“Time for Europe to Look Ahead”

My comments about new music in Europe received more resounding validation than I would have ever expected, from a composer in Amsterdam, Renske Vrolijk:

I read your entry about New Music in Old Europe with great interest, since
I am one of those “young” composers trying to free ourselves from the
Darmstadt liberation. And I am not the only one….

In brief, the landscape looks as follows:

1 – The nomenclature still firmly in the saddle [by which she means, I presume, the postserialists from the Darmstadt era].

2 – The Hague school, especially strong in the Netherlands (If you know Bang On A Can, you know what this is about): Louis Andriessen, Cornelis de Bont (in the US people like David Lang)

3 – The (semi) religious school (followers of Arvo Pärt, like Tuur and Joep

4 – The European American school (the cultural U-turn), people like Jacob ter Veldhuis and me.

5 – The spectralists (I’ve heard about them but haven’t investigated them much, yet).

My latest attempt to break the barriers (I did not succeed) was when one of my orchestral compositions was turned down in a competition with the jury telling me my music was too tonal. The funny thing is that after the competition I was invited by the chairman of the jury to his home address. He told me that he found my music refreshing after another bunch of academic works, but he couldn’t find a majority in the jury. Mostly avant-garde diehards.

To be honest, it was the domination of the avant-garde that made me quit composing for over six years and do something entirely different. The pressure to compose scores that looked complicated and sounded complicated made my brains melt. I just wanted to compose music that is allowed to sound nice! Music in a traditional way, or pop or whatever, but at least music, not organized sound with a lot of intellectual blah blah to make it easier to swallow.

When I visited Gelbmusik a while ago, I felt the same jitters as when I decided to quit. And don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Le Grande Macabre by Ligeti very much last year in the Komische Oper in Berlin. But it is time for Europe to look ahead again.

Decade after decade, those composers who rail against the conservatism and forced homogeneity of the music scene of their day – Cowell, Varese, Partch, Cage, Reich – have turned out to be the visionaries who opened up a new era. And yet I can already anticipate the kind of carping responses Ms. Vrolijk must get (because I’ve so often gotten them myself), dismissing her as an unsuccessful malcontent. In music as in politics, those who thrive even moderately under status quo conditions are quick to gun down anyone who points up corruption or timidity in the status quo. But the criterion for how seriously such complaints should be taken is clear. You can apply it by checking out Renske Vrolijk’s web page, which opens with the following manifesto:

Who is afraid of tonal music

Many people believe that contemporary music is about putting as many dissonances in a unit of time as possible. Some contemporary composers think that contemporary tonal music is lazy composing.

Both are wrong!

Good contemporary classical music is not about consonance or dissonance but about reaching out and getting a message or feeling across to your public. It has a link to its own time and to society as a whole. And it has the guts to be linked to tradition, to be sentimental, to be consonant and dissonant with meaning and be intellectual at the same time.

Brava! Checking out the MP3 samples of her music, which are admittedly brief excerpts, I find her work original, gripping, and quite unlike anything else I hear from Europe – a cultural U-turn indeed, but not in the American neoromantic sense. When an artist can back up her tirades against the status quo with good music, they demand to be taken seriously.