Friday, February 26, 2010

new music, old orchestras

So in the past week or so three of the major orchestras in the U.S. have revealed their seasons. All with relatively new music directors, these three (L.A., New York, Chicago) are certainly the most high profile right now in the U.S. Of the Big 5 (Chicago, New York, Philly, Cleveland, Boston), Philly and Cleveland have become for the most part irrelevant--Philly only making the news because they're in crisis, Cleveland only when they're fucking with the newspapers.

I want to look comparatively at a bunch of different aspects of the L.A., New York, and Chicago seasons, mostly to draw to light what I find underwhelming about Muti's first year in Chicago. So today, we will start with a glance at new music performances in what I'm going to start calling the Big 3. To simplify things, I categorize new music as music by living composers. This admittedly makes things somewhat problematic, since New York, for example, is doing an intriguing Hungarian festival with Salonen featuring a lot of Ligeti's music--certainly new music, but by a dead guy. But this makes categorization easier (I don't want to consider, say, Schoenberg as new music), and should also make a good point about who's playing music by living composers, which is one of the criteria that I believe is central to any orchestra wishing to be relevant in this century.

So, criterion number 1: Music by living composers, GO!

Works by living composers, performed by CSO in 2010-2011
This is a little tricky, because the full programs of the MusicNOW concerts have not been announced. So there will probably be a few more pieces to add to this; but I think that subscription programming of new music is just as important as the extra series (MusicNOW, Contact, Green Umbrella).
John Luther Adams, Dark Waves
Mason Bates, The B-Sides (CSO with electronics), Digital Loom and Commission (both MusicNOW)
Anna Clyne, rewind (CSO) Roulette and Commission (MusicNOW)
Dutilleux Symphony No. 2 (CSO)
Golijov, New Work (CSO, Co-Commission)
Penderecki, Concerto grosso for 3 Cellos (CSO)
Rands, Danza Petrificada (CSO commission, world premiere)
Salonen, Violin Concerto (CSO Co-commission)
Turange, Texan Tenebrae (CSO Co-Commission)
Total: 13 (9 subscription, 4 MusicNOW, plus a couple other between 8 and 10 unannounced MusicNOW pieces)

Works by living composers, performed by the L.A. Phil in 2010-2011

This was also a bit difficult, since I originally used the works list, which didn't specify between subscription performances, Green Umbrella, and guest artists. I tried to clean it up a little bit, but numbers might not be exact. Either way, it's impressive. Unless otherwise noted, these are subscription performances.
Adams, Slonimsky's Earbox
Ades, 6 pieces (1 Green Umbrella, 1 chamber, 4 subscription)
Richard Ayers TBD (Green Umbrella)
Gerald Barry TBD (Green Umbrella), The Importance of Being Earnest
Unsuk Chin Cantatrix Sopranica, Allegro ma non troppo (both Green Umbrella)
Connesson, Une lueur dans
Crumb, American Songbook, Ancient Voices of Children (both Green Umbrella)
Glass, Mad Rush
Golijov, Violin Concerto (world premiere, LA Commission)
Gordon, Weather 1 (Green Umbrella)
Symphony No. 4 (LA Commission)
Gubaidalina, Glorious Percussion
Anders Hillborg, New Work for Chamber Orch (Green Umbrella)
Gunnar Idenstram, Work
Joseph Jongen, Two pieces
Gabriel Kahane, New Commission from LA (Green Umbrella)
Lang, Heroin and Pierced (Green Umbrella)
Lieberson, Percussion concerto (LA Commission)
Lindberg, Graffiti
Mackey, Beautiful Passing and Four Iconoclast Episodes
Marand, Piece
Marsalis, New Work
Missy Mazzoli, New Work for Solo Violin L.A. Commission
Andrew Norman, L.A. Commission (Green Umbrella)
Salonen, New Work L.A. Co-Commission
Shahov, TBD
Tharp, Disney's Trumpets
Turnage, Hammered Out, LA Commission
Wolfe, 2 works (Green Umbrella)
Total: At least 41 (25 Subscription, 16 Green Umbrella, and a few chamber works)

Works by living composers, performed by the New York Phil in 2010-2011
Wynton Marsalis, New Work
Lindberg, Kraft, New Work (Contact)
Grisey, Quatre chants (Contact) (Edit: To my dismay, I have been informed that Grisey is, in fact, dead)
Rihm, Lichtes Spiel (World Premiere), New Work (Chamber)
Kernis, a Voice, a Messenger (NY Commission)
Rouse, Oboe Concerto
Ades, In Seven Days (NY Commission)
Widmann, Con brio
Tuur, Aditus (World Premiere)
Gubaidulina, In Tempus Praesens, Two Paths
Penderecki, New Work (Chamber)
Sebastian Currier, Time Machines (World Premiere)
Julian Anderson, Comedy of Change (Contact)
James Matheson, New Work (Contact)
Jay Allen Yim, New Work (Contact)

Total: 18 17 (11 Subscription, 5 4 CONTACT!, 2 chamber)

Disclaimer: Some of my counting may be wrong, and the Chicago and NY numbers may be closer together than I'm speculating, especially factoring the Contact! and MusicNOW concerts whose programs have not entirely been filled out. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

: L.A. has set a very, very high bar for new music programming, both in their subscription stuff and in Green Umbrella. I don't get the sense that Muti has a significant interest in bringing contemporary fare into the subscription series, beyond the single Anna Clyne and Mason Bates pieces he's conducting. MusicNOW will hopefully continue to go strong, although I'm pretty sure there are fewer of them in 2011-2012 compared to previous years (4 total performances). CONTACT! in New York is still weak, continuing with only two concerts and beginning to incorporate new music "classics" in the manner of MusicNOW (Grisey's Quatre chants). And although Gilbert's season doesn't have that much more living-composer-music than Muti's, it is better integrated into regular programming and doesn't feel pasted on. Compare, say, Muti's program of Bates' The B-Sides, Schumann Cello Concerto and Strauss's Aus Italien, with Gilbert's Sibelius Violin Concerto, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Lindberg's Kraft. Sibelius and Lindberg go together naturally; Bates, and Strauss, maybe? It doesn't seem like Muti put too much thought into it.

I can't really indict Muti, since he is not a new music expert, it is his first season, and he is bringing to the CSO the rep that he has been conducting for the past few years as a guest conductor. But if this season is indicative of the coming years with the orchestra, which I have a feeling it will be, then I am definitely disappointed.

Next up: discussing Muti's "vision," intelligent programming, outreach. Also refer to my two CSO Qualms posts for earlier issues with the CSO's future, which are still valid. Part 1 and Part 2

Note: A few small edits made to account for mistakes pointed out kindly by Andrew Patner and Zach Pfau in the comments.


  1. Billy - I really enjoy reading your blog!

    One note from a francophile - Grisey isn't alive ;-)

  2. Billy --

    Excellent points overall. Some notes:

    1) Certainly the decision by Los Angeles to continue its commitment to new music (or at least certain kinds of new music) is a real and important one and the position of John Adams as the Philharmonic's "Creative Chair" is a very significant one and one that Los Angeles indicates in many of its materials is second only to music director Gustavo Dudamel in the artistic area.

    2) On the numbers front:

    There will be about eight to 10 additional works on the CSO's 2010-11 MusicNOW concerts announced soon, not "a couple other."

    Since the 2000-2001 season there have been four MusicNOW concerts each season (before that there were three) just as there will be next season. What *has* changed over time has been the several moves to increasingly larger venues. A goal of the series has also been to present music only by living composers and to have those composers present for the performances.

    3) While I share your concern about what this first season says about Muti and contemporary music, I would point out that in his years in Philadelphia (1980-92) he commissioned and performed major large-scale works from at least a dozen composers, mostly Americans, and gave at least 15 world premières all as a part of regular subscription concerts. Richard Wernick and Bernard Rands were his composers-in-residence and works came as well from as varied a list as Ralph Shapey, Shulamit Ran, William Bolcom, Vincent Persichetti, Ligeti and Berio (who *were* alive then), Christopher Rouse, and Steven Stucky.

    But keep poking and nudging all of "Billy's Big 3"!

  3. Thanks Zach! I could have sworn he was alive, maybe I was getting him mixed up with Murail. That's unfortunate.

    Andrew -
    1)Yes, I completely forgot to mention Adams, who is definitely playing an important role in L.A., probably more so than Lindberg in New York (though I'm glad Lindberg is in that position as well). What I really hope in Chicago is that, like in New York and L.A., we see Muti get involved directly in MusicNOW performances and see Bates/Clyne get involved in programming subscription performances. It would be great to see maybe a 2-week festival of full orch stuff curated by one of the composers, in the future.
    2) Thanks for the heads-up. I thought there were more than 4 MusicNOWs this year but couldn't find the information on the new CSO website. Good to know about the MusicNOW stuff, it's an excellent series.
    3) Again, thanks for this information. It's always kind of difficult for me to dig this stuff up, and it's easy for me to chastise Muti since he hasn't done much new music conducting in the past few years as a guest. I'll have more about Muti specifically, and new music, soon.

  4. ;-)

    Just remember, Mr. Billy:

    1 - The *real* John Adams, December, 1770: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

    2 - Patner's Second Law: You may argue until you are blue in the face about opinions, but you may not argue about facts.


    aP, Secretary, Billy Robin Fan Club

  5. Billy's right: If you want to hear a large volume of contemporary music performed by an orchestra, or a subset of a major orchestra's musicians, you go to a season's worth of concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. People who like this sort of thing (i.e., me) drool over their calendar and calculate how much airfare costs, and then stay in Chicago bc it's so much money. Also bc the self-flagellation of a Chicago winter makes you feel even more virtuous for not going to California in February than you would for not giving in and giving yourself a present.

  6. Of the subscription concerts, only a very few pieces are from outside of the Adams-centered world. But as I said above, more power to them for leading in pure numbers and in numbers spread around their various presenting vehicles!

  7. This is a zero-sum game, the style wars. Who's in this "Adams-centered world"? Ades, Golijov, Peter Lieberson, Wynton, Gubaidulina, Gorecki? None of them. They don't just lead in pure numbers. It's a beautiful thing, man. You should embrace it.

  8. Um, yes, Marc. All of them, as a matter of fact. And that's also why he programmed them. ;-) But you're seeking consensus on your "style" views from others in the same field. I deal differently. ;-) I'm happy for Los Angeles. I'm happy for people who like Peter Lieberson, and Wynton Marsalis as composer, Golijov commissions that rarely materialaze anymore, and "new" Gorecki. I want to hear the Adès pieces in Los Amgeles and the Gubaidulina works inboth Los Angeles and New York and hope to do so. Onward!

  9. I group composer together by the music they compose, which has its own internal logic, rather than by who's programming them. It doesn't seem to me that audiences in the future will tie Gubaidulina to Adams since he suggested the LA Phil program a piece of hers.