Friday, October 26, 2007

Hat's Off New York

New York Magazine has been writing profiles of "serious" music composers with a slant toward the popular side of the musical coin. Two of the most recent ones are Sufjan Stevens crossing over from pop and Nico Muhly (a Philip Glass' protege) While some could quip about this it doesn't change that fact that they are covering serious-go-to-a-concert-hall-sit-still-and-listen-intently music.

And who wouldn't want to hear music by these guys working in this exciting time of anything goes music for classical forces. Musicians are uniquely qualified to play more and more types of music than ever before with all of them having grown up with just about whatever they wanted to hear at their fingertips. There is no lack of composers who do many different styles of "serious" music coming at it from both sides.

There seems to be less of a sense of emulation at work in the music of younger composers. There is a great sense of craft in the music of Nico Muhly who I must shamelessly plug as being one of John Schaefer's selections for his New Sounds Live series at Merkin Concert Hall. Having to arrange music for a pop star on the fly is no easy task and many people who have done this in the past rarely were taken seriously. Having worked for Bjork (among others) must have been a rather expansive experience as her musical ideas are no less august works of a serious nature.

I'm so happy to see that music is still well on the move toward the center. I still admit my love for the thorny, intricate works of those who do it well but that's a bit further around the bend for many listeners. Let's have singing, dancing, spoken word, multi-media art performances that actually refer to our human condition today. This is how we get the really great older stuff in front of the crowd and we know there's plenty of that. The composers that New York will (hopefully) continue to profile are excellent jump-off points for bringing in future fans of the new thing. We didn't all think that onions were the best thing to eat when younger and uninitiated. Let the initiations begin!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Good Fight

I attended a concert at Manhattan School of Music last evening which showcased the faculty of the new music program there. It was an evening of excellent programming and performances. What struck me most as I sat there enjoying hearing many old friends was the typical feeling of "wow, we're all grown up now" but I also thought how lucky these young musicians are to have such fine examples to emulate. When I was in school you had to go a little farther away from school to hear this kind of music.

All of the music was handled with style and grace by the now yeoman members of the faculty for new music that Patti Monson surrounds her students with. The performance all had a sparkle to them in that they were played with a real care and love for the language they were speaking. Navigating through the scores of some very different composers as a listener was easier than I thought it would be from just looking at the score. The placement of pieces worked well together and gave the evening a nice shape.

I could get into the whole rant of cloistered music in the ivory tower etc. but MSM is doing a service to these kids by showing them the people who make sacrifices to follow the dream of playing the music they love. They are also offering these concerts for free which allows for the experimentation I want to keep my eye on.

Having your own new music ensemble is a business venture but it rarely supports its musicians on its own. Many of the performers also teach which can be one of the inevitabilities of a career in music but some are supplementing in other ways which is another reality to be exhibited. Some are playing on Broadway or have other jobs. In short, few of them are making music solely on their own terms. I hope that is something the students soak in as they get into the market themselves.

The music played was Wuorinen (Trombone Trio); Shapey (Movement of Varied Moments for Two); Tenney (Beast); Ades (Sonata da Caccia); Turnage (Two Baudelaire Songs); Lowenstern (Hum). There was also a special secret premiere of a new solo vocal work by Elliott Carter (also on Baudelaire) expertly sung by Lucy Shelton.