My dilemma.

There are so many things we could improve.

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There could be – for example – more new pieces of contemporary music in normal classical concerts.
But then: what is a normal classical concert? Is contemporary music still connected to the classical tradition? Or hasn’t it already become its own, new tradition?

So then more New Music festivals then. More commissions, more locations. I think it would be best if in my country there was one major New Music festival every week, so I would never get bored. I would travel to each of these festivals, and meet the same people again and again and have a beer with them.
But then exactly that would quickly become a problem. The whole scene would become even more incestuous and closed to the real world. In addition: if there was so much money for commissions none of the composers would really care about the audience anymore, they would just intellectually masturbate and even get some money for it.

So back to the normal classical concerts scene then. Here we would have the advantage of having a slightly wider audience range at least, and our works would resonate with the greatest works of the past, enriching them and being enriched by them. Our music would be played in larger concert halls than the usual new music venues, and it would sound a lot nicer than in some cellar or loft.
But then we would have the problem that most of the classical concert halls are not exactly made for contemporary music – sometimes the amplification is really bad or non-existent, and the multimedia possibilities are poor. And why should we write for the old orchestra ensembles of the past and ageing audiences when the aesthetics of sound have long moved on? Do we we really need these ultra romantic instrumentations for our music?

So back the New Music Festivals then. Here we are used to collaborating with ensembles of extremely varying types, some acoustic, some electronic, some mixed. The venues will usually be selected for accomodating lighting and live electronics, and the musicians are usually trained in the use of pick-ups and laptops and electronic effects.
But then we write piece after the piece for the current electronical gadgets and programs, for computer systems that constantly change and become old-fashioned or obsolete, for methods that never stay the same. The electronic pieces from the 60’s were pioneering, but 99% of it sounds pretty lame today, and what they technically achieved can sometimes be done by pressing a simple button today, whereas back then they spent months or even years in the studio. So all the pioneering electronic stuff that we labor on endlessly today will look really lame only a few years on, at least from a technical point of view. And then there is also the problem that we never create any kind of performance or repertoire history for specific ensembles. There are thousands of string quartets, and each composer communicated with his predecessors simply by choosing the same instrumentation. But there are only a few pieces for tuba, recorder, quarter-tone zither and live electronics, and once some composers actually write for this specific ensemble there is the very real danger that the ensemble will disband and then nobody will ever want to play it again.

So back to the normal classical music scene then. Here we have highly trained and sophisticated orchestras, ensembles and soloists who are used to realize the minute details of a composition and understand them from a holistic kind of view – not only in the context of the now but also in the connection to the past repertoire. Once you write for orchestra or string quartet or piano trio you can be sure that there are thousands ensembles around the world who can immediately play your piece, and there will always be a demand for it.
But then most classically trained musicians completely suck at playing contemporary music. Anything they haven’t learned in their usually limited and conservative education – basic things like bar changes, contemporary playing techniques, improvisation or understanding experimental notations and performance elements are completely opaque to them. Even worse – they will sometimes arrogantly declare that „this is not real music“, or play it really badly and with less rehearsals than that piece by Mozart which everybody knows and hears the mistakes in.

So back to the contemporary music scene then. Here we have trained specialists who can play practically anything you put in front of them, from Ferneyhough to Reich. They can play in exact time and realize everything the composer has written like a computer, at least on the top quality level of performers.
But then sometimes all of their playing sounds a bit lifeless. Because these musicians spend so much time learning highly complicated music they sometimes tend to neglect the basic traits of musicianship, like developing a nice sound on the instrument or having a good support of the voice as a singer. Many of them are closer to mechanical puppets than trying to be musicians, and 99% percent of the rehearsals are spent on getting everything „together“ and only 1% are spent on „making music“. After a while, every piece they play will sound the same, all will resonate in this artificial „contemporary music style“ which is increasingly the same all over the world.

So back to the Classical Music scene then. Here we have big name stars who give their best to create expressive and passionate performances. They also take great care about their appearances – instead of the typical „New Music“ dress-code of black shirt and black trousers they at least have nice tuxedos or expensive dresses.
But then many of these classical stars are also lifeless puppets – they are groomed by agents and labels to deliver one particular „brand“ of classical music, and woe to them if they beg to differ. They have little decision about what programs they play and how they present themselves in public. Because of their hectic jet-setting lifestyle they have practically no time anymore to think about anything except practicing and performing, and as a result their playing becomes more and more uninteresting because they have so little to tell us.

So back to the contemporary music scene then. Here there is less money to be had so the power of agents and labels and publishers is less felt. Programming is pretty free and there is room for individual and unique approaches as well as research.
But then this scene is completely dependent on funding. You can only research as long as you get a grant for it, and currently it doesn’t look things are improving on this front, with less and less support for younger composers and less and less commissions around. Usually people will expect you to compose or work for free or next to nothing, and if you are constantly fighting to survive by other means your music will start to suffer.
And because thit is like this in contemporary music sometimes the composers and musicians become quite bitchy and territorial. They defend the turf that they have and have little interest in welcoming newcomers. They also constantly feel cheated or underrepresented by the public, at the same time being frustrated by the lack of….

Ok, I stop here.

There are so many things we could improve.

Moritz Eggert

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5 Antworten

  1. John Borstlap sagt:

    Funny but really appropriate article which shows the faultlines of contemporary music.

    It might be helpful to begin to consider these questions: what is music, and what is a musical tradition?

  2. @Moritz: Thanks for sharing your reflections. As you describe it, the situation leads to an impasse. But the solution is simple: Composers of New Music just have to write music that some people love (I mean „love“ – not just „like“, „admire“, „enjoy“ or „respect“). It doesn’t have to be a lot of people, but they would have to be really faithful (which doesn’t mean they had to be fanatics, of course).

    Ok, this sounds rather unsophisticated or naive, I know. But it is not. Ask anyone „Which music is it you love?“ How much of the answers will include music you thought of in your article?

    Btw: This really would be an interesting topic for an online poll, wouldn’t it? (And, to make it clear, I don’t mean to ask „What piece of Neue Musik do you like best?“)

  3. knopfspiel sagt:

    I was going to say almost the same thing as Stefan already said here: Just write what you love, make the things real that aren’t currently in the world but you would like to see them.
    To quote Yudkowsky: „Originality isn’t easy, but it IS simple: Just do what has not been done before.“ ;-D

    I’ll leave it at that, since it’s in the middle of the night…

  4. John Borstlap sagt:

    „Wir sind das Land von Dichtern, Denkern, Komponisten, Malern und Musikern.“ Agnes Krumwiede im Leitartikel der heutigen NMZ. If this is true, why is German new music still locked-up in its own limitations? What happened to the ‚Erben‘ of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner? Has the creative source dried-up and are the Germans forever chained to the types of Lachenmann, Ruszicka, Glanert, Widmann?

    For a better understanding of the problems in the field of contemporary music, especially in Germany, and of the question why Germany has not been able to solve these while – as the quote stresses – in that country all conditions for a thorough creative leap should be present, the following book is wholeheartedly recommended:

    ‚Avantgarde, Trauma, Spiritualität; Vorstudien zu einer neuen Musikästhetik‘ by Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz. This man is a pioneer into a new field of musical aesthetics, ex-pupil of Ligeti in Hamburg, currently teaching there, and a courageous and clear mind which gives all different phenomenae of new music its deserved due. Especially the chapter ‚In banger Erwartung eines Paradigmenwechsels‘ can be read in the perspective of Eggert’s excellent article.

    Verlag: Schott Music 2014

  5. Yes, life is extremely difficult. And with music its even worse. And with contemporary music theatre it is even worse than worse. Nevertheless: I LOVE it!

    Thank you for your extremely good „bad blog“ Moritz. I love it too.