All we are saying, is give Darmstadt a chance

As much as we try not to be, I think that everyone in the arts – including, and especially myself, – has the unfortunate capacity for pretentiousness.

The other day, I wrote something that was pretentious regarding a recent new music show I attended here in K-Ru.  I regretted saying it as soon as I published the post and thought about redacting it, but that’s the coward’s way out. Here’s the quote:

“…tonight’s performance of all modern works by Henze and his students.  Summary: Don’t take your anxiety meds for a week and then throw a bowling ball into a percussion closet.”

It was glib; a punchline that was potentially offensive to composers represented at the show, the conductor, the players (especially the percussionist, who should totally be getting overtime for that show), as well as people who actually need to take medication for anxiety disorders.  Snark is never attractive.

The comment was born from personal uncertainty. The real issue is that I am completely in foreign territory as a composer.  All the composers were living German students of an iconic German composer, who did, it should be said, have a rather successful, global career, even to the point of teaching at Dartmouth for a time.  Through the whole show, I was thinking a lot of things: “I would kill somebody for a melody,” “These poor players are beating the shit out of themselves,” “How in the hell do you notate that?” and “At what point do you hear an extended technique so many times that it becomes passé?”

And I’m wondering if this is just what new music sounds like in Germany.  In the States, the spectrum of new music is a lot wider, encompassing the (to my ears) relatively inoffensive neo-classicism and minimalism as well as more experimental, and, to be honest, academic musics. I know it’s a small sample, and I should be attending lots more new music shows in general, but the biggest thing I kept thinking was, “What I write sounds NOTHING like this.”  Hence the anxiety meds/bowling ball comment.  It’s easy to classify new music – or anything else thats not easily understood, or at least engaging – as “crazy.” Some of it – including the musical heritage of the pieces I heard that night – is intentionally crafted to produce that feeling in the audience.

But, in doing so, I broke one of my cardinal rules of listening to and talking about new music – the extrapolation of my experience is unnecessary and irrelevant when faced with the basic question, “Was the piece/performance successful for me and me alone.”

And with that, my penance (and homework) is two Xenakis works, two Boulez, two Stockhausen, a Luigi Nono and a few more Henze.

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