Have you played in premieres of new works, and have you enjoyed the experience?
This week I spoke to violinist Margaret Batjer about premiering a new violin concerto by Pierre Jalbert, but that kind of high-profile commission and performance is not the only way to be involved in the premiere of a new work. Many orchestras and ensembles commission and premiere new music on a regular basis, so members of such groups have fairly frequent opportunities to perform new music.
Frankly, anyone with imagination, fund-raising savvy and the courage can call up a composer can get the ball rolling on the creation of a new piece. It helps to have a big name, of course, and a ready funding source, but I find the examples of several well-known violinists to be inspiring. For example, when Hilary Hahn commissioned 27 encore pieces, it all began as her own idea, from simply wanting to have encore pieces from modern composers. Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers simply decided to write an e-mail to a composer that she had admired for many years, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and he readily agreed to write her a piece, which wound up being the last piece he wrote in his long life.
As for me, I've sat in the orchestra for many, many premieres over the years. I greatly enjoyed some pieces while others didn't make a deep impression. Some were very quirky - one composer asked orchestra members to bring their "favorite rocks" from home to clank together during an aleatoric section of his piece, which was about rocks. He provided rocks for those who did not bring them -- to me a "favorite rock" was a new concept and seemed like a bit of a tangent, but what the heck. It was pretty fun. Another composer passed out guitar picks for us string players to use during certain sections of the piece.
My favorite "premiere," though, was a pretty humble one that my college quartet did in Chicago. A local composer (I wish I remembered his name) had written a piece that he hoped would be playable for high school kids, and he paid us to play the piece for him and perform it at a concert, in order to demonstrate it. At the time, my impression of "new music" was very negative. It was the 1980s, and music schools were still very steeped in experimental, atonal, noisy stuff. With a few exceptions, I thought of new music as being largely unlistenable, unrelatable, self-indulgent noise-making. The piece we premiered, however, was thoroughly likable on so many fronts: modern-sounding but expressive, well-written, cleverly put together. It was a delight, and it opened my mind a little wider to new music.
What have your experiences been with new music? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts in the comments. If you can say "yes" to more than one category, then please choose the one that has been most memorable for you.
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