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Critical Conversation
Classical Music Critics on the Future of Music

A 10-Day AJ Topic Blog (July 28-August 7, 2004)


Friday, July 30

    READER: Time is not of the Essence
    By Tom Myron
    posted @ 12:13 am
    Here's my big idea. The belief that it is somehow significant that we have all the music of the past 500-plus years available to us at the swipe of a credit card is a red herring responsible for a massive fit of cultural self-consciousness... read more

    Some things are new, actually.
    By Justin Davidson
    posted @ 5:56 am

    I'm struck by the way most of us have been treating history very elastically. Instinctively, we look to the past to explain the present and predict the future, and because, as Richard Einhorn points out, we have such a great historical span at our fingertips, we take a very long view. That's potentially as misleading as having no sense of history at all. Einhorn sees a history of music "flattened" by the instant availability of everything, which may be the case for composers but is not terribly useful for critics. At the same time, focusing too much on precedent makes it difficult to see what is really new.

    To say, as Charles Ward does, that sampling was tried centuries ago, is a little like saying that an automobile is just a glorified covered wagon. Sampling technology has given composers a radical new tool for the manipulation of sound, different in kind from borrowing or allusion. Hip-hop and Steve Reich's "City Life" are not equivalent to a Renaissance parody mass. Precedent is not equivalence.

    Scott is right: Popular music is not new, but "pop music" with a global reach is. John is right, too: There is a fundamental difference between Debussy's exotic dip into gamelan, or Stravinsky's into ragtime, or Mozart's into "Turkish" music (really, now!) and the cultural blender in which virtually every composer lives today.

    Those two things - global pop and the availabilty of music from so many times and so many places - are connected, and they come as close to a big idea as I think we're going to get. You can decry the corporate monopoly of pop music (which I gather is fading in any case), but  the same channels that bring Britney to Bangladesh also bring banghra to Queens.

    It's interesting, too, how parochial most of this conversation has been. Aside from Bjork, virtually every musician we've named has been on the Anglo-American axis (and Bjork sings in English and lives with the artist Matthew Barney). but Surely one of the major incubators of popular music in the last 40 years has been Brazil? And we can't really get a complete picture of classical contemporary music without knowing a little about, say the Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh? (Okay, she moved from Baku to Berlin a few years ago.) There is no longer any one musical center - or even three -  where everything of interest originates.

    Inside a Big Idea

    By Kyle Gann
    posted @ 6:54 am
    Writing as a composer for a moment, and in response to some of the comments, I’d like to talk for a moment about how the Big Idea looks from the artist’s side.

    Listening to minimalist music in the ‘70s, it dawned on me that Steve Reich’s polyrhythms in Drumming and the punchy, ametrical rhythmic patterns of Phil Glass’s Music in Fifths offered a context in which one could create a new performance practice for the tempo clashes I loved in the musics of Ives, Cowell, and Nancarrow. I started exploring this territory in 1983 in a piece called Mountain Spirit. Over the next ten years, I learned that a lot of other composers born in the ‘50s had had the same idea at around the same time: Rhys Chatham, Glenn Branca, Mikel Rouse, Michael Gordon, Ben Neill, John Luther Adams, David First, Lois Vierk, Art Jarvinen, Evan Ziporyn, Diana Meckley, Eve Beglarian, Larry Polansky, and to some extent Nick Didkovsky. Other composers developed related ideas in electronic media: Joshua Fried, Ron Kuivila, Carl Stone. Playing with tempo clashes of 4 against 5, 8 against 9, 13 against 29, and so on, this music was not at all minimalist, but in a way a complete subversion of minimalism. By 1991, I had written an article about the remarkably similar techniques used by these composers, unbeknownst to each other, and afterward the Big Idea we were all working on acquired a controversial name: totalism. We didn’t premeditatedly concoct this Big Idea: it appeared on the horizon of the collective unconscious and drew us all in.

    There has been, in this conversation, some criticism of composers writing music for music’s sake, writing music that deals in merely technical issues instead of meaningful social ones. But in the early development of a Big Idea, this emphasis on technique is entirely necessary. You can’t suddenly, by sheer dint of will, write a political opera in a style only five years old. I’ve been heavily influenced by some of my contemporaries, especially Mikel Rouse, Bill Duckworth, and more recently Beth Anderson; and by that facile, threadbare word “influence,” I mean I stole from them both techniques and what I can only call a way of listening. I also heard things that I didn’t think worked, and attempted to correct other people’s failures in my own music. We all listened to each other, stole from each other, veered away from each other’s miscalculations. This is how a new style develops, and the value of a Big Idea that attracts a lot of composers is that a new musical language grows up that is not merely a product of one creative mind, but a collective contribution of many composers. (After all, to offer another of our historical parallels: the classical symphony began in the 1720s, but not until Haydn and Mozart started stealing from each other around 1780 did the style coalesce into something lasting. Mozart and Haydn wrote a hell of a lot of string quartets and piano concerti, heard for many years only by small groups of cognoscenti, before they were finally accomplished enough to write Don Giovanni and The Creation.)

    In any musical language, some composers will eventually transcend the merely technical aspects, and some won’t. (Haydn and Mozart transcended, Wagenseil and Wanhal didn’t, but that doesn’t mean the latter pair’s contributions weren’t helpful; Wagenseil was Haydn’s first model.) In the case of totalism, most of us have attempted to write larger works of some social significance. Branca wrote symphonies for electric guitars which have an immense underground following. Mikel wrote a technologically sophisticated opera, Dennis Cleveland, based on a talk show format, which has been performed at Lincoln Center, around Australia, and elsewhere. Ben wrote a big multimedia piece about AIDS, ITSOFOMO, and has since become a rather successful crossover artist in the ambient field, even applying his style to commercial work. Gordon and Adams have had considerable success on the orchestra circuit and with recordings on Nonesuch and New World. I wrote a political music theater work about racism, Custer and Sitting Bull, which I’ve performed more than 25 times on three continents. With the single exception of myself, all of these composers had some background in pop or rock music, and many incorporated aspects of that music into what they were doing; if you want tempos to clash, a powerful backbeat is a good starting point. Some of these people wouldn’t call their music “classical” with a gun to their head.

    Clearly no one in this forum thinks this is a Big Idea except me, but the jury’s going to be out for many years yet, and the record I’ve painted above is hardly that of a tree falling in the forest with no one hearing it. Except for Gordon and Adams once in a blue moon, classical critics are not going to run into any of this repertoire at their local Orchestra Hall, but that’s neither our fault nor our concern. In strictest terms, totalism was a ‘90s phenomenon, and many of us have moved away from this particular Big Idea in its purest form. The musical language has not entirely coalesced yet, but it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all without a lot of energetic cross-breeding.

    Yet to read many of the recommendations from critics here, the message I see being sent to these composers is: GIVE UP. Imagine if this forum had appeared in the 1950s, and been read by Harry Partch while he was still struggling to create his microtonal orchestra in the face of massive institutional indifference. Partch would have read that he was a tree falling in the forest unheard, his recordings collected only by a handful. “Stop wasting your time on pure-music pieces like Castor and Pollux that just develop your new scale," he'd be told. "Imitate the pop musicians, Harry, that’s where the energy is. Quit bucking convention. CONFORM.” Had Harry listened, he would never have written Delusion of the Fury, never have become famous in the 1960s, never have become an incredible inspiration to subsequent generations of musicians. He did hear such messages, and ignored them. If this is truly the message that classical critics want to send to today’s composers: no composer worth his salt is going to pay the slightest attention to your recommendations, thank god.

    Who's saying Give Up?
    By Justin Davidson
    posted @ 7:02 am
    Kyle, thanks for that illuminating account. I'm going to make a point of brushing up on some of the music you've mentioned. But where do you get the idea that critics want composers to conform? To what? It seems to me that despite our arguments and predilections, one thing we share is curiosity.

    READER: Jazz - MIA?
    By George Hunka
    posted @ 7:25 am
    One of the words I see conspicuously absent from the conversation on CC over the last few days is "jazz." I'm assuming this is so because nobody wants to open that particular can of worms... read more

    Composer Bashing
    By Kyle Gann
    posted @ 7:40 am
    ...the big, scene-setting ideas in music of the last thirty or forty years have really appeared in popular music. It's there that you get a sense of kinetic technical progress. - Ross

    And where were these Big Ideas, so central to their time, in the classical music of the '50s? Nowhere, I'd say. Where was existentialism? Psychoanalysis? The Beat Generation? - Sandow [ouch! take that, Harry Partch, who was the Kerouac of music]

    I mean, maybe there's a big idea seizing those who write poetry in Urdu as a hobby, but can it legitimately be compared to chorale preludes on Lutheran hymn tunes or the birth of the symphony or "the music of the future" or even Serialism, back when? Trees falling unheard in forests, etc. - Rockwell

    If I were a composer, I'd want to see what I could learn from each of these discoveries. I'd be particularly interested in how relatively simple harmonic designs go hand in hand with dizzying textural complexity. Pop music is full of fresh ideas about tonality. In this area, classical composers are lagging behind. - Ross [ALL classical composers? ALL? You've heard every one?]

    It is beyond me why we would feel the need to search for big ideas--or worst yet, predict the next one--at a time, like now, when none is obviously rising to the surface. - Delacoma

    [And I recall a comment about how pop music is more technologically sophisticated than new classical music, but to the relief of several thousand electronic composers, it seems to have been wisely withdrawn.]

    It’s always easy to blame the composers, because, in any given generation, 90 percent of them are not going to write music that deserves to be remembered forever - as true in Mozart’s generation as today. Any well-founded generalization about composers will inevitably be to the disadvantage of the breed. “Of course there are exceptions...” but in art, it’s only the exceptions who count. Nevertheless, one of my points is that even the composers who never join anyone’s pantheon may significantly contribute to the development of a musical language. It takes a whole village to raise an -ism.

    related reader post

    READER: Flogging For Novelty?
    By Joanne Forman
    posted @ 7:45 am
    "To thine own self be true" may be a thundering cliche, but cliches are true. When I came in to composing, back in the stone age, you HAD HAD HAD to do serial (or twelve-tone--what a misnomer!) music... read more

    READER: Money Vs. "Music That Matters"
    By Richar Einhorn
    posted @ 7:47 am
    Justin is right that Hip Hop and Steve Reich's "City Life" do not equal a parody mass (although maybe the Low Symphony could be somewhere close to one). But I disagree that a flattened history is not terribly useful for critics... read more

    To Kyle, and Richard Einhorn
    By Justin Davidson
    posted @ 7:47 am

    I guess I don't read those excerpts the way you do. Alex has stated his preference for one set of composers over another, but not, I think, dissed the whole lot. Greg made a reasoned generalization, which is by definition going to leave out part of the picture. Overlooking Partch is not the same as telling all composers to shove it. Wynne's statement is about the topic of this discussion, not a wholesale attack on composers.

    Richard, thanks for that clarification. I'm with you now, though it seems to me that discussing the relationship between money and music is not that far from discussing chronological development, since examining Mozart's finances is another way of putting his music in historical context.

    It would be great to hear from more composers, by the way.  

    What's the Big Idea?
    By Anne Midgette
    posted @ 8:32 am

    Amid the problems of definition swirling around here, we all seem to be assuming that the big ideas we’re talking about are necessarily contained in new musical works. This is kind of ironic because (as this discussion demonstrates) the field of classical music doesn’t quite know how to deal with music that’s being written today. We can’t even agree on how to define it.

    After following this debate, and thinking about something Greg said in an earlier posting about ideas in performance, it has struck me that the big ideas in the classical music field that stir up controversy, provoke the audience, and get discussed are about the performance of old music rather than the directions of new music. Take the whole early-music movement, arguably the biggest idea of the last 30 years (and one that, I believe, has affected how nearly every orchestra plays today).

    And take stage direction in opera (Alex, this one’s for you, since I intimate from your earlier post that you’re going to do some Schlingensief-bashing in the near future). Some of it is atrocious; some of it is wonderful; but it’s the most consistently creative element in today’s rather moribund opera world, has had a pervasive effect, and plays a far larger role in making opera a contemporary art form than most of the new operas that are written (as I said in an earlier post).

    The New New Thing
    By Alex Ross
    posted @ 9:42 am
    An interesting thing has happened: Kyle Gann has accused me and others of "composer bashing" because we have suggested that pop musicians rather than composers have been the source of many or most "big ideas" after minimalism. What has NOT been said is that pop musicians have produced most of the significant music. Big ideas are not the same as major works. I, for one, think it's wonderful that composers are no longer so much in the business of manufacturing big ideas. It's odd that Kyle should understand this as an insult. I wonder whether he feels a certain hidden nostalgia for that modernist heyday when composers unveiled their grand ideas under the banner of grand nomenclature. Do we need this kind of classification anymore -- "postclassical," "postminimalist," "totalist"? Do we need to set up a club and say who's in and who's out? Isn't that perpetuating the old Second Viennese School / Darmstadt syndrome?

    Justin's point about music of non-European traditions is incredibly important. I've been noticing how few Europeans are cropping these days on my own ever-revolving personal lists of significant living composers. I wrote up a "top 10 works of the last 10 years" for BBC Music Magazine a couple of years ago, and I was amazed to find not a single German, Italian, or French name on my list. Instead, three Americans (Reich, Adams, Carter), two Englishmen (Knussen, Adès), an Argentinian (Golijov), two Finns (Lindberg, Saariaho), a Transylvanian (Ligeti), and a rock band (Radiohead). Still pretty Anglo-American, I know, but very different from what I might have come up with 10 years ago. I wouldn't be surprised to find my list a decade from now filled with South American, African, and Asian names. What composers/works would the rest of you name as the most striking of the last few years? Why do they stand out?

    Reply to Anne: I'll agree that modern opera production can have a galvanic effect. Schlingensief's Parsifal was not, to my taste, a case in point. Director-opera obviously serves as a substitute for new opera; directors are essentially recomposing operas and presenting them as world premieres. I'll agree, tentatively, that the genre "plays a far larger role in making opera a contemporary art form than most of the new operas that are written." But I think it's a really tragic state of affairs, one that opera houses should try to reverse by seeking out bold new opera at every opportunity. Alas, they have so little incentive to do so.

    I'll be out of town til Monday, so here are all-purpose rejoinders to any further internecine assaults: Wrong! Absolutely not! Are you kidding me? You sound like Adorno! Six of one, half dozen of the other! Busoni is rolling in his grave! etc.

    READER:Un-Self-Consciousness In Seattle
    By Gavin Borchert
    posted @ 10:51 am

    A couple contributors have mentioned they'd be curious to hear from composers themselves. At the risk of making this blog a little Seattle-centric, let me try to describe what's going on in the compositional scene here with regard to the "Big Idea" idea... read more

    Fighting Words with Words
    By Kyle Gann
    posted @ 11:18 am
    Ross: Do we need this kind of classification anymore -- "postclassical," "postminimalist," "totalist"?

    We needed it in the '90s for a very practical reason, because we were sick and tired of critics calling us minimalists (which we weren't), and it was holding back public perception of our music. (It worked beautifully, by the way - none of us was ever called a minimalist again.) And I sort of thought discussing such movements was the point of this blog. Sorry.

    Clarifcation, Departure
    By Alex Ross
    posted @ 11:49 am
    To reader John Shaw: nowhere in my initially huffy and eventually tone-down response to Kyle was there anything even approaching the beginning of an initial cogitation toward the glimmering of a notion that "pop is better than new classical." Possibly the confusion lies in this sentence: "What has NOT been said is that pop musicians have produced most of the significant music." To be absolutely clear: the import of this sentence is that no one on this blog except perhaps Robert Fink is saying that "pop is better." I myself have never thought and never said any such thing. I'm not in the business of ranking different genres of music — it's untrue to my experience and unhelpful to my readers.

    arrgh, or however you spell it
    By John Rockwell
    posted @ 12:16 pm

    Twice I've crafted incredibly thoughtful postings, hit "publish" and seen them disappear. I also can't read the continuations of the readers' letters. So much for my hailing technology as one of the next big ideas.

    What I had written was a kind of response to Kyle, bascially lamenting how high/low had taken over this conversation and stripped away the veneer of politeness to reveal all the old prejudices and resentments. I worry sometimes that the composers Kyle champions are those left over from the 70's who haven't "made it," making it being not topping the charts but winning the respect of fellow composers and fellow artists and enough critics to earn a place in the broader conversation. The point about Partch is well taken, but eventually he did make it, and a lot of Kyle's over-50's have not, and probably will not. For that, I think, it's tired to blame the pop-music business or misguided critics or a cruel and uncaring world.

    But this blog is supposed to be about big ideas, not big music, or even pretty darn good music. So back to the beginning: for me, present-day big ideas include high/low, Western/non-Western and technology in all its forms. Ideas don't produce music; they reflect it. But there are enough ideas, and enough good composers out there, to make me optimistic.

    Loved Alex's all-purpose polemical repostes.

    What's success?
    By Scott Cantrell
    posted @ 1:04 pm

    Reader Gary Panetta asks: Where's music's Toni Morrison?

    No composer, at least anytime recently, has entered the public consciousness with anything like the breadth of Ms. Morrison. That's a function of the lower profile of "serious" music in general. Everyone gets taught at least some literature in school, but rarely music. Reading--if only directions for connecting the DVD player--is part of daily life. Music is an elective, and beyond singing the simplest tune it can seem a hopelessly arcane one.

    Decades ago, Ned Rorem pointed out that well-educated people who could discuss the latest authors, artists and filmmakers often ventured no further than Peter, Paul and Mary when it came to music. Most Americans can read English, but very few can read music. I'm not sure "art" music--whatever we want to call it--is as near death as some suggest, but it's definitely a minority pursuit, right down there with jazz.

    There was a time when Benjamin Britten was widely known in England and Shostakovich in the Soviet Union. I wonder if America has ever had so high-profile a composer. Even the remarkably versatile and outgoing Copland. Bernstein was famous for his conducting and TV programs.

    John raises the issue of which composers "make it" and which don't. Has anyone figured out a formula for this? I think I know why we value Beethoven more than Hummel, but library shelves may well groan beneath yards and yards of unjustly forgotten music.

    I'm a great devote of the English composer Herbert Howells--ever heard of him? Wrote elegant music, as exquisitely orchestrated as Ravel, deeply emotional at times. You can hear a number of his works on CD, but even in England his music rarely appears in the concert hall.

    Today? Well, John Adams certainly seems to be successful, but how many well-educated people actually know his name or his music? Jake Heggie and Mark Adamo must be chortling all the way to the bank with their unashamedly populist operas. Is that "success?" Rouse, Torke, Saariaho, Andriessen, Part, Hersch, Ades all probably pay their bills by composing. Lowell Liebermann says he has a six-figure income from composing. Is that success?

    No way do we know what composers history will judge the major figures of our age. And who's to say history will be right? 

    Posting II. Composer bashing, female critics, form and content
    By Wynne Delacoma
    posted @ 1:57 pm
    Dear heaven! Take a day off from reading the blog and spend an hour or two or three catching up. I haven't entirely caught up, but I can't resist jumping back into this lively discussion. Kyle: If I understand you correctly, you think I'm among those blaming composers for the current lack of a Big Idea. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I had hoped my initial posting made it clear that I question the enitre idea that Big Ideas are necessary or always efficacious. To my mind, Big Ideas are as rare as golden ages, precious and invigorating in part because of their rarity. Opera history has been filled with gifted singers but few golden ages. Big Ideas are the result of a happy alignment of all kinds of forces, from societal trends to artistic talent. Composers have a difficult enough task writing their own music. I would never ask them to take responsibility for coming up with the next Big Idea as well. Re the gender question: I grew up reading the lyrical but hard-hitting prose of Claudia Cassidy, for decades Chicago's most powerful theater and classical music critic. Opera came to Chicago in the mid-1950s courtesy of Carol Fox, tough-minded founder of Lyric Opera of Chicago. It never occurred to me that classical music or music criticism was a man's game. Luckily, by the time I discovered my lowly minority status, I was already on my way. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I'd like to raise a question you all might be interested in discussing. How much of the unwelcome distinctions we've been noting between high culture and low, pop music and classical are the result of the way classical music is presented? Would boundaries be more easily breached if our orchestras weren't locked into a rigid system of subscription concerts? How does the fact that orchestras have to earn and fund-raise millions of dollars to meet their budgets influence the music they present and how they present it? Is the form of the standard symphony orchestra inhibiting its openness to new ideas? Any thoughts?

    Unfair on my Part
    By Kyle Gann
    posted @ 2:33 pm
    To Wynne: I apologize for including you in that roundup, but I needed your quote to react against the fact that the critics keep claiming that there are no Big Ideas today, when I keep claiming, on behalf of composers, that there are. For rhetorical purposes I ended up implying that you were bashing the composers too; I should have found a more graceful way to handle that.

    Performance ideas
    By Greg Sandow
    posted @ 2:39 pm

    I love what Anne wrote, following my thought on new ideas about performance:

    Take the whole early-music movement, arguably the biggest idea of the last 30 years (and one that, I believe, has affected how nearly every orchestra plays today).

    And take stage direction in opera…Some of it is atrocious; some of it is wonderful; but it’s the most consistently creative element in today’s rather moribund opera world, has had a pervasive effect, and plays a far larger role in making opera a contemporary art form than most of the new operas that are written (as I said in an earlier post).

    And I'd add a couple of other things. First, a real-life example of creative freedom in performance -- David Daniels singing Les nuits d'été. (Thanks, Anne, for telling me about that.)

    Plus what Anne noted in her Times piece this morning about Mostly Mozart: programming that instead of treating music historically, instead tries to find links between things that are on the surface very different.

    Other big ideas around right now are about classical music's survival, something we haven't touched on yet here (unless I missed something, which wouldn't surprise me). I've said in my ArtsJournal blog that I'm now hearing, in private, a level of pessimism about classical music's future that I've never encountered before, from people involved with major orchestras (some of them -- the people, not the orchestras -- with impeccably conservative pedigrees). So one new idea might go like this: If we don't make drastic changes, classical music is doomed.

    Of course, that's not so much an idea as a call for ideas, and the one place I'd say with some confidence that things are going is toward the community. Orchestras are growing very interested in the cities around them, and the role in those cities they play. What will that mean for music itself? I wouldn't jump to any conclusions, or start wailing that music's going to be dumbed down. It could just as well grow smarter, as orchestras find ways to connect their musical ideals with an audience, especially one made up of the smart cultured people 50 and under (to give an approximate age) who right now don't give a spit about classical music. To some of these people, the classical mainstream sounds middlebrow, and far too much like movie music. They need smarter classical concerts,  not dumber ones.

    Jotting IV: Grab bag
    By Charles Ward
    posted @ 3:55 pm

    Before I find all my ideas appearing in other posts, here are some:
    * The performer skilled in multiple media (already partially raised). String players who are facile in going between period and modern instruments. Singers who move from classical to other styles (the Renee Flemings who don't get trapped in the clutches of the music industry -- oh for the days she would show up at an interview looking less than perfect). At Rice University a handful of professors have acquired a group of restored 19th-century pianos and are using the full range, including a pristine 1825 Graf and a 1890 Bluthner, for performance and teaching.
    * Musically illiterate but gifted performers. In a non-snooty moment, I wrote a story last year on the music program at Lakewood Church, a non-denominational charismatic Houston congregation that is the largest meg-church in the country (no, I'm not indulging in old stereotypes about Texas). The music is part of the reason. The lead female worship could be a star in the secular world and on a couple of tracks on their CDs, the choir sings with a precision I never hear from the Houston Symphony Chorus. But most of the singers, including the leader, can't read music.
    * ``Creative destruction,'' the phrase popular in the business worlds that came from from ``Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy'' by the  Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. Competition in the future will be based not on price but on ``the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization ... -- competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage.''
    * Outsourcing (already alluded to by Greg). With his Naxos label, Klaus Heymann totally upset the economics and aesthetics of the classical recording industry. He outsourced: Hiring unknown performers and obscure East European orchestras to build cities. Cities have outsourced work to conductors and soloists for ever. Now, as Greg suggested, the time is coming when even major cities likes San Antonio may outsource their performing arts (and what an issue that will pose in contract negotiations!)
    * The need to communicate with audiences -- the ``Little Women'' syndrome. After seeing the audience reception of Daniel Catan's "Florencia en el Amazonas" and the success of Adamo's "Little Women," Houston Grand Opera general director David Gockley made a conscious decision to seek out scores he thinks will have a chance to get played again. No one "A Quiet Place" or "New Year."
    * Could Gockley's decision represent the faint stirrings of a reaction to the dominance of music that people don't like to listen to?
    * Is the stasis we're now seeing in classical music a reflection of the deadlocked political system?
    * The tyranny of fixed-pitch instruments. Before an amalgamation of western and eastern 'classical' musics can happen, our system of temperament is going to have to give.
    * On the other hand, maybe Riley's In C with was Ur-idea of all time.
    * Could the current trans-national political turmoil centered on conflicts between Muslims and other groups prompt the next big idea - the reconciliation of seemingly conflicting ideas, not just accommodation. I'm especially intrigued by Europe, where Muslims have become part of the society. Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin certainly pointed in that direction.
    * The booming Hispanic population (alluded to already). Within a half dozen years, the population of Houston, which, many people don't know, is the fourth largest city in the United States (but the 10th largest metropolitan area), will have an absolute majority of residents with Hispanic background.

    Queries for John Rockwell
    By Kyle Gann
    posted @ 4:18 pm
    I worry sometimes that the composers Kyle champions are those left over from the 70's who haven't "made it," making it being not topping the charts but winning the respect of fellow composers and fellow artists and enough critics to earn a place in the broader conversation. - Rockwell

    But why would you assume that, John? Wouldn't it be worth finding out? I'm talking mostly about people who graduated college between '75 and '83, so calling them "left over from the '70s" is a little harsh. Might'nt one have said the same thing about Morton Feldman in 1974, when he was the same age I am now, and when he hadn't yet written any of his really great music except Rothko Chapel? Or Conlon Nancarrow in 1960, aged 48, when he had done nothing but write 30 player piano studies of whose existence the world was completely unaware? Or Robert Ashley in 1978, just starting work on Perfect Lives? What's the cutoff age?

    READER: A Still More Disturbing Question
    By Brian Newhouse
    posted @ 7:28 pm

    "No composer, at least anytime recently, has entered the public consciousness with anything like the breadth of Ms. Morrison." For that matter, how many pop musicians have entered the public consciousness with anything like the breadth of Ms. Morrison? Worse yet... read more

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There was a time when great cities had multiple newspapers and culture was hashed out daily in the press, strongly-held opinions battling for the hearts and minds of readers. Today it's rare for a city to have more than one or two outlets where culture can be publicly discussed, let alone prodded and pulled and challenged... More

If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.

Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment – at least on the surface – that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?

Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?

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READER: The purpose of music
- Linda Rogers (08/06/2004 10:46 am)

READER: Thank you to all
- Jennifer Higdon (08/06/2004 10:10 am)

READER: To Corey Dargel and Kyle Gann
- Garth Trinkl (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

READER: re:Where Are The Young Voices?
- Andrea La Rose (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

READER: To Justin: Art can be entertaining, but it is not entertainment
- Arthur J. Sabatini (08/06/2004 8:42 am)

Final Disinformation

- Kyle Gann (08/06/2004 8:41 am)

READER: Where Are The Young Voices?
- Corey Dargel (08/06/2004 8:21 am)

Over and out - an anti-rant rant
- Justin Davidson (08/06/2004 7:05 am)

READER: Classical Music Doesn't Fit The PR Mold
- Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (08/05/2004 9:21 pm)

READER: Eclecticism Is Better Anyway
- Hale Jacob (08/05/2004 7:41 pm)

All Posts


Greg Sandow
  The Wall Street Journal
 - To Justin: Hermetic

 - Performance ideas
 - Truly big classical

Another view

Wynne Delacoma
  Chicago Sun-Times
 - Composer bashing, female
    critics, form and content
 - Big Ideas--Who Needs Them?

Alex Ross
  The New Yorker
 - Clarification, Departure
 - The New New Thing
 - Provocation!
 - To AC Douglas
 - Pop Innovation
A Potential Goldmine
 - To Rockwell: Styles, Not

 - Listening for Passionate

Kyle Gann
  Village Voice
 - Listening examples provided
 - Queries for John Rockwell
 - Unfair on my part
 - Composer bashing
 - Inside a big idea
 - Names & Their Inadequacies
 - The Idea & Its Conditions
The Next Medium-Sized Idea
 - Alternate Universe

Justin Davidson
 - Thanks, Kyle
 - proposal
 - To Kyle
 - Who's saying give up?
 - Some Things Are New, Actually
 - High/Low Redux
 - pop envy
Where was THAT in Classical

 - Apology & Comment
 - How Big is a Big Idea?

John Rockwell
  The New York Times
 - Reply to Kyle and a Plea
 - Arghhh, or however you
    spell it
 - The Magpie
 - Brahms and Wagner
Question for Kyle
 - To Alex, Justin: the pedant
    at work

 - Initial Entry

Scott Cantrell
  Dallas Morning News
 - What's success?
 - Pop music precendent
 - Multiculturalism
 - Fragmentation
 - Female Critics
 - Movements & Media
A Blurry Patchwork

Charles Ward
  Houston Chronicle
 - Jotting IV: Grab Bag
 - Jotting III: When John
 - Jotting II: I'd Rather Not Get
    A Call From Stalin

Jotting I: We Do Have A Big

Anne Midgette
  The New York Times
 - What's the big idea?
 - A Few Responses To
    Other Postings
 - Back to Fragmentation
    for a Minute

 - Gender footnote
 - Another preamble

Andrew Druckenbrod
  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 - Composers are Composers
    but Distinctions are
 - No apology to pop and

 - Taking Issue With The

John von Rhein
  Chicago Tribune

Kyle MacMillan
  Denver Post

Joshua Kosman
  San Francisco Chronicle


The Purpose of Music
- Linda Rogers (08/06/2004 10:46 am)

Thank you to all
- Jennifer Higdon (08/06/2004 10:10 am)

To Corey Dargel and Kyle Gann
- Garth Trinkl (08/06/2004 10:00 am)

re: Where Are The Young Voices?
- Andrea La Rose (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

To Justin: Art can be entertaining, but it is notentertainment
- Arthur J. Sabatini (08/06/2004 8:42 am)

Where Are The Young Voices?
- Corey Dargel (08/06/2004 8:20 am)

Summing Up
- Brian Newhouse (08/05/2004 9:26 pm)

Classical Music Doesn't Fit The PR Mold
- Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (08/05/2004 9:18 pm)

Eclecticism Is Better Anyway
- Hale Jacob (08/05/2004 7:40 pm)

What Is Live Performance, Anyway?
- Steve Layton (08/05/2004 7:34 pm)

All Reader Posts


- Discography of Minimalist and
    Totalist music

- Kyle Gann on Post-Minimalism
- Kyle Gann: Following the
    Classical Script


- DJ Spooky
- Tan Dun
- Zhou Long
- Bright Sheng



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