I mentioned Missy Mazzoli in my previous post. Via a Jeff Harrington Facebook post, here’s a short piece she wrote for the NPR Deceptive Cadences blog (which I didn’t know about, so thanks, Jeff). When I heard her speak on the 13th, she seemed to be firmly against labels, yet in this piece she doesn’t like a label being withheld:
Some critics have claimed my recent album Cathedral City is not classical music, even though it is fully notated, uses several instruments straight out of the orchestra, harmonies straight out of Stravinsky and was written by a composer straight out of music school. Huh?
I haven’t heard Cathedral City, but I have played a lot of fully-notated non-classical music (including Christian pop arrangements) that used traditional instruments and some funky harmonies, and the arrangers definitely went to music school, so I wouldn’t say fulfilling those criteria is sufficient for deeming a piece “classical.” (But don’t ask me to define what does make something classical.)
Lots of comments, a number critical and/or heated, have been added to her post, including at least one from Jeff, who seems unimpressed with her music.
There’s definitely an irony here. Composers coming from the classical tradition have always wanted to be taken seriously by the classical music establishment. Those incorporating elements and idioms from outside the classical tradition get brushed aside by the establishment. As Joe Horowitz often points out Gershwin’s orchestral works were consigned to the pops-concert bin for years by many orchestras. Certainly jazz was seen as a threat to the white classical music establishment in the U.S.; in Europe there was more interest by composers including Ravel. Now the indie-rock influences are seen as a threat by some.
Can one be post-classical and classical at the same time? If you don’t want to be labeled, if you embrace pop and rock elements in your compositions, why complain about some traditionalist critics refusing to accept you as a classical composer? If we’re moving past labels, why cling to them?
Lots of practical reasons, of course. Marketing, commissions, venues, etc. We’re not in that label-free world that is the ideal for many, and probably never will be.