In Living Color

In Living Color

I continue to be blown away by the concert offerings in London. Although I regret having to miss the annual Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute (congratulations to Osmo Vänskä for his recent ACF Champion of New Music award, by the way), I’m dazzled by the array of unbelievable performances here-even if, like me, your goal is to suck the Big Smoke’s musical marrow as cheaply as possible, you can easily hit up at least one small concert per week that features the kind of stuff you’d never hear in even a thriving new music town like Minneapolis. (Maybe we just happen to be in an especially dense season for concerts.) When’s the last time you heard a Peter Ablinger piece in Pittsburgh? How about Laurence Crane in Los Angeles? Unreal.

At the same time, though, it’s a bit terrifying: I’m just now glimpsing the vastly broadened perspective that live new music on a weekly basis can provide, and I wonder if I haven’t wasted my formative period. If I’d moved years ago to New York, another city that sports a bewildering array of contemporary music offerings, I’d probably have a much more vivid notion of what a new music listening experience can be. Squatting covetously over a library CD player, straining to mentally reproduce what the latest Wergo or CRI disc would sound like in real life, is a pretty sorry way to pass the time between actual flesh-and-blood performances. What if I’d been able to see new music shows all the time? The aesthetic and philosophical pathologies that have characterized (and continue to characterize) my growth as a composer would have faced much hardier resistance if I’d been able to hold them up to reality-based scrutiny.

Or maybe I they would have run rampant, each concert cultivating new strains of creative delusion. I might have fallen in love with every piece I heard and had a much harder time getting to the core of what I really care about (an ongoing process). That kind of hyper-exposure also excludes the possibility of being a genuine “outsider,” except perhaps for the truly, intransigently weird; I’m thinking here of La Monte Young, whose music I admire greatly. He’s lived in New York for a long time, and it seems to me that he changed it, rather than the other way around.

In any case, these are the kinds of wistful musings I’m glad to be stricken with. I’m really going to miss this wealth of awesome live music when I head back to the States.

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4 thoughts on “In Living Color

  1. jbunch

    Why don’t you create that wealth of listening experiences in Minneapolis?

    All it takes (in some respects) is the audacity to book a hall and get some composers and performers together. Not really that difficult actually….

    DIY man. It’s the best thing punk ever did for “new music.”

  2. colin holter

    I see what you’re saying. But I think what’s going on here is abetted by a number of factors that the Twin Cities don’t have going for them, including proximity to continental Europe (i.e. easy access to that pool of performers and composers) and a critical mass of informed listeners who are aware of their interest in new music. Compounding this difficulty is the fact that the Twin Cities already host a well-entrenched new music situation, a system that fosters and rewards (richly, I might add) mainstream, middle-of-the-road work while more radical efforts face an uphill fight. Please note that I’m not trying to belittle the oasis of musical culture coincident with the 612 area code at all; for that matter, there’s plenty of middle-of-the-road new music taking place in London too. It’s just extremely cool to spend some time in a place where at least some of the resources are being spent in a way I approve of, for once.

    To put it another way, if you came over and saw what I’ve seen, I suspect you wouldn’t be optimistic about replicating this kind of environment in Minneapolis (or anywhere else) either.

  3. philmusic

    “Please note that I’m not trying to belittle the oasis of musical culture coincident with the 612 area code at all…”

    I’m kind of torn on this one Colin as generalizations can have, well, exceptions.

    First I think I can say that an organization man I’m not.

    That said composition has been an uphill struggle for me as it is for many of us. My point is this I lived in NYC, the great artistic center, for many years and I couldn’t get arrested. This was due to the style police out in force and my own inability to get the power folks to support my work.

    It is also true that I went to many many many different types of concerts there. There are also here if you try the various dance/theatatrical/non-com rock performances.

    Since moving to the twin cities me and my wife Janet have developed a career and not a bad one either. I was taken seriously from the moment I presented my work to the Red Eye theater. That was a change.

    I find it interesting that there is such a strong reginal sound attached to here. Folks love it. A sound that as it happens is very differen’t from my own.

    The problem with your comments is that they can be misinterpreted as parochial university speak. That is;

    Those who earn a living from their art, and/or outside the Academy, must be purveying a lessor sort of product than those inside.

    I don’t believe that yet I too miss Europe and the Arditti Quartet.

    Phil Fried

  4. Ann Millikan

    Write some grants and curate your own experimental music festival. Seriously, this is a place where you could do it. It would be refreshing to have something like that. We all know there’s a preponderance of neo-romantic music presented in the Twin Cities, I agree its tiresome, but at least this is a state that believes in supporting working artists. It isn’t however, all of what people are writing, despite your generalizations.

    Talk to some of the composers and musicians you are meeting in London and see who’d be interested in doing a residency here. Then start doing some grant research and see who might support it. You could put out a call for experimental works and select works alongside the featured artist and your own to present. Experimental music usually is a do-it-yourself enterprise. So come down from your ivory tower and dig in.


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