V.com weekend vote: Are you more excited about hearing/playing brand-new music, or older music?

August 14, 2021, 11:12 PM · I'll confess it, there was a time when the idea of having to listen to a "world premiere" turned my stomach. Especially back when I was in college (yes, last century), it often meant having to endure what I felt was very dissonant, loud, unpleasant noise.

That's changed for me, particularly in recent years. Even in just the last year, pandemic and all, I've heard new music that I just loved and felt great enthusiasm for. A few examples: when Vijay Gupta played When the Violin by Reena Esmail; last month, when I heard the Viano String Quartet play the newly-commissioned Evergreen by Caroline Shaw; and watching growing catalogue of Jaytudes by jazz violinist Jason Anick - even playing one of them.

I daresay, these days I'm often more excited about hearing or playing a really great new piece than hearing a familiar and beloved old one.

New Music vs. Old

But I would also defend those who really just want to hear the classics played well, or to play the oldies and goodies. The nice thing about the tried-and-true pillars of the classical repertoire is that....well, they are tried and true! You know what you are getting, and you know it's good. And there is an awful lot of good to hear.

So these days, what music excites you, what gets you in the mood to play or to listen? Is it the familiar repertoire from the the past, say 20th century or before? Or is it the brand-new music that is being written by living composers in this century?

Please participate in the vote, and then tell us about your answer. What music do you like? Have you heard any new music that excited you lately? What is your go-to composer to listen to, these days? (And it's okay if you change your mind all the time, just tell us about what is resonating with you today).

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Replies

August 15, 2021 at 05:49 AM · I'm not sure I like either answer. I voted for new music, with the caveat that newly composed music is a very mixed bag.

What excites me is playing music that is unfamiliar to me and/or to the audience. That doesn't necessarily mean new music: one of my favorite things is to bring attention to unjustly neglected composers from the past. And my favorite eras are still late Romantic and early 20th century. So to be entirely accurate, I really get most excited about old music that is rarely performed, but the way the question is framed puts that category of music closer to "new" than "old."

August 15, 2021 at 03:40 PM · All the great music has already been written. At this point in 2021, anything written after 1985 to the future is pure garbage!

August 15, 2021 at 04:20 PM · I am also with the "old music"* camp. I wonder if other people agree with this but something changed with the end of the Stravinsky/Bartok/Schoenberg generation: There were no giants on the scene any more; Nobody among the Stockhausen, Henze, Boulez etc. ever achieved the stature of a Stravinsky--I am not talking about the quality of their music at all, just about the perception of stature among critics and the public.

It was the end of an era that had begun with Beethoven or maybe with Haydn. All through the nineteenth century and up to the middle of the twentieth the composer scene was dominated by a relatively small number of such giants. Now we seem to be back in the baroque (the only baroque composer who was perceived as a giant at the time was probably Handel and nobody filled this role during the transition to the classical style).

Lots of people compose. Nobody seems to stand out. Whose works get performed in public is decided more by networking than by stature (or by quality for that matter). In this atomized environment it is difficult to find one's way around. So I flee to the relatively structured repertoire from earlier generations--with a bit of a bad conscience.

As an amateur player I do not feel obliged to "do something for contemporary music by playing it. As a listener I feel I should but I don't.

* "Old music" by the unconventional definition of this post--when I was young it meant baroque music and older, now it is usually used for music older than baroque.

August 15, 2021 at 05:49 PM · There are more composers, more people trained than ever before in everything to do with music, yet no Beethoven no Bach and so on. In have my own theory as to why this is the case: modern composers are wuz.

August 16, 2021 at 12:45 PM · I think it's funny that "older music" in this vote is "20th century or before." I voted for "older music" because I am always most excited to hear a concert or new CD of music from the 17th century or earlier. In October my favorite ensemble, the Elm City Consort, will have its first live concert since the beginning of the pandemic. I'm lucky to live near New Haven so have over the years enjoyed many opportunities to hear Yale School of Music and the Institute for Sacred Music concerts of early music. I find the early music has for me a more listenable quality, a more calm and direct or natural structure, less busy or impulsive or noisy. I especially love the madrigals of Monteverdi and Strazzi and others, the violin music of Biber and Ucellini and others of that time. Of course I also love much more modern music, from Haydn and Mozart to Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Mahler. By the time we get to 20th century music, although when in the proper mood I can love the music of Ives or Shostakovich or Prokofiev or Stravinsky...more often it is too unsettling and noisy for me. It's a similar story with opera. I most adore the baroque opera (Monteverdi, Cavalli, etc) with its poise and minimal vibrato, although I always thrill to the perfection of Mozart operas and most 19th century opera, even into the 20th century with Puccini. The more modern the opera, the more difficult to listen to it as straight music (ie, from CDs) and the more necessary to see it on the stage so the full dimensions of the stage drama help carry the piece where the music alone no longer holds me. I understand how definitions or sense of dissonance changes over the centuries as the ear became acclimated to successive waves of "new" music, I guess I've grown older too and less tolerant of being rattled.

That said, I do like some living composers. Especially pleasing to me is the choral music of Daniel Elder. I have also loved music the music of Reena Eshmail when she was a composition student at YMS, especially her cantata for sitar, tabla and baroque orchestra, but also other smaller works of hers. I also very much liked music by YMS composition student Andy Akiho, especially his concerto for steel pans and orchestra.

August 16, 2021 at 06:56 PM · I chose older music, because what I listen to is mostly Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart, but as I type this I am listening to the Lark Quartet's recording of John Harbison's sixth string quartet, and it's mighty fine (though it's of the Ravel/Bartok school, so really sounding like 20th century music though it was composed in 2016). A few years ago we saw the JACK quartet play a program of a lot of 64th notes played triple forte and I did not enjoy it. I'm absolutely fine with the Second Viennese School and serialism/atonality in general, but I just don't quite get the attraction of the relentless hammering music some folk are writing. Penderecki got there decades ago, so what's new about it? Still, I'm sure there is plenty of great music in our future.

August 16, 2021 at 09:30 PM · "pure garbage". Really? I find that rather overgeneralized and dismissive. Also, "All the great music has already been written", is (as it should be) subjective at best, and it reminds me of Charles H. Duell who was the Commissioner of US patent office. In 1889 he is widely quoted as having stated that the patent office would soon shrink in size, and eventually close because “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Perhaps he spoke a little too soon. As for music, I love the old stuff but I I suggest listening to Lou Harrison, John Luther Adams, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Meredith Monk, Max Richter, John Williams, Jennifer Higdon, Avro Pårt, Steve Reich, John Adams, and dozens of others. The older music is great, but more wonders have yet to come.

August 17, 2021 at 04:51 AM · I did not know how to vote on that one. I am open to both new and old musics, in a variety of genres. But 90% of everything is mediocre. Old mediocre music is at least pleasant sounding, but new mediocre music just sounds painful. I already have had a life-time quota of that stuff at UC SD.

August 18, 2021 at 01:32 AM · I voted "older music" but truthfully, I really enjoy exploring a variety of things. The main issue I have with most later 20th century and 21st century music is that often the atonality and effects drive me kinda crazy, but it varies widely based on the music. Anything that doesn't have much of a melodic center to it doesn't vibe well with me.

August 19, 2021 at 07:53 PM · I too voted "older music". That's not to say there aren't newer compositions that I enjoy - but sometime I get the impression that people think that concepts like harmony and rhythm are outdated, so the only way to progress is through dissonance and irregularity. I don't want to believe that this is true.

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