Wingspread Reaction (US)

Reacting to Tuesday’s posting about the Wingspread conference on ways to grow the market share of jazz, Rifftides Reader Jan Brukman thinks it unlikely that jazz will exceed its three percent share of the market (an optimistic estimate) for music recordings, but he doesn’t think it will disappear.

As string quartets will never die, neither will jazz, and for the same reasons. They are classical forms; if you stray too much from the classical forms, however, you get experiments, which real people cannot hear. No amount of education can transcend that, as arrogant idiots like Charles Wuorinen never found out.

That is how many jazz people feel about Ornette Coleman, but Coleman has as enthusiastic a following as does Wuorinen among afficionados of music on the edges of modern classicism. Wuorinen is an American composer who uses the twelve-note system developed by Arnold Schoenberg and expanded by Milton Babbitt. He often writes electronic music. His best known pieces are Time’s Encomium, which brought him a Pulitzer prize, and Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky. “Best known” does not mean familiar. I wonder how many people have heard a Wuorinen work. He also won a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur “genius” grant. The New York Times once wrote, “Charles Wuorinen has taken the decrees of 12-tone music and made them sing.” Dissenting somewhat, The New Yorker critic Alex Ross wrote of Wuronen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a collaboration with Salman Rushdie:

Although Wuorinen has not renounced the twelve-tone writing with which he made his name, he, too, now deposits triads in his scores as if they were pillow mints, and even indulges in pastiches of jazz and blues. Schoenberg once believed that atonal music could have the same emotional range as tonal music; Wuorinen, surrendering to psycho-acoustic reality, uses dissonant complexity to express the terror of war and quasi-tonal passages to express love and reconciliation. Passages of the latter type are, admittedly, tentative and fleeting. This comedy growls and thrashes more than it sings and dances.

That paragraph, which has dissonant complexity of its own, is from a piece about the conductor James Levine. You can read the whole thing in Ross’s The Rest is Noise, a blog I cannot recommend highly enough. I am adding it to the Other Places list in the right-hand column.

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