I want to draw attention to Allan Kozinn’s thinkpiece about the vagaries of new-music performance in yesterday’s Times (tried to post then, got caught in a holding pattern involving site changes), which is pitch-perfect in talking about why, how, and with what expectations performers should undertake the performance of newly composed music. I would add one thing. I would urge new-music performers to look for composers to commission outside the usual roster of composers on the regular chamber-music or orchestra circuit. Many of the best composers are better at composing than they are at networking, and are devoted enough to get their music out that they’ll do it by themselves if that’s what they’re reduced to. That means they may work in some electronic or self-produced idiom which you mistakenly think is all they’re interested in, or talented for. You may think they’re not really chamber music composers, or couldn’t write for piano trio, or something, and you might often be entirely wrong. For instance, no classical chamber group would commission Glenn Branca, right?, since he only writes for electric guitar ensembles – except that Glenn’s string quartet is one of his best works, and one of the most beautiful essays in that genre of the last 25 years. (No recording of it exists that I know of, unfortunately, but I once heard it live and reviewed it.) And Carl Stone is an electronic composer, he wouldn’t know how to write an acoustic piece – except that the piano pieces Sarah Cahill has commissioned from him are absolutely charming.
Kozinn is exactly right that a new piece needs to get played publicly and played well, and considered for awhile, before we can decide whether it’s a keeper. Similarly, composers who show brilliant imagination in one medium need opportunities to branch out into others, and shouldn’t be bypassed based on some superficial canard about “proven track record” in a given medium. You might occasionally draw a clunker, just as you can with any Pulitzer prize winner, and it’s a risk you have to take. But a composer who’s spent his life in solo performance or electronics because it was the only route available might turn out to have a couple of gorgeous string quartets inside him (Ingram Marshall is a classic example).
In an unrelated bit of news, I note that Postclassic remains number 6 on the ranking of classical music blogs. I’ve been passed up by Nico Muhly as the top single-composer blog. Frankly, I’ve done so much to reduce and alienate my readership that I’m astonished to still be in the running at all. I rather think of this blog as a book I wrote awhile back that I’m still adding the occasional footnote to – that, and also I’ve been incredibly overcommitted lately, and am turning down writing jobs left and right. But despite all my most cantankerous efforts, there I remain. Strange indeed.