Much as we try to be everywhere all the time by being online, there is no adequate substitute for direct personal contact with people. So I’ve spent much of March travelling around to meet with composers and other people involved in music in different parts of the country.
At the beginning of the month I was in Indianapolis and Bloomington. While the major impetus for the trip was to do a talk with 95-year-old composer Juan Orrego-Salas who will be the NewMusicBox cover for April 2014 (stay tuned), it was also an opportunity to catch up with P.Q. Phan and to learn about his opera The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh, which had just received its world premiere. It was also great to finally meet David Dzubay (whose disc of brass music on Bridge I treasure), hunt through a great sheet music store (Ars Nova), explore the Latin American Music Center (LAMC), and tour the various concert halls at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music (thanks to clarinetist/music theorist Erick Carballo who currently runs LAMC).
I spent a day in Indy as well, which proved to be sufficient time to visit the art museum and the biggest record shop in town as well as attend a performance by the Indianapolis Symphony. Unfortunately there was no new music on the program and nothing home grown, which are the things that usually bring me to a concert hall. (Sadly, Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, who was originally approached to write a new work for this all-Polish concert, was too ill to do so and he died on December 29, 2013.) However, it was still really exciting to hear Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” for soprano and orchestra sung by Shara Worden (who is no stranger to these pages). I was also hoping to catch a set of a jazz piano trio fronted by Monika Herzig (who has been blogging for us this month), but since the only viable way to get from Bloomington to Indianapolis for a non-driver like me is to link up two sets of shuttle buses to and from the Indianapolis airport, it was logistically impossible. We didn’t even get a chance to meet up due to a blizzard that paralyzed parts of Indiana, though luckily not the airport so I was able to get back home.
A week later, I went to Detroit and Ann Arbor. The purpose of my Detroit visit was to moderate panel discussions during the EarShot readings of African-American composers by the Detroit Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin. It was great to see a conductor so engaged with bringing these pieces of music to life and so committed to helping composers get the most from an orchestra. But it was even greater to hear the music of the four composers featured—Jonathan Bailey Holland, Erica Lindsay, Kevin Scott, and Matthew Evan Taylor—and to get to know each of them personally.
American Composers Forum President John Nuechterlein was also there for the readings and ventured to Ann Arbor the following day, so I hitched a ride. While I had an extremely limited amount of time there (John was able to stay a bit longer), we enjoyed a brief visit to Zingerman’s Deli with Evan Chambers followed by meeting more than a dozen of the composition students at the University of Michigan, which made me eager to listen to their music. I’m particularly intrigued to hear Annika K. Socolofsky’s piece for Highland bagpipes and orchestra which just premiered last month and an in-process soundscape by Patrick Harlin inspired by his journeys to the Amazon rainforest.
But sometimes venturing away from the computer screen to discover new people and new music only requires a short trip on the NYC subway system. Yesterday I was invited to speak to composers at the Manhattan School of Music. Much to my surprise, many of these composers were not familiar with NewMusicBox. But in all fairness, I was also not familiar with some of the amazing things that they’re up to musically. I particularly enjoyed a conversation I had afterwards with composer/conductor Derek Cooper about his large-scale ensemble works for symphonic winds and orchestra and his plans to form a new orchestra that will be devoted exclusively to the performances of new works. You bet I’ll be following that.
The bottom line in all of this is that, in addition to staying connected to each other via the internet as much as we can, we all need to get out more than we do, me included even though I already travel a great deal. There is so much extraordinary new music activity happening all over the country and much of it is not easy to learn about exclusively through web surfing. Ideally it’s a combination of initial face-to-face contact and digital follow-up. It’s an important balancing act to remain mindful of. We must never capitulate to the idea that online contact can replace corporeal communication; at its best, all these great new cyberspace tools we have should just serve as a supplement—a means to an end.