Academy d’Underrated: Robert Ashley

February is the shortest month, mercifully, and I’m going to leave all of John Luther Adams’ music up on Postclassic Radio for a few more days at least as compensation. But I hereby proclaim Robert Ashley Composer-of-the-Months for not only March but April as well – on account of, I’m sick and tired of having classical musicians and even composers respond, “Who’s Robert Ashley?” “I’ve never heard his music, what’s it like?” And so if you’ve never heard his music you’re going to hear it this month, and if you have, you may revel in it to your heart’s content. I’m starting with his operas Perfect Lives and Improvement: Don Leaves Linda in their entireties, the longest complete works I’ve posted to the station. I’ll add other pieces as the months proceed. Ashley is the greatest and most innovative opera composer of the late 20th century, yet his work is so unconventional in genre and medium that the classical establishment has hardly bothered to become aware of it. In fact, for me there are four composers whose innovations could provide enough of a working foundation for a new musical language to supply my generation and another one or two afterward: Conlon Nancarrow for rhythm; La Monte Young (or alternatively, Ben Johnston) for pitch; Morton Feldman for texture and continuity; and Ashley for the relation of text to structure and music. In the work of those composers we have a new American musical revolution, for those who want to take advantage of it. It’s no exaggeration to say that my creative life has been a halting attempt to integrate what I inherited from the four of them.

Sorry, however, that I’ve been blogging about so little else besides the radio station. Paradoxically, I have too much time. Having stepped down as department chair, I now have time to pursue other projects, and so I’ve been composing, as well as writing loads of articles for print media, which leaves me little left to say. Blogging is a great spare-moment activity, and now I suddenly have too many spare hours to cut them up piecemeal.

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