So Maybe Jay Greenberg Should Go to Law School?

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Ralph
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So Maybe Jay Greenberg Should Go to Law School?

Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 24, 2007 12:09 pm

A quick symphony - then bed

Philip Hensher on the trouble with classical music and child prodigies
Philip Hensher
Wednesday January 24, 2007

Guardian
The London Symphony Orchestra is not best known for its interest in new music. So when the LSO records the Fifth Symphony of a contemporary composer, you would be right in thinking there was something unusual about it - even before seeing the oddly fresh face of the composer on the CD sleeve. The unusual thing is this: Jay Greenberg is 15 years old.

Five symphonies by the age of 15 is rather extraordinary. Greenberg, the son of a Slavic linguist, entered New York's Juilliard School at 10, and has been taught by Samuel Adler, an academic composer of traditional symphony-and-string-quartet tendencies.

Greenberg came to attention when, shortly after the attacks of September 2001, he wrote his Overture to 9/11 - but bad taste of this sort was surely forgivable in a 10-year-old boy. The word has been getting around. One of his sponsors at Juilliard has said: "We are talking about a prodigy of the level of the greatest prodigies in history, when it comes to composition. I am talking about the likes of Mozart and Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns."

Mozart's K1, a tiny piano piece, was written in 1761 when he was five. Mendelssohn's 12 early string symphonies were written in the early 1820s, from the ages of 12 to 14. Saint-Saëns made his first public appearance, accompanying a Beethoven piano sonata, in 1841 when he was five, and his first compositions are thought to date from this time as well.

It is worth pointing out, though, that even these prodigies did not produce a significant and original piece until later. Mozart's first strikingly new work is the Jeunehomme concerto, written when he was 17; Mendelssohn's was the remarkable string octet, written at 16.

Performing prodigies are not so rare: currently, there is the amazing 13-year-old pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. Like such performers, very young composers can become striking through a mastery, principally, of craft. They often appear to convey emotions deeper than they could actually be capable of, but that is largely an illusion.

Composers in the 18th and 19th century had a body of accepted harmonic practice they could master as a matter of craft. The 20th and 21st centuries were different. The avant garde, which rests on a notion of individual expression and innovation, is not at all likely to produce a very young composer. There is not much likelihood of a 15-year old doing something really new any more; there has not been for a century.

Of course, it does sometimes happen. Erich Korngold's first compositions, written from the age of 10 onwards, occupy a convincingly late-Romantic idiom. Oliver Knussen created a stir at 16 by conducting his own first symphony with, again, the LSO; if that was an early essay, not quite in an original voice, there is no question about the wonderfully weird second symphony, premiered when Knussen was 19. But by that age, many serious composers are on their way.

I would love to hear something genuinely new from a US composer of any age, let alone Jay Greenberg at 15. But if you were thinking of using Cilla Black's wonderful putdown - "I've got tights older than that" - be warned that Greenberg's musical language is on the antique side. The fifth symphony is an impressively skilful exercise in academic harmony, orchestration and counterpoint, with no sense of anything new in the voice at all.

The first movement begins with a standard, late-19th-century unison string tune answered by a woodwind chorus; the harmony is Mahler, the orchestral style Dvorak. The galumphing scherzo shows that Vaughan Williams's reputation had gone further into the US than anyone knew - the model here is the Sinfonia Antartica, which even in 1952 was an incredibly conservative piece. The kindest thing to say about the finale is that it made one wonder whether the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra is still under copyright.

Strikingly, there is nothing more recent in Greenberg's ears than some very conservative music from 60 years ago. I do not think this is a matter of personal taste; that is the last moment in history when serious art music was still being written within a set of academic rules.

Greenberg will either grow up and use his dusty technical command to produce something vital and original, or he will stay exactly where he is and go and make a killing in Hollywood. After all, that's where the main market for orchestral music is these days. What can be said for certain is that serious art music could never be written by a child. The only things that are left for even the most brilliant of them are reheated gestures from a museum.
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Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 24, 2007 12:57 pm

Poor Jay. They should have never exposed him to all this publicity so early. He shouldn't have to read this kind of nonsense until he's matured and found his actual compositional voice.

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 24, 2007 1:05 pm

diegobueno wrote:Poor Jay. They should have never exposed him to all this publicity so early. He shouldn't have to read this kind of nonsense until he's matured and found his actual compositional voice.
*****

When might that be? He is being hyped, no question about that. But if Mozart was around today he'd have the same problem Greenberg has.
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Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 24, 2007 3:26 pm

Ralph wrote:
diegobueno wrote:Poor Jay. They should have never exposed him to all this publicity so early. He shouldn't have to read this kind of nonsense until he's matured and found his actual compositional voice.
*****

When might that be?
Who knows? But you can be sure it's not at 15.
He is being hyped, no question about that. But if Mozart was around today he'd have the same problem Greenberg has.
Certainly he would. What's your point?
That is, you seem to intend this statement to be an argument against something I've said. I can't really respond to it until I know what you're arguing against.

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 24, 2007 6:14 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Ralph wrote:
diegobueno wrote:Poor Jay. They should have never exposed him to all this publicity so early. He shouldn't have to read this kind of nonsense until he's matured and found his actual compositional voice.
*****

When might that be?
Who knows? But you can be sure it's not at 15.
He is being hyped, no question about that. But if Mozart was around today he'd have the same problem Greenberg has.
Certainly he would. What's your point?
That is, you seem to intend this statement to be an argument against something I've said. I can't really respond to it until I know what you're arguing against.
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I'm not seeking an argument which I do with pointed clarity when the occasion arises. :) My comment reflects on how economic and social chage can result in unmeasurable cultural loss. There was a place for composer-ingenues in the time of Mozart. None today.
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Post by diegobueno » Thu Jan 25, 2007 10:50 am

Ralph wrote:
I'm not seeking an argument which I do with pointed clarity when the occasion arises. :) My comment reflects on how economic and social change can result in unmeasurable cultural loss. There was a place for composer-ingenues in the time of Mozart. None today.
Then we're absolutely in agreement.

There are pressures for the modern day composer which no one had to face in Mozart's day:

1) The past. Music of the previous eras was little known in Mozart's day, so he never had to live up to the burden of being "the next Mozart", as Greenberg does.

2) The modern day media hype machine that makes such hyperbolic claims about "the next Mozart" possible, and which will abandon him when he fails to live up to them.

3) The demand for "originality" above everything else. For the young Mozart, it was sufficient that he write competently in the prevailing style. Any original ideas he might have would be a plus, but were not necessary. Today, Greenberg has to answer to Philip Henscher for the crime of writing competently in styles which may prevail in the concert hall but not in the minds of those who concern themselves with what contemporary composition ought to be.

4) Greenberg, unlike Mozart, cannot just assume a prevailing style and write in it. There is no prevailing style. Before Greenberg can find his own voice, he has to sift through the myriads of styles practiced by other composers and find which approach best suits his personality. This will take many years, yet.

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Greenberg

Post by Agnes Selby » Thu Jan 25, 2007 3:42 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Ralph wrote:
I'm not seeking an argument which I do with pointed clarity when the occasion arises. :) My comment reflects on how economic and social change can result in unmeasurable cultural loss. There was a place for composer-ingenues in the time of Mozart. None today.
Then we're absolutely in agreement.

There are pressures for the modern day composer which no one had to face in Mozart's day:

1) The past. Music of the previous eras was little known in Mozart's day, so he never had to live up to the burden of being "the next Mozart", as Greenberg does.

2) The modern day media hype machine that makes such hyperbolic claims about "the next Mozart" possible, and which will abandon him when he fails to live up to them.

3) The demand for "originality" above everything else. For the young Mozart, it was sufficient that he write competently in the prevailing style. Any original ideas he might have would be a plus, but were not necessary. Today, Greenberg has to answer to Philip Henscher for the crime of writing competently in styles which may prevail in the concert hall but not in the minds of those who concern themselves with what contemporary composition ought to be.

4) Greenberg, unlike Mozart, cannot just assume a prevailing style and write in it. There is no prevailing style. Before Greenberg can find his own voice, he has to sift through the myriads of styles practiced by other composers and find which approach best suits his personality. This will take many years, yet.
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I agree with both of you.

However, I would like to point out that there was also "hype" in Mozart's time and it is this "hype" that his father knew how to use so well. Mozart was feted in London, in Italy, at the Court of Maria Teresa and wherever his father dragged him to.. It is Maria Teresa who likened the Mozart entourage to a circus.

It is a pity that this young man is not given time to develop before he is attacked by "critics" who seem to be ill equipped to judge him. This is, in many ways, the fault of his teachers who expose him to the world for their own gratification and their own reflected glory.

Regards,
Agnes.
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Post by Ralph » Thu Jan 25, 2007 5:40 pm

So what ideally should be done with a composer's juvenilia? Hide it until he/she reaches a mature age, whatever that may be?

Perhaps this young composer can take criticism in stride and maybe even benefit from it. Certainly child actors have to face critics and most survive very well.

As to the real issue of exploitation, of course it happens but in many cases parents/guardians/teachers balance the negative possibility of those with a financial stake doing the wrong thing.
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Prodigies

Post by Agnes Selby » Thu Jan 25, 2007 9:27 pm

Ralph wrote:So what ideally should be done with a composer's juvenilia? Hide it until he/she reaches a mature age, whatever that may be?

Perhaps this young composer can take criticism in stride and maybe even benefit from it. Certainly child actors have to face critics and most survive very well.

As to the real issue of exploitation, of course it happens but in many cases parents/guardians/teachers balance the negative possibility of those with a financial stake doing the wrong thing.
-----------------

Yes, Ralph! Parents are there to explain to a child or a very young performer that some criticism is valid and some has no bearing on their careers.

Young artists learn to live with criticism. They get plenty of it from their teachers and they even learn to live with some pretty mean remarks.
The love of music prevails.

I do not think Greenberg's youthful efforts should be dismissed but treasured as a work of a young genius. His efforts also need encouragement which he is obviously getting when great orchestras perform his works. However, he should not be exploited but allowed to develop his natural talent.

Also, young performers need encouragement through competitions. They have to cope with winning as well as losing. It prepares them for the harsh realities of a performer's life.

Kind regards,
Agnes.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jan 25, 2007 10:00 pm

Before the dust settles, the kid will wish he'd gone into video game design instead. Nobody thinks twice about a brilliant pre-pubescent programmer.
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Prodigies

Post by Agnes Selby » Fri Jan 26, 2007 12:06 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Before the dust settles, the kid will wish he'd gone into video game design instead. Nobody thinks twice about a brilliant pre-pubescent programmer.
--------------

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Regards,
Agnes.

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Post by Ralph » Fri Jan 26, 2007 8:20 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Before the dust settles, the kid will wish he'd gone into video game design instead. Nobody thinks twice about a brilliant pre-pubescent programmer.
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I don't think he's pre-pubescent. :)
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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:54 pm

Ralph wrote:I don't think he's pre-pubescent. :)
I believe he's well into his composing career at 15. I'm just guessing, but I imagine he started some time ago.
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