Compliments to the Chef

Compliments to the Chef

I’ve been to enough concerts of my music to have heard all kinds of comments from listeners, positive, critical, nonsensical, and everything in between.

To start with the positive comments: they can be meant with great sincerity and spoken with care, and they can also be the most perfunctory place-holder for “I actually didn’t like it much”. Sometimes people have discovered a facet to the music I had not considered; sometimes a dull or half-assed comment is delivered with great erudition while at other times the spectacle of someone without lots of insider music knowledge groping for a way to pinpoint what they want to say is profoundly moving.

People make comments to the composer for all kinds of reasons: out of a direct, unpremeditated expression of emotion; as a preamble to asking a question; out of a desire to be seen doing so in public; as a way to “retaliate” against the composer; to communicate information that the commenter expects to be on some level desirable by the composer; or even to solicit the composer as an ally in a forthcoming tirade for which the commenter desires a capital-A artist’s opinion as “backup”.

(To illuminate this last point, I once recall the gentleman seated behind me striking up a vaguely complimentary intermission conversation as a prelude to gushing about all the composers and styles of music he didn’t approve of. Too bad some of the musicians he mentioned were personal heroes of mine—he was clearly hoping for my endorsement of his “enlightened” views, perhaps to impress his date!)

Perhaps the most meaningful comment I’ve received came from a writer who had no prior experience with classical music: following the concert, she confided that the pieces on the concert had caused her to think about sound in a different way. In one sense what a modest and simple comment—but I could hardly hope for anything better.

Next week I’d like to follow up by sharing some of the most negative criticisms I’ve received from listeners. And composers please feel free to post your own reminisces of the comments you’ve received from listeners; which were the most memorable to you, and why?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

3 thoughts on “Compliments to the Chef

  1. Kyle Gann

    I thought of your column last night at the premiere of my string quartet. After it ended, an elderly woman came up, touched me on the arm, and said, “I loved your Cage book.”

  2. danvisconti

    Hi Kyle, thanks for sharing that! I remember an audience member who very diplomatically informed me that my piece “has set the bar for musicianship at a whole new level”.

  3. Alexandra Gardner

    One of the best comments:

    “I so wish they had played your piece twice, because it was so wonderful that the second it was over I desperately wanted to hear it again!”

    One of the worst:

    “Oh! That was so…..interesting……”

    You can’t go wrong with a classic, ha! ;-)


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