At LA’s Union Station last Sunday, I saw composer Christopher Cerrone’s opera based on Calvino’s novel, also called Invisible Cities. The production managed to be at once extravagant and subtle, with the audience listening to the live performance on wireless headphones while wandering freely through an actual, historically scenic train station.
There have been few additions to the canon of “classical” music from Africa, or most of southern Asia and Oceania. And yet, despite the efforts of extremists in various parts of the world, some form of music is created, performed, and listened to in every nation on the planet; music is one of the few pan-terrestrial human activities.
Boston Musica Viva, the city’s oldest new music group, might have been tempted to, say, recapitulate its first program from February 1970. Instead, the year’s concerts are filled with relatively recent music, with a premiere for each—the kind of inner effort, one might say, by which new music stays new.
Scientific research shows that listening to music is an activity that fosters cohesion and synchronicity in brain function, which is very good for social messaging across large numbers of people who are listening at the same time, whether or not they’re listening to the same thing. I believe the research also shows that improvising music requires a similar mode of cognition, allowing for a kind of “disembodied cognition,” as one researcher calls it.
After four decades, Kronos is still a new music group that takes its citizenship in the new music community seriously: show me another ensemble that has given more composers both the opportunity and the benefit of a meticulous, passionate performance. The music they cultivate might be geared to what they do well, but what they do well, they do better than anyone.