not for the interference of certain reactionary oligarchs, who have near disdain for contemporary American society and its art and music; and for the national under-funding of our cultural institutions. (Wasn’t one of the geniuses of Athenian Democracy that its cultural policy encouraged — nay, forced — the oligarchs to support the annual religious-artistic drama festivals?)

    itsudemo, it sounds as if you wouldn’t be excited by the MET doing a production of Bernstein’s Candide, Sessions’s Montezuma, or Eaton’s Tempest as staged by Kate Whoriskey, designed and lighted by Bill Viola, and costumed by Alison Saar?

    And thanks for hoping that the MET will rot. Can we chaulk that comment up there with Boulez’s earlier comment, of a half century ago, that Western opera houses should be dynamited to the ground? [Western opera houses have been pretty kind to the career of Mr Boulez, and even to John Adams who says that he doesn't really care for the Western musico-dramatic art-form of opera. Oh well, this is the American Dream, no?]

    Garth Trinkl

    Washington, D.C., Berkeley, CA, and Lviv, Ukraine

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.