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.
I recently saw two shows in as many nights that were presented by a couple of fantastic arts organizations in Austin: Ballet Austin and the Austin Classical Guitar Society. They both featured something old and something new, though refreshingly (and surprisingly, given that these are not new music groups) there was more of the latter in both shows.
Given the bigness of Texas, and in the interest of giving a sense of what’s going on throughout the region, I’m going to occasionally travel outside of Austin to explore other offerings. Among the heavy hitters in Houston is Musiqa, a new music organization run by professors from Rice and the Moores School at the University of Houston.
Today, the Milwaukee noise scene is a tight-knit community of creative individuals exploring an expansive range of sonic methodologies. Many performers use a table filled with gear or a suitcase packed with electronics as the physical canvas for realizing their music. The diversity of sound sources is impressive.
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.
Maybe it’s the city’s surplus of heritage, maybe it’s autumnal reminiscence, or maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the start of the season in Boston brought a bumper crop of new music deliberately glancing off older music and/or styles. That’s part and parcel with contemporary music—the past is always present, even if only as something to deliberately ignore—and the new-old juxtaposition is practically orthodox in mainstream classical programming.
Music can be a force for healing in the face of devastating tragedy. Composers who seek to confront the scars of loss and human suffering face the challenge of expressing qualities that transcend our differences and appeal to our shared humanity. Chicago’s Fulcrum Point New Music Project addresses the need for healing after the painful events of 9/11 by programming an annual concert for peace.
There aren’t as many generalizations to make about new music in Boston as one might think—even the old epithet of “academic” starts to fray when you realize that some of the city’s least academic composers are here because of academic appointments—but here’s one that’s not unreasonable: on balance, new music in Boston is institutionally driven. It’s ensembles and schools that curate the repertoire; the scene is parceled out by group and by season more than piece by piece.