A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

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A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by Ralph » Mon Jul 18, 2005 11:24 am

Knowing the Score: Classical music can't live in the past if it hopes to have a future

Sunday, July 17, 2005
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The grass is never greener than in the verdant nostalgia of the classical music lover's mind. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, to name a few, were geniuses, but overall, there are more quality composers working today than in any given year of the 18th or 19th centuries. Those eras overflowed with rote. Half the reason Beethoven remains so revered is because of how ho-hum many of his contemporaries were. But we don't see it that way. We still mostly like the oldies.

Why then, did classical music, especially in this country, take such a different course from the other arts, with audiences generally disconnected from contemporary creations? That's the basis of a fascinating and significant book by Joseph Horowitz, "Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall." It is the focus of a WFMT-produced special airing on WQED-FM Tuesday at 8 p.m.

While the book is more thorough, the radio show, hosted by Bill McGlaughlin, backs up points with recordings. You could do this yourself with a superb two-disc collection just released by Naxos, "The Story of American Classical Music." It contains representative music from many of the composers Horowitz outlines, as well as a lucid history.

Through a historical overview of American musical institutions and composers, primarily in Boston and New York City, Horowitz drives home an insightful thesis: A major factor in the "fall" was a spurning of our living composers in favor of star, often foreign, performers who gravitated to established music. This ossification created an unbeatable canon, "rejecting contemporary culture, enshrining dead European masters and celebrity performers."

For all its independence on other fronts, the United States remained culturally subservient to Europe for some time. All art forms felt it, but classical music has struggled the most to escape its pull. In its first centuries, America produced more institutions of great repute than composers. Compare Carnegie Hall to George Chadwick or the New York Philharmonic to Edward MacDowell. Our biggest contributions were of form, not content.

Whenever Americans in the 18th and 19th century wrote music that didn't ape European trends, it "would be rejected by most of the [American] public as primitive or irrelevant," writes Horowitz.

American audiences would compensate for low esteem in composition by "out-adoring" Europeans for Europe's own, whose music they could at least be proud to hear in their "better" concert halls and by their more proficient orchestras. Horowitz calls it a "psychology of insecurity," and it meant Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, Dvorak and others were more beloved here than Americans Foote, Fry or even Ives.

Horowitz feels this sentiment made the United States particularly susceptible to that Romantic musical phenomenon: the superstar performer. He cites Wagner's pamphlet "On Conducting," published in 1869, which rejected "time-beating" in favor of conductors who molded scores interpretively.

Wagner was writing in support of a growing trend, and as conductors took more artistic control of music, they began to be worshipped as its high priests. Arturo Toscanini was more important to many than the composers whose music he conducted. The same was true with other musicians. By the time Vladimir Horowitz held regal sway over the ebony and ivory, he was as famous as the music sitting on his piano. The same certainly was true for tenor Enrico Caruso.

It's fine that a musician stands equally with a specific piece -- classical music lives in the musician's contemporary interpretation of music despite its age. But when a generation or two of conductors and performers retreat within the canon, it ultimately stunts the field. It is simply bizarre that if you ask someone to name some of the important musical figures of the 19th century, you are likely to get Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and the like. Ask the same question about the 20th, and you often hear Toscanini, Heifetz and Ma.

Composers did play a part in this shift, some writing modernist music that turned off audiences. (The withdrawal of music education and the rise of the recording industry also played a part.) But for every Boulez there was a Menotti. And there's no telling how the modernist trends would have turned out if more conductors and musicians had been a part of the process.

Eventually, the crowd-pleasing focus on the canon ran thin, and the audiences began to move away from classical to more popular and vibrant music: pop and rock. The current financial situation of orchestras and other groups has much to do with not keeping audiences interested in contemporary developments over the years. It's culminated in today's environment, in which a new album by U2 or Wilco, a new play by August Wilson or musical by Stephen Sondheim, or a new building by Frank Gehry or Rafael Vinoly makes headlines and builds massive excitement. Not so with new compositions by John Adams or Michael Daugherty. And Beethoven hasn't written anything new in decades.

Classical music could stand to be more vital to the greater population; it could stand to be more healthy. Horowitz's book is most significant for outlining how we got where we are. But I cannot subscribe to the pessimist subtitle of the book. I don't think classical music has "fallen" -- it's just different than before. There are some aspects I don't like, some I do.

There is much music out there that is moving and that could generate excitement if the field had shepherded itself better. And when these works are performed, they are done by better professional musicians now than ever before. The level of even a small-budget orchestra is astounding these days. Take that, 1800.

And don't forget, yesterday's classical music scene was astonishingly limited in its world view -- some of it downright classist and racist. If you lived in the 18th century, odds are you never would have been allowed to hear Haydn's music, unless you were a noble. And if you were a person of color or of a certain ethnic group, you could add many more restrictions. Today, classical music is more diverse and open than ever, in audience, orchestra, opera and composer makeup.

Things could be better, there is no doubt. The field definitely was its own worst enemy for some time and continues to struggle to define itself. But don't try to sell me on the "fall" of classical music. That's a specious trap many of us tend to fall into about the past.

Someday, people will be longing for the good old days of 2005.

(Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.)
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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 18, 2005 12:18 pm

The grass is never greener than in the verdant nostalgia of the classical music lover's mind. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, to name a few, were geniuses, but overall, there are more quality composers working today than in any given year of the 18th or 19th centuries.
On what does he base that? It depends on how you define "quality," but it is a severe misstatement no matter how you define anything if you consider the number of composers as a fraction of the population, a fraction of the educated Western population, or even a fraction of the educated Western population with training or interest in classical music.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 18, 2005 12:20 pm

And in our day anyone with a programmable Casio keyboard thinks he's a "composer" ....
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Post by Charles » Mon Jul 18, 2005 12:55 pm

There is little doubt, in my mind anyway, that atonality killed the goose. I may be an extreme example of pigheadedness (as my wife would agree); but here am I, a classical music lover who has spent almost fifty years loving and exploring the canon, and I still cannot get myself to sit still for modern pieces. I've tried. I'm pigheaded, I guess, as I say. But the point is, if someone like me, who is pre-disposed to accept difficult music (don't tell me a lot of Bach is not difficult) still cannot get modern music, after many years of trying, who of the pop masses will? That's what's killed it. And abstraction didn't kill modern art because you take in a visual artwork in a second or two, not in a half hour or more of trying to concentrate.

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Post by Ralph » Mon Jul 18, 2005 1:05 pm

Charles wrote:There is little doubt, in my mind anyway, that atonality killed the goose. I may be an extreme example of pigheadedness (as my wife would agree); but here am I, a classical music lover who has spent almost fifty years loving and exploring the canon, and I still cannot get myself to sit still for modern pieces. I've tried. I'm pigheaded, I guess, as I say. But the point is, if someone like me, who is pre-disposed to accept difficult music (don't tell me a lot of Bach is not difficult) still cannot get modern music, after many years of trying, who of the pop masses will? That's what's killed it. And abstraction didn't kill modern art because you take in a visual artwork in a second or two, not in a half hour or more of trying to concentrate.
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 18, 2005 1:06 pm

Charles wrote:... I still cannot get myself to sit still for modern pieces. I've tried ... if someone like me, who is pre-disposed to accept difficult music (don't tell me a lot of Bach is not difficult) ...
Not all difficulties are alike (as listening, I've never found Bach particularly "difficult").
Charles wrote:... still cannot get modern music, after many years of trying, who of the pop masses will?
But what of listeners who just like the sound of the modern music? A lot of even the "difficult" modern music, is not written 'in order to be unattractive' ... and there are listeners drawn to it.

The whole knot of issues is a bit thornier, I think, than a mere matter of "difficult listening" ....
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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by JackC » Mon Jul 18, 2005 1:30 pm

Ralph wrote:Knowing the Score: Classical music can't live in the past if it hopes to have a future

Sunday, July 17, 2005
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The grass is never greener than in the verdant nostalgia of the classical music lover's mind. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, to name a few, were geniuses, but overall, there are more quality composers working today than in any given year of the 18th or 19th centuries. Those eras overflowed with rote. Half the reason Beethoven remains so revered is because of how ho-hum many of his contemporaries were. But we don't see it that way. We still mostly like the oldies.
"Half the reason Beethoven remains so revered is because of how ho-hum many of his contemporaries were."

This seems to me to be a strikingly stupid statement. Who were Beethoven's contemporaries??? He was 21 when Mozart died. Haydn was active most of Beethoven's life. At the end, Schubert was in full flower. But Beethoven is as revered as any of them, perhaps more so.

I doubt anyone who reveres Beethoven does so out of a comparison of his music with second or third rate composers of his time.

I also very much doubt that there are more quality composers working today than in any given year of the 18th or 19th centuries. That seems to me to have been a period of high culture that produced music at a level that has not been surpassed. (Sheer numbers of composers is meaningless.)

In any event, the music of the past, including that of Beethoven's time, has now been judged by the harshest of critics, time. Only after the music of today's "quality composers" has been subjected to the same test, will sensible/meaningful comparisons be possible.

When an article starts off this badly, it is no surprise that what follows is of about the same quality, i.e., worthless.

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Mon Jul 18, 2005 4:25 pm

Ah yes, we live in the true Golden Age of classical music composition, do we? For some reason I immediately thought of a piece I read online last year. A couple of exerpts:

To suggest that there is decline is not to oppose change. Quite the opposite: it is to demand improvement, change for the better rather than for the worse. Decline is all the more galling for those who believe in progress, and think that we ought to learn from the past rather than drifting from one thing to the next without caring how one compares to the other.
To celebrate the achievements of the past is not to endorse uncritically everything about the past, but to identify the best of what has gone before with a view to continuing and improving on it. Without historical perspective, it is impossible even to imagine progress, or to distinguish progress from mere change. A critical engagement with the past, a willingness to make judgements about what works and what does not, is crucial if we want to improve on the present.

Cummings, Donal – A Fools’ ‘Golden Age’? [Spiked Online 2004]



The current prejudice, that criticisms of novel developments must imply a desire to return to the past, indicates a profound lack of imagination in contemporary society. Ideas don’t crash to Earth from outer space or appear in capsules from the future, but emerge from a critical engagement with the present informed by what happened and what was written in the past. This has nothing to do with ‘turning the clock back’ or ‘returning to the past’, a made-up version of reaction that obscures the fact that real conservatives are people who want to defend the status quo.

Cummings, Donal – A Fools’ ‘Golden Age’? [Spiked Online 2004]

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 19, 2005 5:43 am

Cummings,Donal wrote:To celebrate the achievements of the past is not to endorse uncritically everything about the past, but to identify the best of what has gone before with a view to continuing and improving on it.
Unqualified agreement.

A lot of this discussion (a lot of the heat of this discussion) seems to depend upon the fallacy that an artist whose Muse bids him do that beyond simply what has already been done (a description to which practically any composer of note since Josquin will answer), is an artist who is therefore implacably hostile to the past.

Hogwash. Strawman. Heat without light. Blather.
Brendan wrote:Ah yes, we live in the true Golden Age of classical music composition, do we?
Not that sarcasm is cheap, or anything.

You'll forgive me if I don't trouble to seek your artistic 'judgment' upon my own work, won't you?

There's a good fellow.
Last edited by karlhenning on Tue Jul 19, 2005 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 19, 2005 10:39 am

JackC wrote:"Half the reason Beethoven remains so revered is because of how ho-hum many of his contemporaries were."

This seems to me to be a strikingly stupid statement. Who were Beethoven's contemporaries??? He was 21 when Mozart died. Haydn was active most of Beethoven's life. At the end, Schubert was in full flower. But Beethoven is as revered as any of them, perhaps more so.
We take for granted the exaltation of music up the level of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but it need not ever have been so. They are at such a rarefied level that it is perfectly possible to imagine a situation where baroque music never rose above Telemann and Vivaldi, or classical music above Dittersdorf and Salieri. It is on the basis of the excellent but less god-like composers that the 18th and 19th century are more fairly compared with our own time.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by Ralph » Tue Jul 19, 2005 1:19 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
JackC wrote:"Half the reason Beethoven remains so revered is because of how ho-hum many of his contemporaries were."

This seems to me to be a strikingly stupid statement. Who were Beethoven's contemporaries??? He was 21 when Mozart died. Haydn was active most of Beethoven's life. At the end, Schubert was in full flower. But Beethoven is as revered as any of them, perhaps more so.
We take for granted the exaltation of music up the level of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but it need not ever have been so. They are at such a rarefied level that it is perfectly possible to imagine a situation where baroque music never rose above Telemann and Vivaldi, or classical music above Dittersdorf and Salieri. It is on the basis of the excellent but less god-like composers that the 18th and 19th century are more fairly compared with our own time.
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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jul 19, 2005 1:40 pm

Ralph wrote:"Above Dittersdorf?" Can't wait to meet you in New York. Better not go into a dark alley with me.
Um, John, I trust you will recall that you were never threatened by any of our conservative contingent here . . . . :wink:
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Re: A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

Post by Ralph » Tue Jul 19, 2005 3:02 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
Ralph wrote:"Above Dittersdorf?" Can't wait to meet you in New York. Better not go into a dark alley with me.
Um, John, I trust you will recall that you were never threatened by any of our conservative contingent here . . . . :wink:
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Of course not-they all adore Dittersdorf.
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Post by Brendan » Tue Jul 19, 2005 3:49 pm

Karl,

If ever any of your work comes to my attention I won't be able to help passing judgement of some kind, I expect.

There's a patronizoing fellow.

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Programming for the future

Post by Louis » Tue Jul 19, 2005 9:20 pm

I agree with much of what Andrew Druckenbrod writes in his editorial about what's happening in the concert halls these days. The programming for the forthcoming season of the New York Phil is a prime example. It is almost totally devoid of anything outside the top-40 category of classical music. There are few world premieres. And the 20th Century, in particular American composers, are not represented the way they should be.

Thank goodness for Botstein and the ASO for their leadership in bringing lesser or little known gems to the public. They, of course, are an exception. But I have a feeling that SOs in cities outside NY are, by and large, a lot more adventurous in ther programming.

Opinioin prevails, it's almost doctrine among directors of symphony orchestras, that one needs to program the most familiar names like Johann, Johannes or Ludwig and the like in order to fill the hall. This may be true for the veterans of the concert experience. But for the target audience that such organizations should be chasing after -- young blood that will form tomorrow's audience -- I think there is far greater tolerance and level of curiosity than is being credited.

There are plenty of less or never performed 19th and 20th Century works that would appeal to a general audience. Piston, Harris, Creston, Rubbra, etc. are prime candidates in the 20th Century category. Composers using an astringently atonal or abstract language would be ill advised as their music would reinforce another prevailing misconception that avant garde and 12-tone music is synonymous with the 20th C. We all should know better than that.

A relationship has to be developed between orchestra and audience. Provide interesting, appealing works and, optimistically speaking, a returning audience will be cultivated. I rather think it takes a little boldness, a little familiarity of what the choices are, and a little imagination. That is at least a few suggestions as to how to build an audience for tomorrow and at the same time keep the art form one that's living and growing.

Louis

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Post by Ralph » Tue Jul 19, 2005 9:28 pm

Hi Louis,

Welcome to CMG! Hope you post often.

I'm a very longtime subscriber to the New York Philharmonic and I'm also an avid fan/subscriber to the American Symphony Orchestra. Leon Botstein is a true Renaissance scholar, a person whose prodigous academic output mirrors and complements his conducting.

But the simple fact is that most ASO Avery Fisher Hall concerts are not that well attended. Generally about 2/3rds of the orchestra level is occupied with a number of seats going to Bard faculty and students. The two upper tiers are frequently empty.

I think you sell the Philharmonic a bit short. Many new works are programmed but those "warhorses" do bring the patrons in and one reason is that the music is often beautiful and superbly performed.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jul 20, 2005 12:36 am

People put way too much emphasis on being original, novel, and trendy. The past has much unexplored territory, more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal. I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
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Post by MartinPh » Wed Jul 20, 2005 2:26 am

In addition, it seems to me that the whole idea that if 'classical' or 'serious' music were different or were presented differently, a whole pop-audience would potentially be interested in it, is a fallacy. Ever since the advent of serious music as we know it (ie., more or less, since Beethoven) , music for light entertainment and music that requires more serious attention and concentration from the listener have become increasingly separated and aimed at different audiences. Looking at the population as a whole, over the last two centuries classical music has been of interest only to a very small percentage of it. It's interesting that while in the early days this also had much to do with social status and financial possibilities, the situation has remained basically unaltered in our more democratic times, where serious music is accessible to anyone.

That experimentalist modern compositions are also scaring committed serious music audiences out of the concert hall, is another problem. Though I find that many atonal pieces appeal to me, I have no patience at all with pieces that are based solely on esoteric mathematical principles, gimmicks, or, worse, randomness. Music should first and foremost be understandable to the ear; as far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't it simply doesn't qualify as music (much in the same way that I refuse to consider a filthy unmade bed or a cow sawed in half as works of art, no matter what the modern art establishment may tell me about them).

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jul 20, 2005 4:45 am

Corlyss_D wrote:People put way too much emphasis on being original, novel, and trendy. The past has much unexplored territory, more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal. I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
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So we're in agreement once more. :)
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Post by Ralph » Wed Jul 20, 2005 4:49 am

The short gimmicky new works that pop up at New York Philharmonic performances pass into the musical dust more often than not and concertgoers generally aren't turned away by them. New York has "Bang on a Can," a most apt name, for performances of wildly eclectic pieces that attract a faithful cohort of fans.

Most concertgoers appreciate serious works - Mahler is an incredibly successful draw in New York whether performed by the Philharmonic or a visiting orchestra. How many people want to deeply understand such works is another matter.

Easy, complete and relatively inexpensive access to virtually every piece of worthwhile music (and much that isn't) through recordings has expanded the range of classical music listeners.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:40 am

Corlyss_D wrote:People put way too much emphasis on being original, novel, and trendy.
They have so put, I agree.

Yet, it remains consistently true in the arts that the great artists do in fact have something fresh to offer the world.

So I can agree that mere novelty for its own sake has been overemphasized. But leave us not forget that no artist achieved greatness just by regurgitating the past.
Corlyss_D wrote:The past has much unexplored territory, more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal.
The question of beauty in music is much less simple than "tonal = beautiful / not tonal = not beautiful" ... and your phrasing here folds neatly into Wuorinen's comment (from the collective interview whose transcript begins here):
Wuorinen wrote:As normally used, ["tonal" is] a pseudo-technical term for familiar.
Corlyss_D wrote:I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
Who says the Glass and Reich are the world's only two living composers? Or that what they are doing is necessarily "the state of the art"?

Don't go by where the Dutch spend their music money :-)
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Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:44 am

Hi Ralph. Thanks for the warm welcome.

"...Leon Botstein is a true Renaissance scholar, a person whose prodigous academic output mirrors and complements his conducting."

I totally agree. The annual music festivals that he organizes at Bard are just another example of his formidable intellectual energy.

"But the simple fact is that most ASO Avery Fisher Hall concerts are not that well attended."

A pity that. The summer concerts at Bard fill the house, as did the recent performance of Copland's Appalachian Spring and Barber's Medea by the Martha Graham Dance Co. Then again I've seen a fair number of empty seats at NYPhil concerts.

"I think you sell the Philharmonic a bit short. Many new works are programmed but those "warhorses" do bring the patrons in and one reason is that the music is often beautiful and superbly performed."

No question about the musicianship of the NYPhil, which is unassailably high these days. Bychkov/NYP's rendition this season of the Shostakovich 7th was outstanding. But sometimes they can get a little too stuck on familiar-name programming. Their concert this past season of Mendelssohn's Midsummer N's D with interspersed readings from Shakespeare was a bit long winded. So was their presentation of a huge Berlioz's choral work (Damnation of Faust). Would the patrons have really stayed away had a Berwald or Atterberg or Nystroem symphony been inserted into the program (just to name a few Swedes)?

Louis

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:50 am

Louis wrote:No question about the musicianship of the NYPhil, which is unassailably high these days. Bychkov/NYP's rendition this season of the Shostakovich 7th was outstanding. But sometimes they can get a little too stuck on familiar-name programming. Their concert this past season of Mendelssohn's Midsummer N's D with interspersed readings from Shakespeare was a bit long winded. So was their presentation of a huge Berlioz's choral work (Damnation of Faust). Would the patrons have really stayed away had a Berwald or Atterberg or Nystroem symphony been inserted into the program (just to name a few Swedes)?
If they can manage to make such a well-written score as La damnation de Faust seem "long-winded," I'm afraid the alleged heights of their musicianship are eminently assailable.
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Unexplored Territory

Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:09 am

Corlyss_D wrote:People put way too much emphasis on being original, novel, and trendy. The past has much unexplored territory, more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal.
One does not have to look too far into the past to find underexplored territory that meets the standards that you mention. What about the music of Rangstrom or Wiren or Fernstroem? (must be in the mood for Swedish pickings today)
Corlyss_D wrote: I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
But the 20th C is far more inclusive than the likes of Glass or Reich. When you say, "gimme the past", how far into the past do you mean? Is the Prokofiev 5th, 1944, or the Vaughan Williams 9th, 1958, not sufficiently distant or appealing?

Louis

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:19 am

Louis wrote:Hi Ralph. Thanks for the warm welcome.

"...Leon Botstein is a true Renaissance scholar, a person whose prodigous academic output mirrors and complements his conducting."

I totally agree. The annual music festivals that he organizes at Bard are just another example of his formidable intellectual energy.

*****Yes, but just what else is there to do up there except watch the grass grow?

"But the simple fact is that most ASO Avery Fisher Hall concerts are not that well attended."

A pity that. The summer concerts at Bard fill the house, as did the recent performance of Copland's Appalachian Spring and Barber's Medea by the Martha Graham Dance Co. Then again I've seen a fair number of empty seats at NYPhil concerts.

"I think you sell the Philharmonic a bit short. Many new works are programmed but those "warhorses" do bring the patrons in and one reason is that the music is often beautiful and superbly performed."

No question about the musicianship of the NYPhil, which is unassailably high these days. Bychkov/NYP's rendition this season of the Shostakovich 7th was outstanding. But sometimes they can get a little too stuck on familiar-name programming. Their concert this past season of Mendelssohn's Midsummer N's D with interspersed readings from Shakespeare was a bit long winded. So was their presentation of a huge Berlioz's choral work (Damnation of Faust). Would the patrons have really stayed away had a Berwald or Atterberg or Nystroem symphony been inserted into the program (just to name a few Swedes)?

*****I was at the Leningrad 7th, a favorite symphony of mine. Great performance. Berwald and Atterberg would have been well-received, embarrassed to admit I'm not familiar with Nystroem. But there are economic realities. People buy tickets for music they think they want to hear and/or to hear famous soloists.

I've had my two-seat subscription to the NYP for decades and I attend most of their concerts beyond the seven-performance series. As I reported before you joined us, Louis, this past year I've been deluged with e-mail offers for half-price tickets to a number of concerts. They're doing this because programming aside commitment to a full series a year in advance just isn't that popular any more. The nature and challenge of filling big venues today is very real and I can't blame programmers working together with numbers crunchers for avoiding self-inflicted wounds.


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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:22 am

Ralph wrote:*****Yes, but just what else is there to do up there except watch the grass grow?
I can respect Botstein's scholarship, but that of itself will not make him a great conductor, of course.
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Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:26 am

MartinPh wrote: Looking at the population as a whole, over the last two centuries classical music has been of interest only to a very small percentage of it.
A pity indeed. But in an age of mass media saturation the opposite should be happening. The media have to start playing a more significant role in promoting classical music, bringing it to a younger audience. Lenny, where are you when we need you? Time-Warner happens to be a generous supporter of the NYPhil. Wouldn't you think their cable programming would include more Bach & Bartok?
MartinPh wrote: That experimentalist modern compositions are also scaring committed serious music audiences out of the concert hall, is another problem. Though I find that many atonal pieces appeal to me, I have no patience at all with pieces that are based solely on esoteric mathematical principles...
Totally agree. Whoever's putting that sort of music on the program for general consumption is certainly in the wrong business. Going from the general to the specific, I've always felt that the Piston symphonies would be an ideal place to start in returning serious American music to a position of acceptance the concert hall. Attractive, melodic, clear lines and classical forms, emotional depth... how can such repertoire lose? Now, who's got the guts to put it on their program?

Louis

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:31 am

karlhenning wrote:
Ralph wrote:*****Yes, but just what else is there to do up there except watch the grass grow?
I can respect Botstein's scholarship, but that of itself will not make him a great conductor, of course.
*****

I don't know whether he can be a "great" conductor. Here, his American Symphony Orchestra concerts are all one-off, just one performance, which means relatively little rehearsal time and no chance to patch up mistakes through multiple concerts.

I'd be interested in hearing how he does with the Jerusalem Symphony of which is is the conductor. They perform a regular season to which he devotes a number of weeks.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:49 am

Louis wrote:
MartinPh wrote: That experimentalist modern compositions are also scaring committed serious music audiences out of the concert hall, is another problem. Though I find that many atonal pieces appeal to me, I have no patience at all with pieces that are based solely on esoteric mathematical principles...
Totally agree. Whoever's putting that sort of music on the program for general consumption is certainly in the wrong business.
Paging James Levine ....

What surprises me, as sort of a sustained pastime, is when the people who to all appearances seek to be more sophisticated, better-discerning patrons of the arts, paint with such distressingly broad brushstrokes.

Can Martin or Louis please advise me as to which specific pieces programmed by a major US orchestra in the past year "are based solely on esoteric mathematical principles"?

Just a short specific answer will be fine. Don't be shy.

Look, guys, we would not, in the 21st century, have any respect for Beethoven of the early 19th century, if he had only warmed over the music of the past. Great artists throughout history, of their nature, often go places which the audiences of their day don't find nice comfy places.

We all agree that this was overdone in the second half of the 20th century; but that overdoing does not now mean that great artistry in music composition is going to consist of just reproducing some illusory golden age of the past.

I have seen the future of music; and its name is not Vaughan Williams re-hash.

[And, leave us say again for the record, I am a composer who loves the literature dearly.]
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Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 6:53 am

Louis: I totally agree. The annual music festivals that he organizes at Bard are just another example of his formidable intellectual energy.

Ralph: Yes, but just what else is there to do up there except watch the grass grow?

Louis: I've always enjoyed the shops and restaurants in nearby Rhinebeck, as well as the independent offerings at the Rhinebeck Cinema. Then there's a stroll around the Bard campus. All that will cover one or two afternoons!

Ralph: I was at the Leningrad 7th, a favorite symphony of mine. Great performance. Berwald and Atterberg would have been well-received, embarrassed to admit I'm not familiar with Nystroem. But there are economic realities. People buy tickets for music they think they want to hear and/or to hear famous soloists.

Louis: My idea is that sticking in a Berwald or Nystroem piece or the like now and then will have the effect of opening up new corridors of repertroire acceptability. Audiences may be responding to top-40 programming for the very reason that they've been conditioned to do so by the limited choices they've been offered. I rather think that widening the choices, gradually, is the way to go to keep the concert hall and the art form relevant and more broadly appealing.

Ralph: ... The nature and challenge of filling big venues today is very real and I can't blame programmers working together with numbers crunchers for avoiding self-inflicted wounds. [/b]

Louis: Gotcha. But if you've ever been to one of the summer NYPhil concerts in the park, you find the audience responding with incredible enthusiasm. By and large these are folks who applaud between movements and who have very limited experiences in the concert hall. I don't mean to criticize, just to point out that here is a collection of potential new classical customers. I think the NYPhil promo department needs to exercise a little more creativity in tapping into that enthusiasm. Once again, mass media and a set of charismatic presentations of the likes Lenny used to give would have substantial impact. Orchestras are resorting to the same old promotionsl tactics, mainly thru brochures and mailings, while they seem to be ignoring the profoundly influential impact of TV and radio.

Louis

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:02 am

If Louis or Martin can trot forward even one instance of a US orchestra programing music this past season which is "based solely on esoteric mathematical principles", I should be impressed.

But then the question is, what is the supposed overawing power of this one bad egg, that it rots the whole barrel?
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:25 am

And, for the record ... when Bach writes a piece which is exactly 41 measures long, and has a structural "seam" at measure 14, is that esoteric mathematical principle? Or when Bartók makes use of the proportion known as the Golden Section?
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broad brushstrokes

Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:34 am

karlhenning wrote:
What surprises me... is when the people who...paint with such distressingly broad brushstrokes.
...

Look, guys, we would not, in the 21st century, have any respect for Beethoven of the early 19th century, if he had only warmed over the music of the past...

We all agree that this was overdone in the second half of the 20th century...

I have seen the future of music; and its name is not Vaughan Williams re-hash.
You seem to paint, with rather broad brushstrokes yourself, a picture of 20th Century music as consisting either of excessive experimentation or of "warmed over" rehashings of the past. I feel that there's a lot of great music in that time frame that fits into neither category. Getting to specifics, I'm curious as to which composers or compositions of the past half century or so you do have high regard for. Is VW one of them? And who are the VW rehashers?

Louis

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Re: broad brushstrokes

Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 8:08 am

Louis wrote:You seem to paint, with rather broad brushstrokes yourself, a picture of 20th Century music as consisting either of excessive experimentation or of "warmed over" rehashings of the past. I feel that there's a lot of great music in that time frame that fits into neither category. Getting to specifics, I'm curious as to which composers or compositions of the past half century or so you do have high regard for.
Very well, I'll trade you 15 specific compositions I have high regard for, for a single evil esoteric mathematical composition :-)
Louis wrote:And who are the VW rehashers?
Heaven keep them far from us! My remark was general, and not disrespectful of Vaughan Williams

And I have reconsidered; 15 were too niggardly.

I give you 22.

Since 1955:
  • Shostakovich, Cello Concerto No. 2
    Shostakovich, Symphony No. 14
    Shostakovich, Symphony No. 15
    Shostakovich, Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarotti
    Shostakovich, Sonata for Viola and Piano
    Stravinsky, Agon (finished in 1957)
    Stravinsky, Movements for Piano and Orchestra
    Carter, Double Concerto for Harpsichord, Piano and Two Chamber Orchestras
    Pärt, Passio
    Reich, The Desert Music
    Boulez, Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna
    Wuorinen, Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky
    Wuorinen, Third Piano Concerto
    Wuorinen, Fourth Piano Concerto
    Wuorinen, Genesis
    Wuorinen, Mass for the Restoration of St Luke's
    Wuorinen, Piano Quintet
    Louis Andriessen, Hoketus
    Don Erb, Ritual Observances
    Judith Shatin, Ignoto Numine
    Ivan Moody, Akáthistos Hymn
    Moody, Passion and Resurrection
Omission from that list is not necessarily significant; those were the first 22 pieces which came to mind, as musically noteworthy pieces — pieces which I enjoy listening to — which were written within the past 50 years.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 8:18 am

Darn it, in haste let me add:
  • Rautavaara, Vigilia
    Giorgio Koukl, Piano Quintet
    Koukl, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
    György Selmeczi, String Quartet No. 1
    Selmeczi, String Quartet No. 2
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 8:46 am

Mind you, those 27 pieces I held to the relatively high threshold of "works I eagerly re-listen to."

There are a great many pieces from the past 50 years with which I have some question (and, in fairness, my entertaining the question means I must wait upon the answer), but which I gladly assent are worthwhile listening to, and having an orchestra perform them.

I'll give you 15 of these:
  • Penderecki, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
    John Adams, Grand Pianola Music
    Adams, Naive and Sentimental Music
    Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
    Carter, Symphonia Sum fluxae pretium spei
    Carter, Boston Concerto
    Yehudi Wyner, Chiavi in mano
    Wuorinen, Archaeopteryx
    Harbison, Darkbloom Overture
    Harbison, Oboe Concerto
    Birtwistle, Shadow of Night
    Peter Maxwell Davies, Miss Donnithorne's Maggot
    Ligeti, Atmospheres
    Pärt, Tabula rasa
    Boulez, Pli selon pli
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Re: broad brushstrokes

Post by Louis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 9:19 am

karlhenning wrote:
Very well, I'll trade you 15 specific compositions I have high regard for, for a single evil esoteric mathematical composition :-)
Thank you, Karl, I enjoyed perusing. Impressive list with many items to add to the listening list (though I wasn't the one who mentioened mathematical compositions -- not much of a Xenakis fan). Not so sure than many works on your list would be prime candidates for the purpose of audience fetching & holding.

And here goes a partial list of my own... Fwiw, I'd replace the Shostakovich viola with his violin sonata; and replace the Michelangelo suite with DS's vocal masterpiece, imho, the 7 Blok Romances. I'd also add a few symphonies of Vagn Holmboe; Messiaen's Transfiguration of Our Lord; Dutilleux's Second; Ben Lee's 5th; Tishchenko's Vn Cto #2 and Fourth Symphony; Leifs' Saga Sym #1; Kokkonen's 3rd; Sviridov's Poem in Memory of Sergei Esenin; Kabelac's Mystery of Time; Frankel's Violin Concerto; Rubbra's 7th; Rawsthorne's Third; etc. etc.

Louis

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Post by markhedm » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:14 am

This discussion of mathematical proportion brings back memories. I recall a college music theory lecture. The professor spent the whole class time in illustrating the use of the Fibinacci series and the golden section in music. I recall Bartok being used, but I can't remember which piece. He also spent much time on Wagner's Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, and found the golden section there too. He further proved how the shape of this Prelude matched the shape of the sexual rise and fall, peaking at orgasm. I kid you not. A highlight of my college career.

Mark H.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:32 am

Ralph wrote:So we're in agreement once more. :)
8) :wink:
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Post by markhedm » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:34 am

The correct spelling is Fibonacci.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:38 am

The whole "math issue" is irrelevant. The music works, or it doesn't work (and people in the audience may or may not comprehend it at first). If the music works, none of the theory, math, compositional guts — none of that matters. If the music doesn't work, trotting out its compositional guts isn't going to redeem it.

But if an auditor doesn't grasp a piece on first listening, and also takes a dislike to the piece (in spite of not understanding it ... the fair and sensible man owns that he cannot properly dislike music which he doesn't understand, let alone automatically dislike music which he doesn't understand) ... then if there are program notes which hint at some math, that becomes the occasion ....
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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:51 am

karlhenning wrote:But leave us not forget that no artist achieved greatness just by regurgitating the past.
None of them got there by totally rejecting or denying it either.
The question of beauty in music is much less simple than "tonal = beautiful / not tonal = not beautiful"
If I'd said that, I might agree. I love dissonance effectively integrated. Without it, tonal music would not have progressed beyond plainsong. I said tonal. I meant tonal.
Wuorinen wrote:As normally used, ["tonal" is] a pseudo-technical term for familiar.
Believe me I know the difference. Tonal is a technical term for music that is based on the traditional major or minor scales; the entire system of all the major and minor keys. As I have said here before, the system is hardwired to human nervous systems and that's why it satisfies us. Dick with the principle at your own risk. If upon risking it you find that people think it's ugly and they don't want to hear it, don't blame the audience.
Who says the Glass and Reich are the world's only two living composers? Or that what they are doing is necessarily "the state of the art"?
Merely representative examples of the trend since Beethoven: writhe and agonize over a handful of works, make sure people understand how difficult it is for you to produce even those few no matter how unappealing, claim to be in the vanguard or at least a misunderstood artist suffering for your art, and teach to put bread on the table.
Don't go by where the Dutch spend their music money :-)
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jul 20, 2005 10:54 am

karlhenning wrote:If they can manage to make such a well-written score as La damnation de Faust seem "long-winded," I'm afraid the alleged heights of their musicianship are eminently assailable.
? Berlioz is notoriously longwinded and boring in many places. If he said things in half the time and with half the resources, he'd be a lot less neglected. He makes Wagner seem pithy and cogent many times, and that's a feat in itself.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 11:30 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:But leave us not forget that no artist achieved greatness just by regurgitating the past.
None of them got there by totally rejecting or denying it either.
Which what composers, exactly, have done?
Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:The question of beauty in music is much less simple than "tonal = beautiful / not tonal = not beautiful"
If I'd said that, I might agree ....
What you said was:
Corlyss_D wrote:... more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal.
... which seemed, essentially, an equation.
Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
Wuorinen wrote:As normally used, ["tonal" is] a pseudo-technical term for familiar.
Believe me I know the difference. Tonal is a technical term for music that is based on the traditional major or minor scales; the entire system of all the major and minor keys.
Then plainchant, which is modal and long predates the major/minor system, is not tonal?

Folk music in those many parts of the world where the major/minor system is not part of the tradition, not tonal?

"Tonality" is bigger than the major/minor system. It's only that the major/minor system is what most of us in the West are most familiar with (see Wuorinen's quote, above).
Corlyss_D wrote:As I have said here before, the system is hardwired to human nervous systems and that's why it satisfies us.
I missed the memo. Publication, please?

As I have said here before, claims that any one means of organizing pitch is "hardwired to human nervous systems" are problematic at best. But if there is a paper out there which makes it plain to the meanest intelligence, I should read it with great interest.
Corlyss_D wrote:If upon risking it you find that people think it's ugly and they don't want to hear it, don't blame the audience.
And if, when they hear it, there are people who find it beautiful despite its unseemly deviation from the sacrosanct major/minor system ... why, I won't blame the audience or composer either :-)
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 11:32 am

"Berlioz is notoriously longwinded and boring in many places" is a rich amalgam of hearsay, opinion, and vagueness.
Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:If they can manage to make such a well-written score as La damnation de Faust seem "long-winded," I'm afraid the alleged heights of their musicianship are eminently assailable.
? Berlioz is notoriously longwinded and boring in many places. If he said things in half the time and with half the resources, he'd be a lot less neglected. He makes Wagner seem pithy and cogent many times, and that's a feat in itself.
And you last heard La damnation de Faust in its entirety ... when?
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 11:45 am

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss wrote:
karlhenning wrote:But leave us not forget that no artist achieved greatness just by regurgitating the past.
None of them got there by totally rejecting or denying it either.
Which what composers, exactly, have done?
Remember that the thought on the table is the cavalier dismissal of all composers now at work, as inherently ineligible for greatness by supposed virtue of "totally rejecting or denying" the past.

So we want the names of 25 composers working today, who will never be great, naturally, who have "totally rejected and denied" the past.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 20, 2005 12:04 pm

Ties in with some of the discussion of the Miles Hoffman article:
karlhenning wrote:
Miles Hoffman wrote:Let me emphasize immediately that the pleasing qualities of consonant chords and intervals, and the power of tonal relationships in general, are not arbitrary constructs. They were determined empirically, over the course of centuries.
Now it must be time for the deconstruction equipment. These ‘pleasing qualities’ are not arbitrary, in the sense of ‘capricious’; but perhaps they are indeed arbitrary, in the sense that they don’t have the absolute, externally definable value of, say, the length of a meter. Miles overstates the res considerably, in his arbitrary emphasis that there is empirical determination underpinning all this.

Clearly, music is the art which makes use of sound; and sound has some properties which can be observed objectively. And the exploration of how these natural-science acoustical facts, intersect with the abstract constructs of music, is an admittedly fascinating pursuit. But I don't know that it really proves one thing rather than another, in terms of aesthetics.
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Post by herman » Wed Jul 20, 2005 2:48 pm

Great you're having such a wonderful conversation with yourself, Karl - four posts in a row.

So pardon me for the interruption.

I didn't quite understand this, particularly in a context of conservative / progressive concert programming
karlhenning wrote:Don't go by where the Dutch spend their music money :-)

MahlerSnob
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Post by MahlerSnob » Wed Jul 20, 2005 9:09 pm

People put way too much emphasis on being original, novel, and trendy. The past has much unexplored territory, more beautiful than modern classical compositions almost by definition since they will be recognizably tonal. I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
I think all this proves is that you have little or no awareness of the musical world around you. Minimalism is all but dead. It's been dying for 15 years now. I've heard John Adams himself say this. If you want an accurate picture of what composers today are writing, listen to works by the following:
John Harbison
Michael Gandolfi
Christopher Rouse
Rober Beaser
Jennifer Higdon
Chris Theofandis
John Adams
Aaron Jay Kernis
Eric Whitacre
Augusta Reed Thomas
Lee Hyla
Richard Danielpour

There's 12 and that's just the Americans that come to mind immediately.
-Nathan Lofton
Boston, MA

WWBD - What Would Bach Do?

karlhenning
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Jul 21, 2005 5:47 am

MahlerSnob wrote:
... I don't see how one can look at the constipated output of the likes of Glass and Reich and others and say we are in a Golden Age of Composition. If that's all I have to "look forward to" in the future, gimme the past any day.
I think all this proves is that you have little or no awareness of the musical world around you. Minimalism is all but dead. It's been dying for 15 years now.
But then, the Generic Nostalgic Rant is so much better served by exaggerating one narrow band of current music, no matter that it's no fresher than 15 years :-)
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
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