Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard
Standard repertoire apologists who are loathe to acknowledge the scarcity of new music in orchestral programs or on the radio frequently make the claim that for people who’ve never heard the music of Mozart or Beethoven, their music is new music.
This line of reasoning has always struck me as somewhat disingenuous. It’s almost like saying that for people who don’t know Harry S Truman is dead, he’s still alive! The music of Mozart and Beethoven is old music. That doesn’t make it any less exciting to experience, but it is NOT new music.
So what is new music? And what is old music? With today’s exciting stylistic pluralism, there is no overarching element that applies to all new music other than the fact that it’s being written now. In the year 2001, in addition to composers writing advanced electronic scores and exploring their own microtonal scale systems, there are also composers writing symphonies that sound like Haydn, liturgical music that sounds Medieval, and chamber music that sounds like it was written in the late nineteenth century, as if the entire twentieth century never happened. There are also a great many composers still exploring integral 12-tone serialism as if the last half-century of indeterminacy, minimalism, totalism, and rock never happened. And, if you have open minds and ears, all of this music, if it is well crafted and has something to say, can be equally valid.
To throw a monkey wrench into the whole notion of new music, we’re devoting the September issue to exploring new music which on the surface appears much older. We spoke with Richard Einhorn about how the ghosts of the music of the past inevitably intrude upon the music of today. Craig Zeichner has supplied us with a fascinating overview of new music composers and early music performers who have come together to forge a truly post-modern sound world. We asked a group of six composers whose music may appear to be anachronistic to folks with set notions about what the music of our time should sound like to explain why they write the music they write. And John Luther Adams wonders if all this recent interest in the music of the eighteenth century and earlier is not so much a throwback but rather the natural course of music making which somehow got side-tracked during the nineteenth century. What do you think?
The issue of timeliness was a big part of Greg Sandow’s “Kitsch-O-Meter” last month which prompted Ingram Marshall, whose music is also deeply indebted to early music practices and who was the subject of last month’s In The First Person conversation, to wonder where he fit in. To add another layer to this cross-relational chain, this month Greg Sandow responds to Ingram Marshall. Other items in News&Views include information about the Hechinger Fund’s new Encores commissioning project, Harvestworks incursion of experimental music into DJ culture, and Steve Heitzeg’s new Nobel Symphony, created for an upcoming gathering of Nobel laureates. And, of course, the newest concerts and recordings featuring American repertoire are included in our Hear&Now and SoundTracks compendia regardless of what anyone thinks about their “timeliness.”
So where does all this time warping fit in with the folks who say that Mozart and Beethoven are new music? Well, listeners might be better served if we celebrated Mozart and Beethoven as well as Roger Sessions, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and Thelonious Monk as old music, and concentrated on all the new music being written today—from the latest piano trio in c minor to a chance experiment involving 500 kazoos attached to ring modulators—as new music!