Last Wednesday, I flew to Indiana for a “Post-Classical Symposium” at the DePauw University School of Music — and it was just a fabulous event. Some of the high points:
Hearing classical music students — freshmen and sophomores – play a concert of improvised music
Hearing the first concert of the DePauw New Music Ensemble, with a truly unusual program
Getting to know the terrific people in eighth blackbird, who’re in residence at DePauw
Hearing a concert by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (not that I don’t hear them in New York, but notice what high-quality groups were around during the symposium)
Hearing Joe Horowitz make a fine presentation, and making one myself, which I liked far better than most of the talks I give.
All this was organized by Eric Edberg, cellist and DePauw professor, though of course not without help from several fine colleagues. Eric gets major props, though. He’s a fine cellist, a fine teacher, a fine thinker, and a deeply sensitive improviser. We improvised together, in his office one afternoon, and I’d say that he’s about as responsive, as alive to what’s happening at every moment, as any musician I’ve ever heard. All this is high praise, and I mean every word of it. (I should add that Eric often comments on this blog, and in fact it’s through my blog that we met.)
So, some details. Student improvisation. What other school requires classical music students to improvise? Eric and I couldn’t think of any. The concert showed how much these kids loved improvising, and how fearless they were. They worked out their plans (to hear them tell it) only minutes before they came on stage, and that only seeme to make them looser, and encourage them to have fun. Apparently they move away from improvising in their junior and senior years. And not all the music faculty are down with improvising. Still — it plainly opens the students’ creativity, and, again, they plainly love doing it.
New music concert. The program was called “The Passing of Time,” and it was a mirror of itself. First a movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, then two movements from Astor Piazzolla’sThe Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, then Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel Im Spiegel, in the version for clarinet and piano. Then intermission, and then, reversing the order, Pärt (the same piece, in the viola/piano version), Piazzolla (the remaining two movements), and another movement of the Messiaen.
Many new music programs need students with lots of chops. This one — at least in Messiaen and Pärt – taught them to be peaceful, to focus, and to play long, long lines. Very unusual! And then Piazzola made them dig in, and be earthy. Not your everyday new music concert, not by miles, thanks to Carlos Carillo, the composer on the DePauw faculty who programmed it.
eighth blackbird. We had such a good time with each other, the six of them and me. Everyone knows how well they play (or certainly everyone should), but I didn’t know they were so relaxed, and so open. They played an open rehearsal, and invited comments, which they took very seriously. In another presentation, they showed how they stage some of the pieces they play, and again fielded comments, even criticisms, with good humor and grace, and with quiet grit, too, when they disagreed. And they also took part in every discussion led by anyone else. Their feisty flutist Tim Munro called me a “professional troublemaker” on their blog, and I’m proud. (He should know — he reads me here.)
Presentations. For three days, everyone seemed to agree that classical music, as we know it today, has run its course. That’s heady stuff for any music school. I’m sure some people disagreed, but the presentations — including a lively one by composer Erich Stem, who runs a new-music record label at Indiana University — all kept saying this. And also a final panel discussion on what music schools ought to teach. Joe Horowitz feels this no less strongly than I do, though our approaches are very different. We complemented each other, and more than once I found myself saying (since my talk came after his) how much I agreed with him. We probably disagree on the remedy, but the more ideas for change we’ve got, the better off we’ll be. My presentation started with the idea that classical music swims in a sea of popular culture, and that this is both a wonderful thing and also the source of classical music’s problems. All this, with musical illustrations. But I’ll summarize myself in another post.
One more highlight. Joe — who invented the term “post-classical” — kindly cited eighth blackbird as a post-classical ensemble. But Tim Munro, in the time for questions and comments after Joe’s talk, rather firmly disagreed. Since, he said, they survive by setting up residencies at university music programs, they’re tied into current classical music institutions, and can’t be called post-classical at all. He didn’t mean to put his group down by saying this (nor do I, by quoting it), but he’s got a point — and he provided yet another example of how honest the eighth blackbird people are. (And of all the reasons I enjoyed talking to them.) This leads into some fascinating stuff about how new music ensembles make a living. But I’ll save that for my next post.
(Note to Seth Rosenbloom: If you’d provide your e-mail address, I could better respond to the latest things you sent me, which seem more like private communications than like comments on the blog.)