I read a lot of commentary about the modern music business, and I’m guessing you do, too. It drives me slightly crazy. Here are ten things I wish people said more often. They don’t represent a blueprint for success or a complete explanation of what’s happening, but I hope they give you a clearer idea of what’s going on and what you might do about it. Here goes…
Every group of people has a different approach to the musical, personal, and organizational challenges of running an ensemble. How does the Spektral Quartet do what they do–namely, learn enormous piles of music and give consistently excellent performances, all while apparently retaining their sanity and continuing to actually like each other?
“Listy” thinking—the notion that anything as elemental and sloppily chaotic as music (or any art, for that matter) can withstand ordering, this-or-that-ing—can be, at best, problematic. The list can take the place of the work much like ideas of the people involved can be easily replaced by received notions. And that represents a danger because when something complicated is easily and quickly understood, the chances are that you are doing something wrong.
Today, advances in internet development, robotics, virtual reality, and social networking usher in with them the next generation of compositional methods. Most of these tools require nothing more than a high-speed connection and a little bit of time to learn and use. The possibilities feel limitless.
Five days after the death of colleague and friend John Cage, I produced and hosted a two-hour tribute broadcast on the New York City radio station WBAI-FM. Only a few of the many, many friends who were also close to him could be invited and the emotions of the moment were still raw. Now, all this time later, it’s hard to believe he’s no longer with us.
Many of John Cage’s scores seem to allow performers a degree of freedom that often leads to interpretations that, by the composer’s own admission, do not reflect the spirit of the work. This is a problem of both attitude and notation. If we are to continue or reconstruct the tradition, we must look to the one performer in particular who defined and was defined by the performance practice of Cage’s music – the pianist, composer, and electronic musician David Tudor.
Sometimes, the thoughtful and respectful recreation of a work is the deepest form respect. Other times, taking that work, using it as a diving board to bounce on and leap from, and landing in a cannonball to splash the snoozing pool-side adults is a much more fitting nod. I think Cage would prefer the latter.