Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Your 'hot spot' for all classical music subjects. Non-classical music subjects are to be posted in the Corner Pub.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
lennygoran
Posts: 15470
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by lennygoran » Sat Dec 07, 2019 9:54 am

Image

Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?



By Anthony Tommasini

Dec. 6, 2019

After Anthony Tommasini faulted the conductor Philippe Jordan in a review for leading a program of repertory staples — including Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony — with the New York Philharmonic in late October, a reader wrote Mr. Tommasini an email with his vehement disagreement. It led to a lively exchange between the two about what classical music audiences really want. The following correspondence has been edited and condensed.

A READER WRITES:

You take a swipe at Mr. Jordan for “playing it safe.” I am a subscriber to the Philharmonic and I have listened, usually painfully, to cutting edge or obscure compositions that you wish he had added to the program. As you are a critic, you view and listen to performances through a very different lens than those who want to be soothed and enthralled after a long day of tedium. The last thing I want is Philip Glass, obscure Swiss music, or anything that doesn’t sparkle like crystal. I avoid the type of music that you try promote and while this is indeed a “safe” program, I have been looking forward to the evening for weeks. — RANDEL COLE

A CRITIC RESPONDS:

I appreciate hearing from readers, especially those who love music as much as you clearly do. But I do think it’s a problem for classical music when major conductors like Mr. Jordan play it “safe.”

It’s certainly true that as a critic, I may have approached this program with a “different lens,” as you put it. But when you state that you want to be “soothed and enthralled” after a long day of tedium, I have to say that Beethoven would be perturbed by the idea that anyone would find his Seventh Symphony soothing, or even enthralling. He had something greater and more disruptive in mind. Beethoven was writing the “cutting edge,” to use your term, works of his day — pushing boundaries, trying to shake up listeners and devise entirely new ways to conceive a symphony. You might be amazed to see the number of uncomprehending reviews his symphonies received when they were new. One London critic, 12 years after the premiere of the Seventh Symphony, could still not “discover any design in it” and concluded that the piece might be some kind of “hoax.”


I prefer performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony that somehow convey to listeners how extreme, how radical the piece was when new and in many ways remains. The best way to make that case, without resorting to any kind of manipulated interpretation, is to perform it alongside contemporary works so that the old and new music can engage in a back and forth. This is the approach taken in countless museum exhibitions. Why can’t classical concerts emulate this?

Also, if you resist contemporary music, do you also resist contemporary theater, dance, art, novels? I bet not. Why should the field of classical music be singularly called upon to hew to the classics?



Beethoven had to fight constantly the entrenched forces of music, all those promoters and patrons and performers who resisted new, challenging work. If classical music is going to have a future as well as a history then music-lovers and major institutions must foster new work. As a critic, I have a role to play in this effort. — ANTHONY TOMMASINI

A READER CONCLUDES:

Yes, Beethoven once was indeed radical, and, back in his day, it would have been heresy to refer to his work as “soothing or enthralling.” However, 207 years have passed since his Seventh Symphony was completed. Is it not now considered to be mainstream, or am I guilty of elitism? No matter, as I agree with you that “soothing” is not the appropriate adjective to describe the Seventh — unless you compare it to the new, atonal, discordant compositions that often begin many of the Philharmonic performances.

I appreciated the juxtaposition of new and old that make up the evening performance, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite, nor do I consider an evening without it to be pandering. Sometimes it’s O.K. to simply listen to the Beatles without comparing them to the Rolling Stones.


As to the new classical music being produced … it’s a matter of taste I suppose, but is not music primarily meant to delight and be embraceable? Sadly, much is either too intellectual, unpleasant to the ear, boring or repetitive — if I am permitted to generalize.

Good luck, be well, and think of people like me every so often in your reviews, please. — RANDEL COLE



https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/arts ... ritic.html

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:48 am

Good response from the reader, IMHO.

Too often, Noise is programmed next to standard repertoire, alienating those who come to hear works that please the ear. Personally, I am not against new music, but it must be MUSIC, with harmony, rhythm, and development leading to a satisfying conclusion. Nowadays, audience members have a choice in how they listen to music, with the proliferation of CDs and online viewing. Many are staying home. New Noise has, I feel, driven away many who prefer to not sit through an aurally repulsive experience just to get to the real point of the concert, which might be Beethoven VII or even Prokofiev V. Yes, I know that New Music helps pay the expenses of mounting the concert, but why antagonize your audience? Copland didn't do that. Neither does John Adams.

I am NOT saying that we as audience members shouldn't challenge ourselves, but please, composers, write so that we can be MOVED and ENTHRALLED, as well as intellectually stimulated, not just blasted with a wall of dissonance after dissonance. Composers who write just to please themselves and a small audience of cognoscenti are doing a disservice to classical music. We have reached a point in musical development when all tools are available, from 12-tone to baroque ornamentation, so why not use them to write music that shows beauty and emotion?

barney
Posts: 3751
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by barney » Sat Dec 07, 2019 5:52 pm

I went to a concert last week that was entirely new music. It had two world premieres and two Australian premieres. One work was semi-new - an early minimalist piece by Steve Reich. It was gratifying that the hall was full - a chamber hall, seating about 1000, rather than the main concert hall. Also the audience was quite young, with many children also there. I liked two of the pieces particularly, both by women, but the more overtly minimalist works probably won't attract me if they come out on CD.
The review which names the works:

In one of the most glamorous concerts of the year, the Australian Chamber Orchestra played two world premieres, another two Australian premieres, and Duet, a noted work by minimalist founding father Steve Reich.
The main attraction was New York composer Nico Muhly’s new violin concerto, Shrink, commissioned by the ACO and Melbourne Recital Centre for the soloist Pekka Kuusisto. It received its first performance, as did a short violin duet by Muhly associate Alex Mills. The Australian firsts were a quartet by another rising US composer, Missy Mazzoli, arranged for expanded forces, and the stunningly evocative Birds of Paradise by Sweden’s Andrea Tarrodi.
Each work served to emphasise what a brilliant virtuoso orchestra the ACO is, with extraordinary technical finesse and almost miraculous ensemble, playing without a conductor but breathing as one and mastering a vast variety of challenges.
Shrink was Muhly’s third world premiere in Australia this year, following two smaller commissions. The prolific composer, 38, equally at home at the Metropolitan Opera or with indie rock, has had a long collaboration and friendship with Kuusisto, who met the concerto’s ferocious demands with relish.
The first movement, built around ninths, required exuberance and vitality; the second, focusing on sixths, was ethereal and resonant, while the last movement, built on thirds, saw Kuusisto in frantic perpetual motion.
The Mills violin duet, pairing Kuusisto and ACO member Liisa Pallandi used dissonance, harmony, and textural variety, often exploring the edge of the note. It also reminded that with minimalism a little idea often has to travel a long way. Mazzoli’s richly textured work was deeply satisfying.
A glitch meant no programs till interval, a serious failure with works few in the audience could know.

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Sat Dec 07, 2019 6:26 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:48 am
Good response from the reader, IMHO.

Too often, Noise is programmed next to standard repertoire, alienating those who come to hear works that please the ear. Personally, I am not against new music, but it must be MUSIC, with harmony, rhythm, and development leading to a satisfying conclusion. Nowadays, audience members have a choice in how they listen to music, with the proliferation of CDs and online viewing. Many are staying home. New Noise has, I feel, driven away many who prefer to not sit through an aurally repulsive experience just to get to the real point of the concert, which might be Beethoven VII or even Prokofiev V. Yes, I know that New Music helps pay the expenses of mounting the concert, but why antagonize your audience? Copland didn't do that. Neither does John Adams.

I am NOT saying that we as audience members shouldn't challenge ourselves, but please, composers, write so that we can be MOVED and ENTHRALLED, as well as intellectually stimulated, not just blasted with a wall of dissonance after dissonance. Composers who write just to please themselves and a small audience of cognoscenti are doing a disservice to classical music. We have reached a point in musical development when all tools are available, from 12-tone to baroque ornamentation, so why not use them to write music that shows beauty and emotion?
Completely agree with this. I think so much music that passes for 'contemporary' is actually film atmospherics and sonic art. Ideal as a complement to film narrative, but as stand-alone in the concert hall I don't think it works at all. The "Clocks without Hands" that I wrote about elsewhere struck me (sorry about the pun) as working more effectively in fantasy cinema for children, where additional narrative elements could give it shape and meaning. For me it was essentially an example of what can be achieved with a first class symphony orchestra but it held no other fascination apart from that. On the odd occasions when I've heard contemporary music in the concert hall I've thought to myself, "wash, rinse, repeat".

There are undoubtedly some fine composers of our age, but they need to be getting more of a hearing.

lennygoran
Posts: 15470
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by lennygoran » Sat Dec 07, 2019 7:59 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:48 am
Good response from the reader, IMHO.
Brian I was pleased that he was given the last word on the discussion-this makes it look like Tommasini was very fair. Regards, Len

Lance
Site Administrator
Posts: 18377
Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 1:27 am
Location: Binghamton, New York
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Lance » Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:57 pm

In my area, we have a fine philharmonic orchestra. When I go to these concerts, they are mostly grey haired attendees, which seem to be thinning out with each passing year. I see some young people, but the audiences are generally smaller. I remember one concert in particular where comments were made by the grey haired folks that they were not going to continue to subscribe to the series for the simple reason they wanted the "safe" programs, not the noise. And they kept to their word. I did not see these people again. Before that when I was writing the notes for the program book, I noted one piece on the program I knew nothing about: John Adams' "Chairman Dances." I had no recording of it, but acquired EMI 55051, which contained not only Chairman Dances, but Harmonielehre, Tromba Lontana, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Sir Simon Rattle was the conductor, and I was positively entranced; it was certainly not "noise.". And the conductor of our philharmonic was careful to program the Chairman Dances amongst other "safe" repertoire to give the audience a taste - just a taste - of contemporary music. They loved it. And it opened some "new" music for me as well.
maestrob wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:48 am
Good response from the reader, IMHO.

Too often, Noise is programmed next to standard repertoire, alienating those who come to hear works that please the ear. Personally, I am not against new music, but it must be MUSIC, with harmony, rhythm, and development leading to a satisfying conclusion. Nowadays, audience members have a choice in how they listen to music, with the proliferation of CDs and online viewing. Many are staying home. New Noise has, I feel, driven away many who prefer to not sit through an aurally repulsive experience just to get to the real point of the concert, which might be Beethoven VII or even Prokofiev V. Yes, I know that New Music helps pay the expenses of mounting the concert, but why antagonize your audience? Copland didn't do that. Neither does John Adams.

I am NOT saying that we as audience members shouldn't challenge ourselves, but please, composers, write so that we can be MOVED and ENTHRALLED, as well as intellectually stimulated, not just blasted with a wall of dissonance after dissonance. Composers who write just to please themselves and a small audience of cognoscenti are doing a disservice to classical music. We have reached a point in musical development when all tools are available, from 12-tone to baroque ornamentation, so why not use them to write music that shows beauty and emotion?
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

Image

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Sun Dec 08, 2019 11:32 am

Lance, I've been recommending the Simon Rattle/John Adams recording you mention for some years now, and I agree it is certainly NOT noise but is hugely challenging yet accessible. Great music needs to be like this, and hopefully is still being composed, but I'm not hearing about it.

Thank you, Barney for that review. Steve Reich writes quite hypnotic pieces, yet he is very much a composer of the late XXth century. I'm glad you enjoyed that concert: I probably would have as well. More events like that need to happen!

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Sun Dec 08, 2019 11:34 am

lennygoran wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 7:59 pm
maestrob wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 11:48 am
Good response from the reader, IMHO.
Brian I was pleased that he was given the last word on the discussion-this makes it look like Tommasini was very fair. Regards, Len
Yes, I noticed that! :D

barney
Posts: 3751
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by barney » Sun Dec 08, 2019 5:18 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sun Dec 08, 2019 11:32 am
Lance, I've been recommending the Simon Rattle/John Adams recording you mention for some years now, and I agree it is certainly NOT noise but is hugely challenging yet accessible. Great music needs to be like this, and hopefully is still being composed, but I'm not hearing about it.

Thank you, Barney for that review. Steve Reich writes quite hypnotic pieces, yet he is very much a composer of the late XXth century. I'm glad you enjoyed that concert: I probably would have as well. More events like that need to happen!
I agree. My reaction to Reich varies. As I've said before, I thought Different Trains was astounding, but Drumming leaves me cold. But I certainly think it is good for me not to become fossilized, even though I will always prefer the repertoire in which I am most comfortable (perhaps not surprisingly :D).

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Mon Dec 09, 2019 10:19 am

I've said it before, but anyone who says all 20th century and contemporary music is noise, is quite simply wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

There's a wealth of wonderful, substantial and thoroughly listenable music out there by composers such as Christopher Rouse, Michael Torke, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Gavin Bryars, Marc Anthony Turnage, Robert Paterson. Really, this is a golden age for composition, but you'd never know it by going to orchestral concerts where they just play the same old same old.

Art has to renew itself or else it dies. "Playing it safe" with nothing but the old standards leads to nothing other than the death of the art.

Someone in this discussion, possibly the letter-writer arguing with Tommassini, said that people who want to listen to new music should just listen to recordings and leave the concert hall for the "real music". It should be pointed out that music has to be performed before it can be recorded. Without performances of new music, there can never be recordings. On the other hand, there are thousands of recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies available and I would advise those who don't want to listen to new music in the concert hall to avail themselves of those recordings.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Mon Dec 09, 2019 10:42 am

Thanks, Mark, for your POV. We actually agree, but I would appreciate your posting some recordings you would recommend of current music on CD that would interest us. The names you mention are not unknown to me, but posting specific recordings would indeed be helpful. Given the plethora of names you mention, this thread could go on for a long time. I only ask, as I'm sure you remember, I am unable to attend concerts due to my sleep disorder, and I think such postings would benefit those who both participate and lurk here. Perhaps a few at a time, so we can discuss? Thanks......

Brian

absinthe
Posts: 3624
Joined: Tue Jun 26, 2007 3:13 pm
Location: UK

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by absinthe » Mon Dec 09, 2019 10:48 am

Tommasini is a critic, a cultural vampire. Say no more.

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Mon Dec 09, 2019 11:27 am

maestrob wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 10:42 am
Thanks, Mark, for your POV. We actually agree, but I would appreciate your posting some recordings you would recommend of current music on CD that would interest us.

Brian
Michael Torke -- Fiji

Here's my first sample. I really adore this piece. It may be my favorite piece of 21st century music. It took me several listenings to really appreciate it, because at first listening it just sounds like an all-day beach party, with bikini-clad girls playing volleyball in the sand (not a bad mental image, actually) that doesn't go anywhere. The more you listen to it the more you hear that it actually does go somewhere, within its self-imposed limitations. The main melodic line may appear as counterpoint later on, and vice-versa. I love the "second theme" that appears about 5 minutes in.(Somhow I can't embed the Youtube clip, so I've left a link)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGesimKbRUc
Last edited by diegobueno on Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Mon Dec 09, 2019 12:37 pm

Thanks Mark, that was truly excellent! More please! :D

I do hope others here are paying attention!

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Mon Dec 09, 2019 12:51 pm

Christopher Rouse's sumptuous Symphony no. 4 is dazzling and richly scored. The opening movement is some of the most upbeat music you'll hear from this composer. But he prefers dark moods and the symphony ends with a slow movement marked "Doloroso".



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKp9NaK ... rt_radio=1
Last edited by diegobueno on Mon Dec 09, 2019 7:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Mon Dec 09, 2019 1:23 pm

Thank-you, Mark! I'll listen to this tomorrow, as I have to sign off now. I must say that I enjoyed very much Torke's Color Music led by David Zinman.

Image

Beckmesser
Posts: 491
Joined: Sat Jan 19, 2008 12:11 pm
Location: Columbia/Westchester Counties NY

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Beckmesser » Mon Dec 09, 2019 1:37 pm

I can appreciate the argument that what we call "classical music" or "art music" needs to renew itself as an art form by the addition of new works to the repertoire. Sweeping generalizations that all "new" music is unlistenable, unintelligible noise are unfair, although I must confess that I have heard works that I would characterize as such.

If I have a bias against new music, my argument goes like this. Concert tickets are expensive. My wife and I don't buy the best seats in the house but the cost is usually around $80 (add $40 for parking if it's in New York City). The venues that we most commonly attend are at least a 40-minute drive each way. So attending a concert for us is a commitment of both time and money.

So how does that affect which concerts I choose to attend? I usually go to hear the music I love or to hear an artist who interests me. My choices aren't necessarily limited to the Top 40 Classical Favorites but it also means that I tend to ignore any new music that I have never heard unless it constitutes a small part of the program.

I imagine that many other members of the audience feel the same way.

That's probably why an orchestra's marketing department prefers conservative programming.

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:56 pm

This is my own personal prejudice: I don't pay big bucks to go to a concert and hear music I've heard a million times already, and which I could enjoy at home on CD, as performed by master musicians of far greater status than the one presently on stage.

But something like Robert Paterson's Enlightened City, I would make an effort to see, partly because I know him personally, partly because I enjoy his music and won't have an opportunity to hear it elsewhere.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9nExnmdM3o
Last edited by diegobueno on Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Mon Dec 09, 2019 4:34 pm

Beckmesser wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 1:37 pm
I can appreciate the argument that what we call "classical music" or "art music" needs to renew itself as an art form by the addition of new works to the repertoire. Sweeping generalizations that all "new" music is unlistenable, unintelligible noise are unfair, although I must confess that I have heard works that I would characterize as such.

If I have a bias against new music, my argument goes like this. Concert tickets are expensive. My wife and I don't buy the best seats in the house but the cost is usually around $80 (add $40 for parking if it's in New York City). The venues that we most commonly attend are at least a 40-minute drive each way. So attending a concert for us is a commitment of both time and money.

So how does that affect which concerts I choose to attend? I usually go to hear the music I love or to hear an artist who interests me. My choices aren't necessarily limited to the Top 40 Classical Favorites but it also means that I tend to ignore any new music that I have never heard unless it constitutes a small part of the program.

I imagine that many other members of the audience feel the same way.

That's probably why an orchestra's marketing department prefers conservative programming.
Excellent comments. And I was very intrigued by diegobueno's comments about associating the piece he most admired (Fiji) with pictorial analogies!! It's a terrific piece, too, by the way.

While much contemporary music still seems to be finding its 'mojo', there will be heaps of potential landfill. I'm hoping others here can bring their preferred works via U-Tube and help us all in the listening experience. If there's something we haven't heard that's really good we need to know about it!! Some of the examples here are really very very good. I think music works best when composers are standing on the shoulders of giants AND bringing an original voice and concept bearing his/her own unique fingerprint. Didn't all the great composers struggle with that paradigm?

lennygoran
Posts: 15470
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by lennygoran » Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:37 am

Beckmesser wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 1:37 pm
I imagine that many other members of the audience feel the same way.
I'm even further away at 1hour and 45 minutes away-still I'm gonna start listenig to some of the works that have been brought up here! Regards, Len

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:52 am

Here's more Torke. One of his more recent works is Sky, a bluegrass concerto for violin. Here's the first movement



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KCvCcBDr6A
Last edited by diegobueno on Wed Dec 11, 2019 6:13 am, edited 2 times in total.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:01 pm

Diegobueno----

Listened to both the Rouse Symphony and the Paterson "Enlightened City." Both were excellent music, IMHO. The Rouse did get a little grim toward the end of the movement, but that's in keeping with the nature of the piece. Will listen to Sky tomorrow. Thanks very much for your contribution here. So far, all your recommendations are in my amazon cart, except for the Paterson, which is not issued on CD.

This conversation is very interesting to me and others here, I'm sure. It's very gratifying to have you aboard.

THEHORN
Posts: 2619
Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 8:57 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by THEHORN » Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:36 pm

If you compare the programming of the New York Philharmonic with many other US orchestras, they have actually been doing more new or recent works than most of them for decades .
They have performed new or recent works by Philip Glass, John Adams, Christopher Rouse,Thomas Ades, Henze, Tan Dun, Unsuk Chin , Kaaia Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Peter Lieberson , Osvaldo Golijov, the other John Adams with a different middle name, and so many other leading composers who are living or recently deceased . There are many other composers I can't recall right at the moment, too .
And they have also revived many long neglected by interesting works by a variety of composers , both lesser known ones and lesser known works of famous ones .
Yet they are always accused of "playing it safe " and performing only the same old same old . It's a knee jerk reaction among so many music critics .
Like orchestras in general, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't . No matter what the music director, guest conductors and administrative staff in charge of programming choose in any given season , someone will complain bitterly .
The NY Phil. either doesn't play enough new music or they program TOO MUCH new music .How can they be guilty of both ? Yet both accusations happen all the time .
Unfortunately, too many subscribers have closed minds and don't want to hear anything but their beloved repertoire staples by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov et al and they will automatically complain about any new work, even one written in a conservative tonal idiom .
Avant garde composers attack the orchestra for not performing enough thorny music by the likes of Carter, Babbitt, Wuorinen et al . But if they DO play anything by these so many in the audience will scream as if they were being tortured !
It's a no win situation . But new works MUST be performed whether people like it or not .

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:17 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:52 am
Here's more Torke. One of his more recent works is Sky, a bluegrass concerto for violin. Here's the first movement

Your links never appear on my computer. But as I answer this I see the address of the link - but only available in the "reply" function!!

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Wed Dec 11, 2019 11:19 am

Belle,

It would appear that your browser's security settings are blocking youtube for some reason. I can click on the embedded picture with the arrow in the center and the selection plays, but if I click on the link below, it doesn't play at all. I'm using Google Chrome. With Microsoft Outlook, the links do play when I click on them: perhaps that would be a better browser for you to use? :?

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Wed Dec 11, 2019 1:04 pm

Diegobueno---

The excerpt from "Sky" you posted was really quite original and enjoyable. Thanks! :) I feel like I'm being educated here, which is why I joined this excellent forum. Another CD to order for the Christmas stocking.

You've given me Torke and Rouse to explore, and I will look at Paterson as well. Any more you'd recommend? I'm finding this quite enjoyable, frankly, being able to pick your excellent brain.

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Wed Dec 11, 2019 1:32 pm

maestrob wrote:
Wed Dec 11, 2019 11:19 am
Belle,

It would appear that your browser's security settings are blocking youtube for some reason. I can click on the embedded picture with the arrow in the center and the selection plays, but if I click on the link below, it doesn't play at all. I'm using Google Chrome. With Microsoft Outlook, the links do play when I click on them: perhaps that would be a better browser for you to use? :?
Thanks. I've had a technician here within the last year about U-Tube issues and I've been having Hotmail problems too. I use Google Chrome; the technician re-installed everything but it didn't fix the CMG links problems. No idea at all about how to fix any of this myself.

Heck148
Posts: 3563
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2003 11:53 pm
Location: New England

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Dec 11, 2019 1:48 pm

THEHORN wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:36 pm
Like orchestras in general, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't . No matter what the music director, guest conductors and administrative staff in charge of programming choose in any given season , someone will complain bitterly .
The NY Phil. either doesn't play enough new music or they program TOO MUCH new music .How can they be guilty of both ? Yet both accusations happen all the time .
Unfortunately, too many subscribers have closed minds and don't want to hear anything but their beloved repertoire staples by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov et al and they will automatically complain about any new work, even one written in a conservative tonal idiom .
Avant garde composers attack the orchestra for not performing enough thorny music by the likes of Carter, Babbitt, Wuorinen et al . But if they DO play anything by these so many in the audience will scream as if they were being tortured !
It's a no win situation . But new works MUST be performed whether people like it or not
you are so right - programming is a constant challenge for orchestras and music directors....traditional audiences tend to be exceedingly conservative - they want the same old warhorses incessantly...but this kills the orchestra, and stifles any development of new music, even if the "new" music might be nearly a century old....
There is so much excellent, easily approachable 20th century music that should be presented, and of course, contemporary works as well...marketing the programs is a challenge, for sure....the old, familiar, the comfortable, with the unknown, the unfamiliar.....every orchestra is faced with this challenge.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Thu Dec 12, 2019 11:34 am

Heck148 wrote:
Wed Dec 11, 2019 1:48 pm
THEHORN wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:36 pm
Like orchestras in general, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't . No matter what the music director, guest conductors and administrative staff in charge of programming choose in any given season , someone will complain bitterly .
The NY Phil. either doesn't play enough new music or they program TOO MUCH new music .How can they be guilty of both ? Yet both accusations happen all the time .
Unfortunately, too many subscribers have closed minds and don't want to hear anything but their beloved repertoire staples by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov et al and they will automatically complain about any new work, even one written in a conservative tonal idiom .
Avant garde composers attack the orchestra for not performing enough thorny music by the likes of Carter, Babbitt, Wuorinen et al . But if they DO play anything by these so many in the audience will scream as if they were being tortured !
It's a no win situation . But new works MUST be performed whether people like it or not
you are so right - programming is a constant challenge for orchestras and music directors....traditional audiences tend to be exceedingly conservative - they want the same old warhorses incessantly...but this kills the orchestra, and stifles any development of new music, even if the "new" music might be nearly a century old....
There is so much excellent, easily approachable 20th century music that should be presented, and of course, contemporary works as well...marketing the programs is a challenge, for sure....the old, familiar, the comfortable, with the unknown, the unfamiliar.....every orchestra is faced with this challenge.
Hello, Heck 148!

The problem, as I see it, is that so much "music" written during the late XXth century was noise, and that gave "new music" a bad reputation with audiences looking for something different that they could still enjoy. A crowd of cognoscenti grew up around and promoted this unfortunate stuff, but perhaps now that movement is abating. Now we have composers like those posted by diegobueno above, who are new and exciting and eminently listenable, but they have a hard time fighting the perception that has dragged forward from the past century. AT any rate, I find Torke, Rouse and Paterson eminently listenable, and would appreciate any other recommendations here.

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Thu Dec 12, 2019 5:27 pm

Completely agree with these comments. What a pleasure to hear music of our time which connects us to our western musical tradition and speaks with an original voice.

The folks who hitched their wagons to the cacophonous noise of the XXth Century, which you describe, will be scrambling for relevance and credibility when audiences start to respond positively to the kind of contemporary music posted here. As Billy Wilder wrote "it's the pictures that got small"; a perfect metaphor.

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:57 pm

I can't say I agree with the characterization of 20th century High Modernism as "noise". But I can understand why composers today don't feel like that kind of music is a hill they're willing to die on. A lot of the composers I'm going to introduce here grew out of the minimalist movement. They feature the pulsing rhythms and patterns of the early minimalists, but not necessarily the literal repetition. Even the original minimalists themselves are abandoning literal repetition. John Adams' recent Sheherezade 2.0 abandons minimalism altogether. There's no trace of it left.

Michael Torke also grows out of the minimalist tree. Likewise the composer I'm going to talk about now: Marc Mellits. He was a classmate of Robert Paterson at Cornell University in the early 2000s, and he's now building up a reputation. I enjoy his music very much, especially since much of it is for winds. His pieces tend to consist of many short movements. Here is Splinter for reed quintet. The idea of a reed quintet is a new one. There are five players, but the instrumentation is more flexible than the traditional wind quintet. Splinter is scored for oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax and bassoon. The movements are titled after different types of trees
I. Scarlet Oak II. Sugar Maple III. Linden IV. Black Ash V. Cherry VI. River Birch VII. Weeping Willow VIII. Red Pine


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGTD15pWg-M

Ex Machina is a saxophone quartet -- yeah, I'm asking you to listen to saxophone music, ha ha! But these guys are such incredible players and I think you'll enjoy it. Listen to the veiled sound they make in the second movement, in contrast to the edgier sound of the opening. The movements are:
Machine I (let the funk out) Machine II (flowing) Machine III (not quite, but almost pensive; sunflowers in love) Machine IV (dancing a mean ghastly dance) Machine V (the morning after) Machine VI (flowing, lyrical, & songlike) Machine VII (aggressive and funky)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydU4UCB0kdQ

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:59 pm

I didn't say it was all noise; I was talking about those who hitched their wagon specifically TO noise!!

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Thu Dec 12, 2019 8:36 pm

By way of contrast, the music of the British composer Gavin Bryars tends to be slow in unfolding, and very lyrical. His Concerto for Double Bass, following the example of Busoni, features a male chorus in addition to the orchestra.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHAeakWz36A

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Fri Dec 13, 2019 10:52 am

Belle wrote:
Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:59 pm
I didn't say it was all noise; I was talking about those who hitched their wagon specifically TO noise!!
My position is that none of it is noise. It's all valid as music. Those who've hitched their wagons to it, do so because they enjoy listening to it. You don't have to like it or listen to it yourself. And I hope I may continue to post alternative musical experiences for you to try that offer a different way forward. They'll take the high modernist road, we'll take the low post-modernist road, but we'll be in Scotland afore them.

(something like that)

Belle
Posts: 2414
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 13, 2019 4:17 pm

Fair enough. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and I will listen to your links!!

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Sat Dec 14, 2019 11:22 am

Listening to Ex Machina through another window. I find the music of Splinter utterly listenable, while challenging. The bassoon is particularly well-recorded (attention Heck148!). Both pieces will bear repeated listening. While their minimalist roots are apparent, the development is never too tiring. Thanks, Mark! :D

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Sat Dec 14, 2019 11:29 am

diegobueno wrote:
Fri Dec 13, 2019 10:52 am
Belle wrote:
Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:59 pm
I didn't say it was all noise; I was talking about those who hitched their wagon specifically TO noise!!
My position is that none of it is noise. It's all valid as music. Those who've hitched their wagons to it, do so because they enjoy listening to it. You don't have to like it or listen to it yourself. And I hope I may continue to post alternative musical experiences for you to try that offer a different way forward. They'll take the high modernist road, we'll take the low post-modernist road, but we'll be in Scotland afore them.

(something like that)
You would say that, Mark, being a composer yourself, and I respect your point of view. I'm one of those who chooses not to listen. What you have been posting, however, is decidedly NOT noise, and therefore is worthy of my attention. Thanks for that!

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Sat Dec 14, 2019 1:26 pm

One set of works I've been concentrating on these past few months are the 10 string quartets of Ben Johnston. Written between 1959 and 1995, they embody styles which fall on both sides of the line Belle and Brian would call noise.

Nos. 2-10 employ microtones, dividing the octave into many tiny units, often determined by the difference between the natural intervals of the harmonic series and the tempered intervals of equal temperament. I put the 10 quartets into four groups:

1-3 reflect common influences of post-war modernism (Webern, Schoenberg)
4-5 are based on folk songs
6-7 represent hard-core application of his microtonal theory.
8-10 are neo-classical works with clear tonality and clear form.

I would urge Brian and Belle to steer clear of nos. 1-3 and 6-7.
I would urge them to give a good listen to nos. 4 and 8-10.
No. 4 is based on "Amazing Grace" and wrings some remarkable variations on the tune.
No. 5 is based on "Lonesome Valley" and the microtonal content makes for some gritty intervals.
no. 6-7, like I say, are hard-core. They're not for "sissy ears" (as Ives would put it), but I trust Johnston's judgment enough to see them through and have found them rewarding, even beautiful in places.
no. 8-10 are ingratiating works, even delightful in places. My favorite movements are the second movement of no. 9 and the fourth movement of no. 10.

Please give the last movement of no. 10 a listen, and be prepared to smile at the end.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9Itc_olvRU

Rach3
Posts: 1666
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by Rach3 » Sat Dec 14, 2019 3:08 pm

I can recommend Gavin Bryars’ Piano Concerto “Solway Canal” and Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto, both at YT,both composers mentioned in this thread.Music needs to communicate, not just be an exercise in self satisfaction by the composer, although many composers I’m sure would disagree and point out they have a right to compose what they want without considering needs of third party listeners.

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Mon Dec 16, 2019 12:54 pm

Just listened to the Bryars Double Bass Concerto, Mark. Thanks for posting. It's a wonderful elegy, reminding me of Myaskovsky's Cello Concerto. The male chorus adds a fine touch to the atmosphere. I'll be looking for his music on CD, also thanks to Rach3 for his recommendations as well.

diegobueno
Winds Specialist
Posts: 2488
Joined: Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:26 pm
Contact:

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by diegobueno » Thu Dec 19, 2019 3:51 pm

I think I should mention also Kevin Puts. I often think his music is a bit too much on the "nice" side. I wish it had more edge to it. But this Concerto for Marimba is an attractive work and it has enough to keep my interest.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlioHe_fJ-M

maestrob
Posts: 6727
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Is ‘Playing It Safe’ Bad for Classical Music?

Post by maestrob » Fri Dec 20, 2019 1:00 pm

Hello, Mark. :)

Am listening to the Kevin Puts Marimba Concerto, and finding it quite enjoyable, cadenza and all. Not a bad piece, but decidedly not as deep as Bryars or Rouse. The string quartet you posted was also interesting, and his use of Danny Boy in the finale reminded me of some of the tricks Charles Ives used to pull!

All in all, I'm enjoying this conversation! Your taste and mine seem to coincide, which is a good thing.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Majestic-12 [Bot] and 141 guests