Into the Great Wide Open
The observation I’m about to make goes without saying but, as a transplant to the area, I’m only now beginning to understand its ramifications for concert music: Things in the Midwest are very far apart. I live in Minneapolis, which is in the Midwest; also in the Midwest is the city of Chicago. However, these towns are in fact 400 miles apart—the distance, more or less, from London to Strasbourg or from Pittsburgh to Ottawa. It’s so far, in fact, that even a fresh young new music ensemble whose ascent can only be described as meteoric might be active in its home of Chicago for several years before I manage to witness their handiwork firsthand in Minneapolis.
But I got the chance to do just that last weekend, when Dal Niente presented a portrait concert of James Dillon’s music at the Southern Theater, a lovely, character-ful venue in Cedar-Riverside. Under its crumbling proscenium, Dal Niente offered their contribution, whether or not they would think of it this way, to an ongoing project: the normalization of complex music from the 1980s and 1990s. Seems like every year since 2000 or so, some enterprising soloist or ensemble has released a recording or given a performance that demonstrates, incontrovertibly, that the music lots of people used to call “unplayable” is in fact a music of only modest-to-relatively-high technical demands, and that no invisible barrier of taste or capability prevents a new music group that programs work by Nico Muhly and Mark-Anthony Turnage from also programming pieces by Dillon and Mark André.
NewMusicBox commenter Rusty Banks asserts that “most composers [his] age and younger,” which includes me, “wouldn’t understand choosing between Reich and Carter. We’re an “and” generation not an “or” generation.” I think this dichotomy is a bit reductive; certainly there’s a lot of music that falls outside my personal “and.” Nevertheless, ensembles like Dal Niente (and let’s not kid ourselves—the musical preferences of ensembles are much more important than the musical preferences of composers) are taking such openness to heart by programming omnivorously, and that’s a policy from which all of us can benefit.