Category Archives: CMA 2011 Conference

Davidovsky and the ICE at Miller Theatre

Mario Davidovsky, whose work was the subject of last night’s Composer Portrait at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, was a leader in the development of electronic and electro-acoustic music. That genre consists of carefully worked-out sound collages, music which shocked and alienated many early audiences, which many traditional classical musicians (and musicians) still detest, and which I happen to really enjoy.

So why do I like it when so many years later so few others do?  It may well have to do with my mother, who, when I was a child, had me lie down, close my eyes, and listen to a recording of Vares’s Ionisation. Let your imagination go, she told me.  Tell me what you see.  She may have had me draw pictures.  Varese called his music “organized sound” and that early immersion in that one piece made me open to so much.  (It’s funny.  I don’t remember her having any other interest in avant-garde music.)

I’ll admit it, I had never heard of Davidovsky before I read about this concert. I’m not a new-music maniac like my friend, former student, and admired colleague Jon Silpayamanant, who could probably do an hour or two on Davidovsky off the top of his head. And I knew nothing about him and his work before I sat down and started reading the excellent program notes [pdf] by Paul Griffiths.  I loved the concert, including the on-stage conversation between him and Melissa Smey, the Miller Theatre’s director.  Here’s Davidovsky in another interview:

 

So why did I go? To hear the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).  Who cares what they’re playing? I knew it would be good. Besides the group’s incredible reputation, the flutist Eric Lamb, who attended DePauw for a while, is one of the members, and I really have been wanting to hear him perform.  I’d missed their concert which opened the Tully Scope series, in order to hear Meridith Monk speak at Symphony Space, and when I read about this concert, I made it my top priority.

I’m going to all these concerts and writing them, giving myself a new education, as I prepare a course or courses for DePauw music majors on career issues in the developing classical/post-classical music world.  Look at the schedules of the ICE and Eric.  They are great models for what can be done separate from the slowly dying win-a-competition, win-an-orchestra-job traditional world.  The ICE has a tremendously strong, visionary leader in Claire Chase, and uses musicians of extraordinary accomplishment, like Eric and the trumpeter Gareth Flowers (whom I met when he performed as half of The Batteries Duo at the Chamber Music America conference).

A lesson here is that if you develop extraordinary ability in a niche about which you’re passionate and develop a great reputation, people will come to whatever you do.  You’ll build your own audience.  It’s a point Frances-Marie Uitti made to me after I heard her play at LPR.  She has a huge career performing all over the world with a repertoire of avant-garde cello music that not even many cellists don’t know or care about it.  It’s devoting yourself to something you’re passionate about she told me.  You can knock yourself out for a while seeing who can play the Brahms F Major Sonata better, but that’s not what the world needs or wants.

OK, back to the Davidovsky concert.  Terrific, fascinating, extraordinary music, performed incredibly well.  Davidovsky the first or one of the first to combine recorded, electronically-generated sounds with live performers.  The program began and end with two such works, Synchronisms No. 9 (1988) with violinist David Bowlin, and Synchronisms No. 12 (2007) with clarinetist Joshua Rubin.  The rest of the program consisted of purely acoustic works which the motivic interplay was fascinating. (You can read the details in the program notes linked to above.) One of the musicians told me Davidovsky’s music (with which he was not previously familiar, either), reminded him of Webern’s, with the short motives and the hocketing.  “A lot like Webern,” I replied, “but longer.”  We had a laugh.

Here’s a different performance of the Synchronisms No. 9:

Walking home the 23 blocks to my apartment (I was seduced by the Ben and Jerry’s shop, don’t tell my trainer, but as long as I gave in to temptation I decided to really enjoy it), I was thinking about this sort of well-attended concert, dedicated to the work of a single, obscure-to-the-general-public composer, could only happen in a few places.  A performing arts series at a great university, in a large city, in a neighborhood with a lot of urban intellectuals, also accessed easily by public transportation.  The Miller Theatre’s Composer Portrait series is really quite something.  It’s the kind of thing that can happen at a university which can afford to present events that aren’t part of the new populist trends in classical music.  While I have nothing to do with Columbia, I did feel proud to be part of what we call “the academy”–the community of colleges and universities.

(By the way, I forgot to add the “SJ” for “Sabbatical Journal” number in a recent posts, and so I’m not going to number them anymore.  Unless someone demands it!)

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Filed under Claire Chase, CMA 2011 Conference, Composers, Ensembles, Eric Lamb (flute), Frances-Marie Uitti, future of college/university music education, Gareth Flowers (trumpet), International Contemporary Ensemble, Le Poisson Rouge, Mario Davidovsky, sabbatical journal, The Batteries Duo, The Batteries Duo, Young Performers

Three Guys with a Mission (SJ XI)

My New York sojourn began with the Chamber Music America Annual Conference, which marked my first real involvement with this marvelous organization, which does so much to promote small-ensemble music making and networking among musicians and managers, publicists, educators, journalists, etc..  Since the conference, where in a few days I probably got enough material to design my new course on career skills for young classically-trained musicians, I’ve attended two CMA grant-writing workshops and two free “First Tuesday” events, presented each month at St. Peter’s Church in the Citigroup building.

February’s session was a fascinating talk by Adrian Ellis [pdf], the Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who exudes a deep sense of mission as he articulates its importance.  So do Steve Smith (Time Out New York music editor, New York Times classical critic, and blogger) and Nate Chinen (pop/jazz critic at the Times), the panelists at yesterday’s (March 1) event, “Meet the Music Press.”

We all know these are challenging times for the arts, not only because of the general economy but because, as controversial NEA head Rocco Landesman has infamously observed, supply outstrips demand.  Ellis emphasized the danger of organizations devolving into survival mode and losing sight of their missions, the importance of which he returned to many times.  He elaborated on a variety of topics, outreach being perhaps the most critical.  With much of country “two to three generations beyond routine arts education,” the task falls to arts organizations.  Jazz at Lincoln Center, he said, is “basically an education machine with programming.”

Chinen and Smith don’t refer to themselves as arts educators, but they are, roses-by-another name, working in a for-profit world.  Both spoke of their roles as advocates for music and musicians.

They started out by discussing how event listings (Time Out; find the Times ‘Week in Music” listings in the center column here).  Heck, I thought that would take just a few minutes:  send your stuff in by the deadline and the interns will take care of it.  Turns out these guys are passionate about and take great pride in the listings they prepare–letting people know about what is going on seems to be their mutual raison d’être. It’s not a get-it-in-on-time-or-you’re-out-of-luck thing;  in addition to the emails and physical press releases they receive, each proactively scours the web.

They covered reviews more quickly–the real passion of each obviously lies elsewhere. FYI, at the Times, classical reviews are assigned by the editor and chief music critic; the four jazz/pop writers, on the other hand,  pretty much manage themselves, deciding what to cover and who will cover it.  For these tasks and others, Chinen said there’s a collective “sense of stewardship” for their area.  The best way to get reviewed, besides being famous and important, is to catch the attention of one of the individual critics (even among the classical staff).

Feature articles, including profiles, are what seemed to really turn these guys on.  Chinen likes to write stories “that make you interested in something you didn’t know you were interested in.” (Hope I wrote that down right, Nate.) When Smith pitches a feature article to the Times, its has to be something he believes in so strongly that “perspective as an advocate” comes through.  What really engages him? The “people who are keeping classical music from being a dusty graveyard.”  It’s an “exciting, creative time,” and he wants people to now about it.

So what about negative reviews?  “Disputative criticism” (a term new to me) is fine with the culture is healthy.  Space is limited;  why waste it on sharpening knives over an emerging artist? Not that they don’t write critical reviews from time to time or that even feature articles may contain critical assessments.  But Chinen says, “Often times I exercise my critical urge by means of omission.”

Three men on a mission.  Glad they’re around.

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Filed under Chamber Music America (CMA), CMA 2011 Conference, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Music Writers, Nate Chinen, sabbatical journal, Steve Smith

(I Think) I’ve Seen the Future of Classical Music (Sabbatical Journal 1)

And it doesn’t want to be called “classical.”

Or anything else, for that matter.

Back to that in a bit. It is a gorgeous day in New York City.  Bright and sunny, fresh snow (and, yes, the subsequent slush).

Here for a semester plus a bit, I’m developing a new course (or courses) for DePauw on career skills for classical musicians and new trends in classical music presentation.  The latter includes the intermingling of formerly discrete genres (i.e., classical, jazz, indie rock, etc.) and what for 20th-century-mindset classical musicians are non-traditional venues.

Like bars and clubs and coffee houses. It’s fascinating.  There’s a ton of it going on in New York, which is why I am here, as a kind of informal, self-appointed ethnomusicologist doing field research. (And participating a bit, too.)

I arrived last Thursday, January 13, and after dropping my bags off at a friend’s apartment, headed directly to the Times Square Westin for most of the day’s pre-conference sessions at Chamber Music America’s 33rd Annual Conference “The Next Generation: Traditions and trends.”  I was just a bit late for a “The Next-Gen Musician,” a panel discussion moderated by WQXR‘s Terrance McKnight, with composer/performers Gabriel Kahane, Missy Mazzoli, and Tyshawn Sorey.  And, wow, was it ever the perfect start to my research here.

Somehow I had been thinking that my job was to research new ways of presenting classical music.  New settings, less formal.  Side-by-side with other genres. But this group smacked my thinking upside my head, big time.

All three of the panelists were impatient and frustrated with the very idea of genre labels for music.  It’s clear they live in a new, post-genere paradigm and are waiting for the rest of us (or younger generations) to catch on.  Kahane spoke of “creating a space free of genres” (that might be a paraphrase, my notes aren’t clear), a “clean slate” where whatever needs to be expressed can be. Their music draws on and combines elements of music from the multiple-genres paradigm.  What little I’ve heard, though, is really more than an eclectic mix or classcalizing of other musics.  Something new is being born.

He was picking up on McKnight’s comment that today’s composers don’t need to express the emotions that Bach and Beethoven, for example, did so well.  That was a really great point, explaining, among other things, why so many of us go back to Bach and Beethoven.  Which McNight later said he does, along with Ellington and host of others.

Missy Mazzoli praised the Ecstatic Music Festival as a place that is genreless. Sorey spoke with a frustration bordering on resentment about how difficult it is for a drummer/composer to get performances; later he explained with what seemed to be more than a touch of resigned-to-deal-with-other-people’s-realities that he has his music organized into separate “tracks” (solo, chamber, jazz, etc.) for the sake of presenters.

“My music can function anywhere,” he said, and that is a key point.  Kahane (reminding me of Christopher Small’s book Musicking: A Ritual in Social Space and other writings) that the rooms in which we present music are political statements, and emphasized that it is as important to think about “the frame of what we present as well as what we present.”

They talked about a lot more than I can describe in one blog post.  Especially fascinating was Missy Mazzoli’s description of having her self-described “chamber-rock” band Victoire perform a piece she originally wrote for traditional classical instruments and thereby having the music reach a new, indie-rock audience.

Over the following three days, I heard many young musicians perform and speak. They don’t like genre labels.  Genre labels don’t make sense to them.  And neither does the idea that some music is “better” than others.  But what to call it?  And how to promote it outside of areas like New York where this phenomenon, whatever it is, is well-established?  Big questions, the topic of much discussion by musicians, managers, and presenters alike.

More to come.

 

 

 

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Filed under CMA 2011 Conference, Gabriel Kahane, genre-free music, Missy Mazzoli, Next-Gen musicians, sabbatical journal, Tyshawn Sorey