My new book was mentioned today in the New Yorker, and my music in the New York Times. The latter sort of implied that my Disklavier music is “silly.” Personally I think classical music should lighten up and indulge a joke now and then, but I’m finding that when you write a humorous piece, people are just disturbed by it. I guess it’s back to solemn and portentous for me.
UPDATE: The worst experience I ever had in this respect was the only performance I’ve ever given in Germany, in Hamburg in 2007. I had somehow willfully forgotten that Germans are not particularly internationally admired for their sense of humor, and with questionable judgment I decided to regale them with my Disklavier piece Petty Larceny, completely composed of quotations from the Beethoven piano sonatas. I think of the piece as something more than a joke: it keeps every quotation in the original key, and pairs lots of early and late sonatas to show, I think, that Beethoven tended to use certain chord progressions in certain keys. But it was certainly humorously intended. (Heck, Stockhausen did a Beethoven-quote piece too, called Opus 1970.) So I played the piece, and as I looked at the audience afterward, every man jack of them wore the exact same expression, one which haunts me to this day. It was an expression you might elicit from a complete stranger you sat next to at the beginning of a transcontinental plane trip, if you introduced yourself by earnestly detailing a plan to end world hunger by eating Jewish babies: a mixture of revulsion and despair, nuanced by a transparent veneer of polite restraint. Intermission followed, and as I returned to perform Custer and Sitting Bull, I saw that fully half the audience had fled. Those who remained were mostly graduate students who had agreed to carry away the electronic equipment afterwards. It was easily the worst performing experience of my post-college life.
But never mind that. I’ve now had my music played at BAM. In the music scene I chronicled at the Voice for 19 years, this was the highest possible honor. I have attained the Downtown Valhalla, and can die a happy man.