Problems Facing Music Criticism From the COMPOSER-TO-COMPOSER Series at the Telluride Institute

JULIO ESTRADA: I think to listen to music is really to be composing. It is to be absolutely lost in his world. And these things should be this way. That is why a lot of times we can thank the critics, and other times we cannot thank them at all.

JOHN CAGE: But I think that the introduction of the critical step can also be a lost step.

JULIO ESTRADA: Sure.

ANTHONY DAVIS: Do you think it’s a problem of not enough composers writing about their own music? I mean, like Schumann and stuff like that. In a way, I think that part of the gap is the fact that we have more responsibility ourselves.

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: I look back at the issues of Modern Music and I wish we had something like that. When I read Ear magazine, for example, for which many composers write, I feel that it’s more of a vanity press.

JOHN CAGE: Yes, it’s changed greatly.

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: It’s not an honest response to music and performance. It’s more feature articles, really.

MORTON SUBOTNICK: It might be that we, and Annea sort of raised this issue, may not believe there’s anyone else out there who cares, because Virgil Thomson‘s article assumes that someone really cares about a performance when they go to it. He’s giving them a very deep insight into how to listen. Ear magazine is a good example of the fact that we’re only writing to each other and really there’s no one out there. There may be some people out there. There has to be.

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: I think, though, that in Modern Music the composers were writing to each other. They were composers largely writing the articles and, I believe, composers largely reading them.

MORTON SUBOTNICK: I don’t know, because there were groups of people in places like Los Angeles… Los Angeles was about the crassest city in the world at this point but it had Thomas Mann and all these people. They weren’t just composers. They were interested in various things. And Virgil Thomson was across the board–he wasn’t just writing to composers. I think there was, and I still think there is. I think that maybe we’ve lost sight of who they are at this point.

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: That’s why I found this gathering so interesting, because, in a way, without an audience around, when you listen to somebody else’s music and we’re just composers together, the kind of response you get is more valuable because it is, in a situation like this, more intensely directed than it can be in a performance situation. For me, one of the very great values of this kind of gathering is a kind of honesty which is, well, different.

WALTER ZIMMERMANN: I think to save the critic a little bit, I think what he can do in the best case is create a forum, like what existed at Ear magazine when it was still good, or when Tom was in New York. I mean, this is very important. Avant-garde music is such a vital niche in what’s going on, it needs a forum. And if this forum is lost, I tend to think that people are also lost.

JOAN LA BARBARA: MusikTexte.

WALTER ZIMMERMANN: Like MusikTexte is a forum, like Ear magazine used to be a forum. This is important. If it’s not Downtown, whatever. You name it. But it needs a certain place or a certain environment to give the people strength to go on with what they do.

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