12 February 2009

It kind of warms the heart

of an old craggy modernist like myself to read some of John Adams' recent interview with Newsweek. After saying some not particularly interesting things about a proposal for a Secretary of the Arts and the like, he goes on to mention briefly about some of the young comnposers who are composing in a style that mixes "indy" music with classical. I quote:

" How should concert halls go about attracting new listeners? Does government play no role in this?
Well, the one and only way to interest people in classical music is to get them to play it as children. People who grow up not having learned an instrument or not having been exposed to playing Bach on the piano—or playing, as I did, clarinet in a concert band—they have no understanding and no exposure to it. When I was a kid, we all had music lessons as part of the school program.

Isn't that changing, to some degree? Aren't composers who cross streams with "indie" or experimental rock—people like Nico Muhly or Caleb Burhans—bringing non-instrumentalists into the concert hall?
But both of those guys, they're highly trained musicians

Yes, but their fans aren't, necessarily.
Possibly. But there's another side to that. Some of the music that these composers are producing is so simple that it's in danger of dumbing-down. Not necessarily Nico and Caleb. But there are a lot of young composers in their 20s and 30s who are very anxious to appeal to the same audience that would listen to indie rock. But they are creating a level of musical discourse that's just really bland. I don't think it will have a very long shelf life. The bottom line is art really can't be made easy and palatable without simply losing its meaning and importance. I had this conversation with the new executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We all went out to dinner and this fellow said, "I think we should make concerts interactive." Here I am, someone who's always been the renegade. "Wait a minute," I said. "You can't listen to a really important piece of music and have people banging on their BlackBerrys."

Is there more to say? Well I would add that for me the problem really is is that these folks aren't doing anything interesting with this potentially fertile blend of genres. There is no translation - moving the essence of "indy-rock" (itself a misnomer given how many people listen to it) into a new music framework. Essentially what we get instead is no different than transcription or arrangement - there is no imperative for this music to be scored for the forces it calls for. An equivalent might be if I took David Allen Coe's "Hank Williams Junior Junior" and arranged it for pierrot ensemble, although that might be more interesting than some of these things I've heard.