Thursday 9 May 2013, really......

I recently had the opportunity to see comments from a commissioning jury regarding a grant that was denied (not for me-- an incensed colleague forwarded them.)

- Over all, the jury was supportive of the [commissioning ensemble].
- They felt the support materials for this application were not up to the artistic quality they are looking for.
- They agree that Mr. X is an accomplished composer, however they feel he is limited to certain gestural language. His music is very reminiscent of film music.
- music is “well done, but what is the urgency for more music like this?” “what is the need or urgency for this new piece”
- “what is going to be new in this music”
- Great soloist.  The soloist could be taking more of a risk and it feels like the music would not be giving her that opportunity.
- The jury was not critical of the composer’s music but made the decision on the artistic assessment.
- Next time the project description can outline more of the risks, edge, what’s new about the project.

Does anyone in 2013 actually say "what is going to be new in this music" anymore?  Does anyone really still believe that unless music is completely lacking in direction and discourse it sounds like "film" music?  Do "artists" on juries really feel that they have the right to tell a soloist that they should be "taking more of a risk"?  Are there really composers out there who genuinely believe that there is something "new" about their own projects?

Musicians are the stupidest professionals.  If doctors or lawyers behaved the way we do, we would all be dead or in jail.

Many years ago, John Weinzweig told me something I have never forgotten:  the jury system stinks-- but it's the best we can do.

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Problem of Older Pieces

Recently, some good friends programmed a work of mine from more than 10 years ago and asked me to come to the concert.  I would normally say no out of hand, but because they were friends, I hemmed and hawed, and finally, when the day arrived, I just didn't go.  In fairness to me, I warned them that unless they heard from me, I wouldn't be there, but still, they were miffed.

I can't stand listening to old pieces.  There is a great deal of truth to the old cliché that your older works are actually works by a different composer.  I am not the person I was when I wrote my String Trio (which gets played a great deal) at the age of 16.  Commenting on it, introducing it from the stage, coaching it-- I might just as well be commenting on, introducing, or coaching a work by Beethoven or Shostakovich.  This music has nothing to do with me anymore.

I have observed with time that works of music have a life of their own.  It's another cliché to say that they are like children, but they are.  At some point, if a piece has been performed a few times, the composer has to let it go.  A piece of music has a karma which is distinct from the karma of the composer.  It will make its way.  Not only does the composer not have the responsibility to follow it, the composer does not have the right to claim it as his or her own anymore.  A successful piece becomes the property of something bigger, a biosphere of music.  Composers who can't let go become a liability.  There is only one way to play a bad piece.  There are many ways to play a good piece.  (I was never upset by the "early music" movement, because a masterpiece like Beethoven 7 can withstand performances by both Leonard Bernstein and Roger Norrington.)  A composer who does not believe his or her music can be interpreted in multiple ways has no faith in their work.

I still attend some performances of older works, but only rarely.  In fact, I am getting painfully close to avoiding even premieres, although that is for a different reason-- I can never hear anything good in a premiere, just all the bad things.

In the end, composing is process, not result.  Composition is personal.  The product is public.