Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles

As it prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary in the 1999-2000 season, North/South Consonance has matured from the brainchild of its founder the Mexican composer/pianist Max Lifchitz into a rich part of the new music tapestry of New York.

At the beginning, though, the tapestry wasn’t nearly so rich. Music that came directly from the city’s Uptown or Downtown schools was rarely played and composers from outside New York were rarely acknowledged. Lifchitz, who had moved from Mexico to New York in 1966, set out change that.

His first concert, he recalls, put Ursula Mamlok, Eugene Lee and Silvestre Revueltas on the same program. “I was immediately accused of having no stylistic consistency,” he laughs, “but that was the point.” Right away, the Village Voice dubbed North/South Consonance “New York’s lifeline to the rest of the country,” and by now the organization has brought to New York more than 600 compositions from throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, Russia, Japan and Europe. Over the years, North/South performances have taken place at Symphony Space, Carnegie Recital Hall, the New School, and Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, which Lifchitz claims to have discovered as a new music space. (“It’s fairly inexpensive and spacious without looking too bad if you have a small crowd.”)

Although the North/South Consonance Ensemble has recorded for Classic Masters and Opus One, the bulk of their recordings are available on their own North/South Recordings label, including works by Larry Bell, Harry Bulow, Manuel Enrique, Bernard Rands, Bruce Saylor, Harold Schiffman, Randall Snyder, Richard Toensing, Aurelio de la Vega, Marilyn Ziffrin — and Max Lifchitz.

“I have written some pieces for the series, but I’m not so directly involved with it as a composer,” he admits. “I wouldn’t want to run a series just for my music. I like to hear what other people are doing.” Also, he admits, he has the advantage of other people being interested in his work. Both his compositions and performances have been recorded by CRI, Finnadar, New World, Opus One, Philips, RCA Victor and Vienna Modern Masters. Two CD albums released on North/South in 1992 feature his performances of American piano music.

“I think performing and composing are two sides of the same coin,” he says. “People may specialize today in one or the other, but I’m not sure the two are so different.”

From Speak For Yourself! A Hyper-History of American Composer-Led New Music Ensembles
by Ken Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox