Shared Space

I’m usually pretty even tempered, but when I read last week that Luigi Nono had once pulled a piece of his music from a concert upon learning that a work by Gian Carlo Menotti would also be on the program, it made me extremely angry. I believe composers have the right to do absolutely anything they want within their own pieces, but does that right include determining the context in which their music is heard?

We can’t determine how anyone experiences our music. We can’t guarantee that everyone in the audience is in rapt attention or is even open to the compositional language being explored in any given piece. That said, the music that gets played both before and after your own work can definitely have an impact on how the audience perceives your piece. I paid a lot of attention to Esa-Pekka Salonen’s use of timbre in his Piano Concerto which the New York Philharmonic premiered under his direction last week. But perhaps that was due in part to the concerto being preceded by Ravel’s orchestral version of Le tombeau de Couperin and the work being followed by Ravel’s orchestration of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, both of which are shining examples of timbral exploration. But what would have happened if instead the new concerto was surrounded by a Beethoven symphony and a work by Webern? Would I have paid more attention to Salonen’s structural conceits?

Over the years, I’ve frequently had my own music played on multiple-composer concerts, and the egomaniac that lurks somewhere in my subconscious inevitably worried how the music would hold up against its companions on the program. At times, part of me secretly wished that the other pieces on the program were less interesting than mine (as if interest was quantitative), in the hope that my piece would stand out. But I’ve just as often hoped that none of the other pieces would be an embarrassment because if folks hated the other pieces, they’d probably wind up hating mine, too.

In the final analysis, both worries are silly and ultimately out of any individual’s control. Most of the time, unless you have your own ensemble, curate your own series, or happen to be able to throw your weight around as Luigi Nono did, you rarely have the ability to choose who else gets to share the stage with you.

10 thoughts on “Shared Space

  1. philmusic

    It’s a natural assumption that all composers want all the performance they can get and all performances are, of course, wonderful and exactly what the composer asked for. I worked with Nono briefly so I know this much about him–that he was a very political composer in every sense of the word. I may not agree with his decision (based on the information you furnished) as I prefer a program with a wide variety of music, but to censor ones own music is not really the same as “throwing ones weight around.” How many performing groups have rules, written and unwritten, about what kind of music they will and will not program? As a protest Ralph Shapey forbid his music from being performed for a time. Sometimes the veto is the only power composers have.
    Phil’s page

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  2. Daniel Wolf

    Viewed legally, once a composer has published a piece through a recording or score, she or he has little control over what happens with it, so long as credit is given and licenses are paid.

    In principle, then, a composer can assert more control by holding off on publishing recordings and scores. In practice, however, there are performers who will insist on playing a work, regardless of both the legal status and the composer’s intentions.

    A concrete example: the SEM orchestra has played a work they attribute to La Monte Young. The Young work in question has never been commercially recorded by the composer, nor has the complete score ever been released to the public (in addition to a small graphic, which has been public, there are several pages of instructions). The SEM orchestra has never rented the performance materials from the composer, nor hired Young to coach a performance of the piece, nor placed in it a light environment as specified by the composer, yet it has persisted in performing it, on mixed programs (again, against the composer’s wishes), and does so with full license, knowing that the legal costs that Young would have, should he choose to act against the SEM, would be prohibitive.

    One would think that if performers were interested in a work so much that they would like to perform it, and the composer is still around, alive and kicking, then they would try to meet the composer’s demands for the work as precisely as possible. However, if they, for whatever reason, do not wish to perform the work to the composer’s specifications, then they should consider the real possibility that their intended performance is not a realization of the work in question, but rather a new composition realized in some critical relationship to the orginal score, and they should bill the piece accordingly.

    AFAIC, this is a matter of simple respect between people and respect for one anothers work. But, unfortunately, there are a few performers or concert organizers who do disregard both the persons and wishes of composers.

    La Monte Young may be viewed — and, in fact was selected here — as an extreme example of a composer with an interest in controlling how his work is played. But any sober assessment of his situation will show that that control is part and parcel of his work and aesthetic, and that the end effect of rationing, when not actively discouraging, possible performances, is based also on a cold and realistic estimate on Young’s part of the market potential for his music. (Also, when a musician like Young has worked for so long in an idiom without significant market values, and without reliable institutional support — like a teaching job — then it should not be unexpected that he demands a creative, alternative scheme of remuneration.)

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  3. william

    I too thought Nono’s actions were disgusting. But I also wonder if we can make a complete judgment without knowing more of the details about what actually happened and why. If Nono pulled his piece out of contempt for Menotti’s style, I would find the action ridiculous and stupid. But Nono was also very political. Perhaps he had some more worthy ideology motivating his actions. His music was performed in countless contexts, and he was often present. So why exactly did he object to the concert with Menotti? We might reserve judgment until we know more about what happened. I wish someone could tell us. It is very interesting.

    William Osborne

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  4. Colin Holter

    Even if Nono yanked his piece to protest the programming of Menotti’s music, I have no problem with that. Having taken part in many annual productions of Amahl and the Night Visitors during my formative years, I have a soft spot for Menotti. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t assert that there’s anything especially critical about his work – even an overtly political piece like The Consul is kind of superficial, I think.

    If you have the running room to pull your music off of a concert and you feel strongly (as Nono probably did) that something else on the program is a waste of intelligent audience members’ time, what better way to make your point?

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  5. Frank J. Oteri

    If you have the running room to pull your music off of a concert and you feel strongly (as Nono probably did) that something else on the program is a waste of intelligent audience members’ time, what better way to make your point?

    What point does it make? What impact do you think this had? Do you think fewer people attended the concert after Nono pulled his piece? Was Nono the audience draw? (Menotti might actually have been the bigger draw here, dunno.) Yes, I agree with William that we need to find out more details about this story. Does anyone know anything besides what Bernard Holland wrote in his NY Times Menotti obit last week? Please share…

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  6. philmusic

    Wait a minute!
    Let me get this straight-Menotti just died and the best you have to offer by way of an obituary for him is to slam Nono? ??? Are we heartless or what?

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  7. philmusic

    The word “project” does not imply a just a concert.
    Again, this is pure speculation, but this would imply something like an evening of several 1 Act operas in which each composer would contribute something. This is a little more personal than a mere concert program. As I am not an historian I also don’t know much about the personal relations between these two composers while they were living.

    Anyway this is not the time to remember what these composers were against, but what they were for.
    Phil’s page

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  8. Frank J. Oteri

    Phil, rest assured, we have been in the process of preparing a tribute to Menotti for NewMusicBox. As you might have noticed over the past few years, we have mostly dispensed with boilerplate obituaries, especially when such obituaries are widely available in the mainstream media. Instead, we offer tributes by other composers, e.g.: Steven Mackey on Donald Martino; David Rakowski on Daniel Pinkham; Martin Bresnick, Anne LeBaron, and Roberto Sierra on Gyorgy Ligeti, etc. These personal memorials are not and cannot be assigned pre-mortem (as are the obits of important figures in many newspapers), and each takes time to assign, write, edit, etc.

    In the up-to-the-second RSS-feed driven world of internet content, such an old-fashioned procedure might seem like a luxury, but I believe that these personal tributes are ultimately much more meaningful and are the kind of content that you can’t find anywhere else. Stay tuned.

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  9. ottodafaye

    (Also, when a musician like Young has worked for so long in an idiom without significant market values, and without reliable institutional support — like a teaching job — then it should not be unexpected that he demands a creative, alternative scheme of remuneration.)

    Correct me, anyone, if you know I’m wrong, but my understanding is that Young was for a very long time extremely well funded (like, a million a year) by a private foundation, and went as far as to sue them when they decided to cut him off.

    Sorry, I don’t recall the source I heard this from. Anyway, if it’s true, you chose a poor example to make your point!

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  10. Daniel Wolf

    ottodafaye – notned@aol.com wrote:

    “Correct me, anyone, if you know I’m wrong, but my understanding is that Young was for a very long time extremely well funded (like, a million a year) by a private foundation, and went as far as to sue them when they decided to cut him off.”

    Young was indeed invited into a complex project involving use and renovation of a large building in lower Manhattan. And It should have been ideal for his work. However, the project was never fully funded and, despite a promise of perpetual support, funding was cut off well before the project could establish itself (the foundation, which had begun similar projects with a number of artists, was overextended and reorganized). Young’s net from this period was massive personal debt and time for creative work lost to managing the property.

    While one may well argue about Young’s financial management skills, the essential point is that the environment in which his music is presented is part and parcel of the work itself, and a concert organizer who does not respect this shows is clearly not interested in Young’s music, but something else altogther.

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