Lessons I Learned in London

Lessons I Learned in London

Now that I’m getting down to my last few months in Europe, I’m keeping an eye out for must-attend performances and trying to decide how far I’m willing to travel. Sussex for UK MicroFest 3? Maybe. Brussels for Ars Musica? It’s possible. Norwich for Garth Knox? I might just have to. After my thoroughly world-rocking experience in Huddersfield, not to mention many excellent concerts here in London, it’s clear to me that these opportunities have to be seized. But it’s also clear that if I want to keep hearing contemporary music of the sort I’ve enjoyed so much over here, I have to bring some of the lessons I’ve learned back home with me. I have seen the light, and the light is as follows:

  • Contemporary music is international. It is imperative that you have an accurate picture of new music all over the world—or, rather, that you strive constantly to develop such a picture, because it’s a moving target. At any rate, it’s very easy to think you know the score without having a clue, I’ve found.

  • Contemporary music is local. Engage the community without compromising the content you’re presenting. Incorporate or develop a regional flavor that makes your event unique but doesn’t stifle your possibility-space.

  • Get the best performers you can afford. A lackluster rendition of great music is a lackluster experience; a great rendition of great music is worth whatever you paid to get in the door. They’re the people we see and hear. Aim high.

  • Save some space for student and amateur performers. This is how they get better, especially if they have a chance to play alongside the pros. Even if they don’t get paid, it should be a rewarding, enriching experience for them too.

  • Don’t be nepotistic. It corrupts what ought to be a porous but firm meritocracy. There are already plenty of prejudices and biases in our line of work without adding this more or less arbitrary one to the list.

One American festival that takes these ideals to heart is Spark, which will have just ended by the time this post goes live. I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve picked up this year when it comes time to help out next February. There are other concert series, festivals, conferences, etc. in the States that are already following some or all of the above guidelines. But I’d love to be faced with tough decisions on a regular basis about how far I’m willing to travel— Seattle? Detroit? Kansas City?—to hear world-class contemporary music in the U.S. of A.

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.

6 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned in London

  1. jchang4

    It’s a lot harder to travel in the USA cuz it’s so freakin’ big, and also public transport (unless you’re in New York or something) is pretty lame. I was real excited to hear of the Mark Morris collaboration at Tanglewood, but I really don’t have the money to spend on not only admission, but also airfare, accommodations, dining. Ugh. Being poor is no fun :(

    [I still can’t believe that Mark Morris goes to Champaign, BUT NOT TO L.A. ! Humph! I guess I could take the day-long train up to Berkeley.. You know Bach would’ve done it! :) ]

  2. jbunch


    DEMF is unbelievable. I am a huge fan! Detroit actually has a ton of really great festivals in the summer some music, some not.

    go Lisa X.

  3. colin holter

    It’s a lot harder to travel in the USA cuz it’s so freakin’ big

    That’s absolutely true, and it’s a much bigger problem than the new music community probably has the resources to fix. Hopefully the next few years will bring some infrastructural reform; we have a big public transportation advocate in the Vice President’s office, so that should help.

    You know Bach would’ve done it!

    Bach would have walked.

    Thanks for the links, Lisa!

  4. jchang4

    So.. Are you suggesting that I walk to Tanglewood? I wonder when I’d have to start.. That would probably make a really awesome documentary. OK, it’s decided. I’m walking.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.