The crux of the matter in grasping Elliott Carter’s difficult and satisfying music lies not in conquering its inherent and unavoidable technical issues. What’s crucial is finding the broader context in which those challenges can be seen not as obstacles to successful performance, but rather as essential musical materials that upon close investigation reveal important information about the nature of Carter’s music itself, its structure, aesthetic, and intent.
The Smile Sessions—a total of 144 tracks (in its most complete available form) from the 80 sessions recorded by The Beach Boys between 1966 and 1967 for the never-issued LP SMiLE—contains some of the most provocative musical ideas of the last half-century in any genre of music. But it has taken nearly 45 years for it to be officially released.
It is a pleasant irony that, the other day, as I was in a coffee-purveying establishment reading the latest round of recording-industry shills going on about how an even more draconian copyright regime is necessary to ensure creativity and innovation, I happened to hear Michael Bublé and Shania Twain duetting on a version of “White Christmas” that is a near note-for-note remake of The Drifters’ version.
Today, local enterprising young musicians inhabit a musical world almost totally free of the boundaries previously posed by genres and traditions, a world where contentious issues—formal attire, “alt-classical”—aren’t even issues anymore. They have sidestepped whole entire philosophical debates and simply decided to do what they wanted to do, which, of course, is what people in the Bay Area have been doing for a long time.
In the West, the environment of concert music is one of transcendence. We use our music to transport our listeners from the concert hall to another private world, created by the interaction of the listener’s imagination and the music. While transcendence is also the aim of Indian classical music, it is weighed against the equally vital component of audience involvement.
Although some two dozen performances had already happened by that point, the official opening concert of the 2011 Ostrava Days—a biennial new music festival in the Czech Republic founded by the Czech-born, U.S.-based composer and conductor Petr Kotik—began with a massive orchestra on the floor, a pair of percussionists on the stage, and disembodied voices intermittently echoing through the hall, a meditation interrupted by brash, ritualistic themes and romantic interludes combined with an unusual pathos, moderating between militance and stillness.
It’s hard to believe that less than 25 years ago, a record label named Naxos sprang up seemingly out of nowhere offering quality recordings of most of the standard classical music repertoire for a fraction of typical retail cost. But what might be even harder to believe is that this global operation is basically the creation of one man—Klaus Heymann
Today, however, it seems we are all chameleons. Certainly many of the early-career composers I heard last month during the Pharos International Contemporary Music Festival, a generation that has grown up under globalization, with the internet at its fingertips, might be described in this way. Identity, origin, and authenticity have taken on whole new twists in just ten years or so.