We don’t often bring guest composers to speak at Bard, and sometimes we feel guilty about that, and make an effort. So a few weeks ago we brought in a fairly well-known composer of my own generation, who told the students that “the problem with minimalism is that it’s self-indulgent to make attractive music just because people like it.” I spent a long time trying to parse that – that it’s self-indulgent to make music that people like. And today a composer slightly older than myself came to Bard – where we house the John Cage Trust, offer a course on Cage, and have a faculty member (me) who wrote a book about Cage and the introduction to the new version of Silence – and told the student composers that Cage was a “dangerous” composer who tried to destroy what great composers had been doing ever since Monteverdi. (For the record, he also told them Philip Glass wasn’t any good and that Shostakovich’s music “wouldn’t last.”) And suddenly I feel pretty good that we don’t bring guest composers to Bard. I may even initiate a policy that composers are not allowed on campus.
UPDATE: I was discussing the second composer with a colleague, and he said, “It’s not like anyone’s forcing him to listen to Cage’s music.” But then we conceded that 4’33″ seems to be playing almost perpetually, and that maybe he was just sick of hearing it.