Point A to Point C

For the past few years, late May and June seem to have always been busy, especially when it comes to new music. This year has been no exception. In addition to last week’s interview with violinist Hilary Hahn about her composition contest, the past few weeks have allowed me to travel to the West Coast and interview five more composers for my book project as well as attend the June in Buffalo festival, live-blog the Bang on a Can Marathon, and even find time to review a three-concert “Bach & Beyond” festival in Fredonia, New York.

All this composer-based and concert-based activity has gotten me thinking about that nebulous time and space between the point where a piece of music has been created and the point where a listener/audience member first experiences that same piece. This fall, thousands of first-year music majors will be introduced to the ubiquitous diagram that attempts to describe the musical process. Sometimes written in a straight line and sometimes in a triangle-shaped closed loop, this diagram starts with the composer, moves to the performer, and ends with the audience. I’ve always thought it was a bit simplistic, and the more I get a grasp on the diverse paths a musical work can travel along this continuum, the more interested I am to explore that no man’s land that exists between creation and experience.

My main intent with this exploration is to try to understand how performers and audiences discover a new work (or a new composer) and ultimately how both parties’ interest in new music might be expanded. To this end, over the next few weeks I’ll be considering the various cogs that make up today’s contemporary music scene; these cogs might include music festivals, concert series, recording labels, media outlets, social networks, publishers, promoters, and the performers themselves. Over time these aspects of our community have grown and become quite potent, if not always well understood.

Last week I attended the Bang on a Can Marathon, which supposedly had an attendance of around 10,000—an impressive number for any concert performance. To witness how the crowd grew and intensified when a well-known individual like Steve Reich came to the stage was to catch a glimmer of what could be possible. At the same time, at least that many people have filed past me within the past hour as I write this column in the Baltimore International Airport (I told you June is busy), and I would be scared to imagine how little of this slice of average America even listens to concert music at all, much less concert music which has been recently composed. There is always work to be done, and hopefully by being curious and questioning some assumptions, some progress might be made.

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