Why are violinists that focus on contemporary music so ignored!

August 20, 2008 at 06:05 AM · I think it´s so sad that almost all of the solo violinstars are beating the old warhorses to death instead of focusing on new works

If you have nothing truly new and interesting to say then you shouldn´t record for instance Beethoven´s violin concerto

Another thing that most people don´t think about is that many of for instance the new complexity works are too hard for the greatest violin soloist that focus on old Warhorses.

How many of todays violinstars can learn to play or even sightread Klaus K. Hubler´s third String Quartet for instance?

I would be surprised if even 3 of the 20 highest paid violin soloist in the world would be able sightread it and play it well


August 20, 2008 at 10:59 AM · They focus on the "warhorses" because that is where the money is. Not only are many contemporary works unheard of--but few managers etc willing to take the risk of a flop.

The problem has been far worse for opera.

In the case of the violin--I've also seen a great many composers young, as well as PhD-who have very little, if any, knowledge as to how to play the violin.....heck, if I could choose-I'd pick the warhorses over many if not most of the contemporary works I've played---on grounds that they are infinitely more playable much more often.

August 20, 2008 at 11:29 AM · "if I could choose-I'd pick the warhorses over many if not most of the contemporary works I've played---on grounds that they are infinitely more playable much more often."

Many contemporary works are very hard to understand and only very few recordings exist in general and they are often not even close to give the piece justice

I have listened a lot to Offertorium by Gubaidulina and I have to say that the recordings out there hardly shows the potential of this concerto

So many boring moments that can be avoided with different tempos, accelerandos and creccendos etc.

August 20, 2008 at 12:05 PM · I don't view it as beating Warhorses to death. Everyone wants to know what the next great player sounds like on these pieces. It's a test, challenge - and oftentimes it's very interesting and new!

I agree with Marc. Much of the 20th century/modern concerti or other string works are written by composers who love the string sound, but have no comprehension of fingerings, bowings, etc. It's not violinistic music, so it would be very difficult to do that justice.

August 20, 2008 at 12:20 PM · Andreas,

My comment with respect to playability was with respect to technical aspects. All else being equal--a piece that is technically straightforward (although difficult) will usually get picked over a mess of notes that one needs a Ouija board to figure out how to play.

Concerti like Tchaik, Sibelius, etc are difficult-but they are accomplished with everyday violin technique.....and those quys specifically-weren't even violinists, yet they managed to make a fairly good job of it anyway.

Many of the contemporary works I've seen and played (personally, admittedly I haven't seen everything-I'll refrain from mentioning names here, to avoid outing people who I've known and know-including some national level composition prize winners, and many PhDs in composition); can only be accomplished with inordinate amounts of repetition to even play fluently, much less worry about making artistic--simply because they are written with little or no knowledge of how incredibly awkward their writing is.

Unfortunately, in this day that we live in--composition has gotten severely seperated from performance.....hence the performers do their thing, and the composers do their thing--and when they meet; things tend not to be pretty....gone are the days when composers were able to experiment with orchestras to find what works....gone are the days when composers and performers could take risks..........and largely gone are the days of the composer/virtuoso performer (in the Western-European musical tradition).

August 20, 2008 at 01:27 PM · IMHO, before going to the contemporary

repertory, violinist should do the hundreds

of works written in the 19th.century that

are unplayed, unrecorded and forgotten.

August 20, 2008 at 01:38 PM · Good idea Carlos! Soon there will be reference recordings for all of these so our violinists won't be so afraid :-) I just need more time...

August 20, 2008 at 02:06 PM · "IMHO, before going to the contemporary

repertory, violinist should do the hundreds

of works written in the 19th.century that

are unplayed, unrecorded and forgotten. "

You sound a bit like Marc-Andre Hamelin the pianist

I have to say that the earliest orchestral work that I have heard that I think have truly interesting orchestrations is Daphne and Chloe by Ravel

The orchestrations and rhythm in music composed before 1900 is not very interesting to me in general.

I really love harmonised glissandos and unusual interplay between instruments

I am constantly searching for new music and composers to check out so feel free to drop some names if you want

August 20, 2008 at 05:37 PM · Interesting question, Andreas. I think the answer lies in the fact that violinists are going to want to play repertoire they identify with. I don't think anybody who sets out to record the Beethoven concerto does so with the feeling that they have nothing new to contribute; rather, I'm certain the driving force is to put a personal stamp on a piece that means something to them. I may have a somewhat

cynical bent, but I still don't think most of them are just trying to sell records.

So why aren't people championing new works? You mentioned the challenge of learning a certain modern quartet - people won't invest the time and energy unless they feel spoken to by the piece. I don't think people learn, and particularly champion, pieces just because they're hard - that isn't enough.

That said, a lot of the issues are also budgetary. The time, analysis and understanding necessary to do justice to difficult modern compositions is just not available to most of us. Soloists are lucky to have two proper rehearsals with orchestra. A couple of years ago, I took part in recording two new cello concerti with a top orchestra, well-known soloist, and the composer as conductor. We had two days to record - rehearsing was done between the takes, and we never played the piece through. Time and money wasn't there. For all but specialist ensembles and chamber groups, the time, energy and money just aren't there to put this all together.

Personally, I'm surprised how many people seem to get bored of the 'standards'. Every time I play a Beethoven symphony, I hear something new - I'm nowhere near being finished with everything they contain.

August 21, 2008 at 05:50 AM · Andreas, interesting that you mentioned Mr Hubler´s String Quartet. My Viola Concerto was given it's first performance by a violist, Franck Chevalier, who plays in Quatuor Diotima, a French string quartet that plays a lot difficult recent music. I think it was a fortuitous turn of events that i did connect up with Franck Chevalier precisely when I was on the lookout for a soloist.

August 20, 2008 at 11:48 PM · Not everything written in Beethoven's era was wonderful, and not everything written in the twentieth and twenty first centuries is wonderful. The difference is that 19th century music has been around long enough for the most loved and least loved pieces to sort themselves out. There are certain masterpieces which have earned the appellation "classics", "most loved" and "compositions that have withstood the test of time". This is certainly true in other arts as well. I love to hear the Beethoven Concerto over and over and over again....It is not merely a "warhorse". It is a great masterpiece which invites repeated hearing, because there is so much in it! It is fine with me that the Beethoven Concerto is performed and recorded much more than some other music....it deserves it!

My answer to the question which is the title of this thread:

"Why are violinists that focus on contemporary music so ignored (?)" is:

They are ignored because people don't enjoy the music they play!

August 20, 2008 at 10:45 PM · Not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of modern music is far from lyrical. The violin should sing; how much modern music is susceptible to being sung? And who would want to listen?

If it's atonal, unpleasant and/or boring, who would want to play it? And who would pay to hear?

August 20, 2008 at 11:23 PM · Modern musical compositions have never been more out-of-touch with the general public then they are right now (or is it that the general public is out of touch with modern musical compositions...?)

A musician needs an instrument, an instrument needs music, and music needs an audience....... (or is it audiences need music, music needs instruments, and instruments need musicians...?)

August 20, 2008 at 11:16 PM · I'd be happy to sharpen up Bob's point till it is as painful as the Wuorinen Violin Concerto. :-) Tonal music has emotional associations that allow you to present a coherent and compelling emotional program. If someone doesn't think that is important, they deserve the obscurity they naturally will attain.

If they think that is important and are willing to attempt that without tonality, they will receive a respectful hearing from me; people have occasionally pulled it off.

I think this post finally pushed me over the edge to start that blog post on the Pulitzer Prize in Music I've been mulling over. Check out that dustbin of music history sometime.

August 21, 2008 at 08:02 AM · "Andreas, interesting that you mentioned Mr Hubler´s String Quartet. My Viola Concerto was given it's first performance by a violist, Franck Chevalier, who plays in Quatuor Diotima, a French string quartet that plays a lot difficult recent music. I think it was a fortuitous turn of events that i did connect up with Franck Chevalier precisely when I was on the lookout for a soloist. "

You made my day

Is your viola concerto recorded?

I prefer the viola to the violin actually

Any websites I can check out?

August 21, 2008 at 04:04 PM · Steiner: "They are ignored because people don't enjoy the music they play!"

I would have to agree with this. The few venues available to hear new works in concert are sometimes squandered on works that people just don't enjoy that much. Then the word on the street is that new works are a bore.

On the other hand, movies are a venue that are pretty exciting for new works. I really notice the music I hear in films and in some ways, films and other media represent a very large venue for contemporary composers. It is not clear the music from film can always stand alone, but I heard the Bourne soundtrack and really liked it more than many concerts I have attended as of late. I also went to a Cirque Du Soleil show recently and really enjoyed the music but there were no violins that I recall. So maybe the concert halls with the violin soloists are not the right venues to look for new works these days. The sheer volume of material available makes even the most brilliant compositions unable to rise above the din. The tyranany of the the media explosion. TMI

August 22, 2008 at 11:02 AM · Is your viola concerto recorded?

A recording was made by Radio NZ of the 2001 performance and it was broadcast in NZ a couple of times. It was a great performance. Franck Chevalier and myself talked afterwards about how to get it performed again back in France. Until recently Franck was a section player in the French National Orchestra, so the quartet was something always juggled alongside his orchestral job. As a section player he didn't feel well placed to be pursuing a solo spot with a French orchestra, it's rather rigid and hierarchical around here. Franck left the FNO earlier this year to do just quartet. Hopefully there'll be a possibility in the future for a reperformance. There's still to get an orchestra interested of course...

In the meantime I've gone ahead and made a demo recording of the 2nd movement with myself playing as i wanted something on my site to show how the work runs. Here's the link: https://www.nigelkeay.com/violaconcerto.htm. I'll put the other movements on as circumstances permit.

Any websites I can check out?

You might enjoy having a look at the website of Eiichi Chijiiwa, a former violinist of Quatuor Diotima, and co-principal player in Orchestre de Paris. He's a wonderful player that has done a lot of new music.

August 22, 2008 at 12:35 PM · Nigel: Very interesting

Saw that you have written for trombone as well

I became a huge fan of the instrument after hearing what Christian Lindberg can do

love interplay between trombone and stringsection, tromboneglissandos turning into stringglissandos and to tromboneglissandos again.

Especially in orchestral works with a large orchestra

Any works you can recomend to someone who is looking for that?

August 22, 2008 at 01:15 PM · You may have heard of Carolin Widmann, saw her recently in Frankfurt playing Sciarrino, Rihm, Pintscher, Ysaye. Very impressive, though not everything touched my heart or pleased my ear...

she's got a huge repertoire between Bach and Zimmermann, see here


August 22, 2008 at 01:13 PM · Nigel: that is quite interesting to be a violist and a composer in the same time... I did myself wrote a viola fantasia for viola and orchestra ( a Bachianas) that will probably never be performed, because it is written in the baroque style... I wanted to write in that specific style because the instrument was quite ignored during that period... the work is in six movements, duration 30 minutes and is called Rhapsodie concertante pour alto et orchestre...


August 22, 2008 at 03:52 PM · Andreas, the conductor that conducted my Viola Concerto, Marc Taddei, is a trombone player.

Marc, what is the orchestration of your Rhapsodie concertante? Is the score computer-set?

August 22, 2008 at 04:32 PM · Nigel:

The orchestration= strings, harp, harpshichord...it was done on my old system Allegro, but I have to rewrite the complete score into the Finale- Garritan system to get best sound results...I am not aware of alto en ligne... I wrote other works for viola and piano( romantic pieces)



August 22, 2008 at 06:49 PM · What about "the world's first faxed concerto," the Meyer, written specifically with Hilary Hahn in mind? Or Joshua Bell/John Corigliano? ...Or did you mean exclusively new music?

I think in a way, you answered your own question: if there are only two or three people in the world who can play something, it follows that it's not going to get played very often.

August 23, 2008 at 10:20 AM · Yes, like Gruenberg v.c.written for JH. Do

you know any other recording that his?.

August 23, 2008 at 11:46 AM · Koh Gabriel Kameda has played it, and we can hope that he will record it on his own label.

August 25, 2008 at 04:44 PM · Marc, solo viola, strings, harp, harpshichord sounds like a very interesting combination. I can imagine a conservatoire having the resources to put such a group together. I don't know Allegro, but if you are putting it all into Finale, will you put the PDFs online?

August 25, 2008 at 05:33 PM · Nigel,

The viola Rhapsodie and 17 other works of mine are part of a "Bachianas cycle" which were a didactic approach for composing I imposed myself. They are all based on the ART OF THE FUGUE... I do not consider all of these compositions of mine to be enough valuable for performance...

Actually, I write symphonic work ( I just completed my third symphonie, "REQUIEM POUR UN SOLDAT") and I have also completed for 2012 a symphonic program "HOMAGE TO FRITZ KREISLER", including an Ouverture, a violin concerto written for violinist James Ehnes, a Tango and my first symphonie, ...)

The viola Rhapsodie is a work I would like to improve in the near future... If you are interested, just keep in contact with me and I will be honoured to send you the completed score.Thanks for your consideration.


August 25, 2008 at 07:18 PM · And here I thought all along that "contemporary music" is an oxymoron. Silly me.

If I had the talent and the craft to write music, I would write a good-ol'-fashioned, barn-burning violin concerto in the grand warhorse manner. I'd write it with big, long, beautiful melodies, a spectacularly show-offy violin part, and orchestral climaxes that wouldn't spare the romanticism. I'd want the audience walking out whistling the main themes after hearing the piece only once.

I'm sure I'd become famous. However, I wouldn't become rich off of it. That would happen only when it's turned into a musical or is adapted as the background music for some new movie with otherworldy graphics, nude love scenes, and cars flying through the air.

(A person can dream, can't they?)

:) Sandy

August 26, 2008 at 05:04 AM · "I'd write it with big, long, beautiful melodies, a spectacularly show-offy violin part, and orchestral climaxes that wouldn't spare the romanticism. I'd want the audience walking out whistling the main themes after hearing the piece only once."

Me too but but I would mix the melodies with dissonant and more atonal parts to make the melodies sound significantly better (yes it sounds better if you mix atonal with tonal I think)

I would write extremely demanding things for the orchestra to play as well (significantly harder then the Ligeti concerto for instance) , and I would really push the the possibilities of interplay between instruments and orchestrations.

Chances are that no orchestra would even bother learning it even if it was really good.

The old warhorses will be played all the time while most modern works are only recorded ones even if they are really interesting

November 6, 2008 at 07:42 AM ·

http://violinfutura.com/ This is the website of Piotr Szewczyk, a violinist doing interesting things commissioning and performing new solo violin pieces.

November 6, 2008 at 02:48 PM ·

I'd like to point out that some good composers (and the most exposed) today write for a different audience. The most money for composers is in film scores. There is some cool stuff written for violin, but it isn't usually featured like in a concerto. Which, in some ways, is good; I don't think the traditional concerto form really fits the modern aesthetic. Corigliano, who was mentioned before, has written for films and other venues.

When I met my very good friend in high school, I was kind of surprised to find that his favorite music was film scores, for the reason that some of the best composers write in this field. After some consideration and listening, I'm not surprised anymore.

You are also mistaken if you think big musicians don't play new concert works. Heifetz and Raja (sp?), Joshua Bell and Corigliano (who later turned the Red Violin suite into a concerto), or Maw; Yo Yo Ma and John Williams, the aforementioned Hilary Hahn and the Meyer (which I really don't like, but that's beside the point)....

November 6, 2008 at 04:23 PM ·

New compositions are great as artistic social mirrors. The chaotic and a tonal aspects can be rather frightening and interesting at the same time. The only real use for the style seems to be best used for movies and art films And is where the money and fame reside today.  John Williams is most likely the best example of this. He literally composed on the spot as he and the orchestra watched the scenes themselves. They were often required to sightread the ideas he presented, but the whole aspect of sightreading, as you have stated is illogical. One can show off being a sighreader, but it is only logical that prepration is the key to a masterful delivery of the music.  A composer who writes for film is more likely to be remembered in history as both innovative and artistic. The whole idea of the music business, in any style, is one of money and profit. The works that are usually recorded sell albums and make money for the industry. The violinists who are recording and performing any work, old or new, are doing so in a minute , but  personally unique way. It requires a deep understanding of what has been done already in order to achieve this.They would not have a contract with the recording company it this were not the case. If one's work is too complicated or, in come cases just crackpot, a record company will not consider it as highly marketable. This has been the bottom line for centuries. Cease to sell tickets and you cease to work. Most new "modern" composers are not producing anything really "new" as they may have exhausted the evolution of that particular type. The popular music artists are truly the ones that sell albums, and are a direct reflection of the ideals of society. All composers have faced the problem you placed in your original post. The advent of certain computer programs have helped all composers. The days of handwritten scores are slowly fading away. It is called progress.

As a composer myself, I have written a number of works in the "modern" style, if that does not seem as a strange statement to make. All musical theory an structure is abandoned, and the musical notation is insanely random in thematic and key choices are a chaos of sound. I would venture that most musicians would not be knocking down my door for these works. My traditional works, done in baroque and classical styles seem more popular, both as performance pieces, for listening enjoyment and marketability. The latter quality is what most composers strive for, and some simply compose abstract pieces for the sake of modern art. No true composer looks for fame, but rather artistic outlet. I have heard some real works of modern art in my day, but personally, they are beyond my taste. I concentrate more on composing works that are tonal and can be used for good solid study purposes and enjoyable to perform and listen to, respectively. Some can tend to contain slightly edgy aspects which some might consider more as more neo-baroque or neo-classical in nature and style. It is utilizing an old style in a new way. 

The aspect as to what is general classical audience prefers would make a good poll subject. But as for violinists continuing to perform the traditional works, I feel they always will. It is necessary for any musician, and a duty at that, to preserve what has been done in the past for future generations. We will always have new works being produced in all styles of music, but the treasures of the past must always take first consideration if the new is to be produced with any taste. It is not so much that the works are too "hard", or for a better word, complicated, it is that the idea of the style is too new for most musicians to understand. It is really nothing new, as there is really nothing new under the sun.  

November 6, 2008 at 06:02 PM ·

There are a lot of violinists out there that do contemporary work or that incorporate it into their CDs.  You also have to step outside of classicial to really appreciate the violin in contemporary work.  Jeremy Kittel's jazz work is breathtaking. 

You also have to remember that the audience actually wants to hear the classics.  If the Seattle Symphony puts on Vivaldi, they sell out. If they put on some unknown composer, they won't.  Part of it is the audience.  Part of it is that these old classics have hung around this long because they are good!

November 7, 2008 at 12:27 AM ·


I agree but I think you forgot to mention something.  There is beautiful modern music in all styles for the violin (Jazz, tangos, rock and so on) but one thing is that  a lot of the classical composers of the "new generation" are OBSESSED with the virtuosity and odd sound and effects because they want, I think, to oppose themselve to the traditional "model" which was meant to be virtuosic while steel having a nice melody.  If they do special effects that are musical, then it's great but if not... 

Personnally, I went to a few concerts where they were world class soloists at Montréal  that did modern music and often concertos especially written for them(as famous names as Vengerov, Hahn,Bell etc)  I didn't hear those three playing such things and I don't want to identify those I heard either.   Let me say that I observe the audience and almost everyone was sick of it, made funny eyes, yawn and almost said ouf when it was over (me included even if I am so passionate for the instrument).  It was terrible to hear because it was so odd and noisy.  The poor soloists worked so hard (it is as least as difficult as some of the hardest things in classical) and even if it showed, there were NO REAL MUSIC only high virtuosity.  In a traditionnal audiance of a classical concert, I would say that not many persons are great fans of such weird music. I think composing such music maybe provides excitement to the composer and the soloist mainly to not say only.   

In general, I know many will say it's a cliché but the people want to be move on by something that is maybe virtuosic but also musical.  I really think that it is a minority of perons who really like that (maybe a few will say they like it only to look cool and a connoisseur)  This is like chocolate, the actual style is to put really weird things stuffed into them and to eat 100% dark with almost no sugar but I believe a lot of people don't really like it in reallity compare to a sweet traditionnal chocolate (mmmm...) or began to like the weird ones after a while but the love wasn't there at first. 

And this last sentence is really important for me, I often notiece that in many things such as modern works (those who sound weird) the love is created by being expose to it repetitively but was not there at first.  For me this is strange.  A love that is created by voluntary exposing oneself to something we find weird at the beginning is not natural, it's not our  true personnality?  Morover, it is superficiel because the people often do it to look a connoisseur or cool as I mentioned. 

I know maybe some people really like it but especially in these times where the classical organisations need to have money and attract new people to them, I swear they will not succed well if they focus mainly on modern things (the not nice ones!)  My parents are what you can call ordinairy people (not in a perorative way I just want to tell that they don't play and know music )  They are always telling me that even if they can be incredible things in classical, some few elder pieces and many modern classical concertos are terrible.  I have to say that it can be quite of a shock for someone who  goes to his first classical concert and expect to hear inspiring musical profoundness and beauty to hear a "storm of weird noise"!!!  I guess it is more in the human nature to expect beauty and nice melodies that I repeat can be virtuosic as well.  And beauty doesn't mean something "delicate" necessarely, If I hear a hard rock piece with an incredible electric guitar solo and something really entertaining, impressing and energizing, I will find it beautiful even if it is less pieceful than a little soft or romantic piece... I will just hate it if it is just noise to make noise and if it offers no excitement to the audience.  But, nowadays, life can be crazy and this can reflects itself in certain modern concertos!

It is only my opinion and I don't want to start a fight!


November 8, 2008 at 03:32 AM ·


next year Ms. Hahn is playing three Ives sonatas interspersed with Ysaye sonatas in Nagoya, Japan. Last year she palyed a program featuring Enescu .  Is she guilty of flogging warfoals to death?



November 8, 2008 at 07:51 PM ·

Buri, I actually don't know what is a warfold!!!  And this is bringing me to ask: do the soloists always play what they like of do they are forced to perform some modern or classical work that they hate.  Well, I'm not that stupid and I know they don't always play their first choice but can thay have a little control over what they do?  It's no fun if a composer has written a concerto for you and you happen to hate it...   You must feel like squash in a sandwich!

A nice day to everyone,



November 8, 2008 at 07:52 PM ·

Buri, I actually don't know what is a warfold!!!  And this is bringing me to ask: do the soloists always play what they like of do they are forced to perform some modern or classical work that they hate.  Well, I'm not that stupid and I know they don't always play their first choice but can thay have a little control over what they do?  It's no fun if a composer has written a concerto for you and you happen to hate it...   You must feel like squash in a sandwich!

A nice day to everyone,



November 8, 2008 at 11:03 PM ·

A war-foal is a young war-horse. At least that's my best guess.

As far as flogging dead horses is concerned,  on the whole it's better to eat them, unless you need the upper-body exercise. Although if you're trapped in a blizzard, you can gut the horse and crawl inside, and you may survive.

Modernist composing is a dog-eat-dog world, though most dogs end up eating horses, though they don't know it.

The most reasonable argument that this world exists for punishment is the fact that we all must kill to live. A nasty place, and yet we have Bach, Mozart, and the like. How confusing.

Fortunately, listening to modern music is, at this point in time, voluntary. But that can change.

November 9, 2008 at 11:46 AM ·

Buri, according to the calendar on Hilary's website, she has 16 concerts in October and November of this year, at every one of which she's playing the Tchaik. concerto.  They don't flog that hard in the first race at Churchill Downs:))


November 9, 2008 at 05:04 PM ·

Anne-Marie covered all the bases.  Why should I spend my money and time to be aurally abused?  I find some "music" enjoyable, some inspiring, some terrifying and some is just offensive noise or bland pap.  It only took one concert of "new music" by the Kronos Quartet 20 years ago to persuade me that I never wanted to expose myself to that again.  I can guarantee you that when Hilary Hahn plays Ives, I won't be in the audience. On the other hand, I enjoy Shenkar (L. Shankar) and he is both technically adroit and modern. "De gustibus non est disputandum."  Sorry guys, but sometimes the old war-horse Latin is best.

November 9, 2008 at 05:59 PM ·

It only took one concert of "new music" by the Kronos Quartet 20 years ago to persuade me that I never wanted to expose myself to that again. 

What are you trying to express here? That Kronos Quartet tried to represent all "new music" in one concert programme? That hardly seems plausible. At least tell us what works they played.

November 9, 2008 at 06:46 PM ·

Nigel, I don't remember what the program was 20 years ago and don't know anyone who kept the program.  What I hoped to express was that I found their particular choice and expression of music at that particular time to be so disagreeable that I cringe when I recall it today.  Why should I try to recall the program details of a very unpleasant experience?  They are technically very proficient and I find their taste in conflict with mine.  I would rather listen to Motzart or Mahler or Shenkar than Osvaldo Golijov or Phillip Glass or Charles Ives.  Apparently enough people want to listen to this music that a few people can make a living playing it.  However, it will not be my money that contributes to that living.  "Regarding taste there is no argument". 

November 9, 2008 at 07:25 PM ·

I suppose there is no disputing taste, but taste is not some fixed thing -- not even when it comes to food, and certainly not when it comes to music.  Taste evolves for a variety of reasons, much of it related to exposure and education.  In many ways, we need to learn how to listen to music that we're not immediately familiar with or immediately enjoy.  It's not necessary to do this by any means, but doing so provides significant rewards, I believe.  There is so much new music out there, so many different types of new music out there -- tonally based even -- that it's impossible to lump it all together.  It is an exciting time for new music.   This is part of the reason why I would like more arts education in schools.  The sad thing is that many otherwise educated people I know are essentially illiterate when it comes to music -- and they all claim to love music!  Exposure/education won't necessarily cause all of these folks -- all of us -- to embrace every composer out there today, but I have to believe that there's enough variety and enough quality out there for each of us to find something new to enjoy.   

November 9, 2008 at 07:52 PM ·

It's a sad thing when people who say they love music are disrespected because they haven't been "educated" to appreciate atonal dissonant noise, masquerading as "music". You know what?  I believe they do love music; it's "music" that they don't like.

Nor do I.

You can educate your palate, and you can develop an understanding of what a boring academic composer is trying to do, but you cannot educate emotion. Something deep in us is attracted to lyrical tonality; if you try to sell dissonance in a classical venue that has been providing something totally different, your audience will eventually walk. And all the modern composers can get together (in a small room) and whine about it all they want, but no one else will care.


November 9, 2008 at 08:32 PM ·

I'm kinda sick of people acting like others should be "educated" to like the music they like.   Just because I don't like Vivaldi and never will, some people get all bent out of shape.  I recognize that is quality, but I don't like slow music.  I find absolute quiet to be relaxing, slow music is very irritating, and toe tapping music enjoyable.  I think strange, quirky music is delightful, but I have to be in the right mood.

When it comes to contemporary music, some of it is fantastic.  Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima is one of my favorite pieces of all times and it was written in the 1960's.  Some new music  is crap.  And some of the crap other people like a whole lot. 

That's music!  Everyone's tastes are different.  We all need to stop forcing our tastes on others. 

November 9, 2008 at 11:28 PM ·

Bob, I can't help but feel you've simultaenously missed my point  and made it at the same time. 

First, I wasn't disrespecting my friends; I wasn't even referring to "atonal dissonant noise" at all, actually.  I was thinking about the professional, educated friends I have who display sophistication and intellectual adventuresness in so many disciplines but basically listen only to rock (a catch-all for a wide variety of popular music) and are bored by traditional pre-20th-century classical music and aren't really interested in exploring anything else.  Hey, there's nothing wrong with American Idol, but there's so much more to music than American Idol.  And there's more music than rock music (which I do like). Do they have to like all music I like? Of course, not.  It's just that sometimes I feel like they're missing out on some pretty good stuff -- stuff they've never really tried and might well like if only they were exposed to it, especially because they do like music. I don't disrespect them, and I don't think I'm better than them.  But sometimes I wonder why their tastes are so narrow with regard to music, but not at all when it comes to other arts or disciplines. 

And I would also argue that your view of contemporary music is extremely narrow.  Not all  worthwhile music was written before the turn of the 20th century.  I really meant my post to be positive.  I was trying to point out that contemporary music is not a single definable thing.  It's so much more than four academics making music for themselves (although more power to them).  It is not all atonal, although some of it is,  and it's not all boring, although some of it is, but at its best it's incredibly surprising and exciting, it breaks down walls between genres of music, it employs technology in innovative ways, it's challenging sometimes, it plays with our expectations,  it's funny, and it's serious, and it's moving...and well, when I go to concerts feathuring music by these composers, I feel confident about the future.   My point, Bob, was not that you needed me to educate you, or that you needed to like atonal music, but that if you (and all of us) all hopped down off our warhorses and explored the wide variety of contemporary music out there, I bet we could all find something to like. 

Maybe a lot of folks left the concert hall (have they left the concert hall? I go all the time, and the seats are full all around NYC in venues big and small) because of atonal music, but I don't believe that a desperate run to the past   is necessarily going to bring them all running back.  I love baroque, classical, and romantic music, but unless you want the concert hall to become a museum of the dead and gone, I believe we need to open our minds and explore the music --- great and not so great -- being written by today's composers.  

A few weeks ago, Laurie posted an article about the LA Phil, and how programming contemporary music has actually turned things around for them.  The people are walking back into the hall. I found it incredibly exciting and hopeful. 

Finally, as for me trying to "educate" people to like music that I like, that is not at all what I was talking about.  I don't give a hoot what kind of music you don't like, I don't care if you like the music I like, and I'm not trying to make you like it -- so you don't have to be sick on my account.   The education that I was talking about is...well, actual formal education.  In schools. With our young people.  It's not so much about spoonfeeding the music that I happen to like as it is about providing exposure and discussion, showing our young people that there's a world of music beyond American Idol. It's about helping our young people to develop an open, critical and discerning ear so that when something unfamiliar comes their way later in life they'll skip the indignation and defensiveness and maybe be able to open their ears and their hearts and actually give it a try.  







November 10, 2008 at 12:03 AM ·

Most new "Classical" music written are a chore to listen to.  The vast majority of the works nowadays start with a "I feel a bad stomach ach coming on"  type feeling and go down hill from there.  Given the stuff names like "An Ode to an Aweful Massacre" doesn't make them any more listenable.  There are exceptions, but they are very, very rare. Like it or not, Classical music is a dead art form (unless one includes the symphonic film scores which are still being done). We should be glad of the museum peices we have.

November 10, 2008 at 12:16 AM ·

See, you just don't get it.  It's not good because of it's name, it is good because it is good.  The composer didn't write it for Hiroshima, he dedicated it to them after he'd heard it played because it was fitting.  A lot of impressive works were written post-1900.

You need to stop passing a judgement call on what you like is what is good.  It doesn't work that way. 

November 10, 2008 at 12:36 AM ·

There is probably no art form more shunned by audiences then contemporary classical music.  Yes, there are many, many master pieces written post 1900. But how many can be counted after 1950?  Not many.

November 10, 2008 at 01:00 AM ·

Some experimental music here in NY is pretty brutal garbage. Not all modern work is like this though. I am sure that someone somewhere is doing great stuff. It will take time before history reveals who that person/work is. 

If you look around and try to put your finger on the current trend in fine art, you’ll probably have a hard time coming up with a name, but go back about twenty years, and you can start easily listing people and movements. - I can list certain styles and influences that exist today (and to be honest, a few artists), but cannot give you what history will call the greats of this decade.
I always get concerned that our modern musical geniuses might be distracted with earning a living, writing scores for film, rather than composing personal meaningful work (granted work has almost always been commissioned).  I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a composer to compose great things for film, but unfortunately, I feel that most are probably over directed.

November 10, 2008 at 02:30 AM ·

Reading your post (particularly the bit about our composers having to earn a living) reminded me of an NPR interview I heard the other day with Douglas J. Cuomo, the composer of the Sex and the City theme song and also composer of (for lack of a better word) art or non-commercial music. He definitely sees a huge difference between the two, although he seems to have balanced them pretty well -- one of the few, I'd imagine. His chamber opera Arjuna's Dilemma was performed at BAM last week. Seems wild and eclectic and fascinating. I wish I'd been there.  But others certainly were and, at least according to the NY Times, they actually enjoyed it: www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/arts/music/07arju.html 

People actually do like contemporary music -- sometimes.

November 10, 2008 at 10:28 AM ·

Dear violinists, please have a look at www.violinconcerto.de 

Here you will find a list with allmost all the contemporary violinconcertos written. Very usefull and interesting. Best wishes, Karel Boeschoten.

November 10, 2008 at 12:27 PM ·

Aaron Copland has a great discussion of this subject in his wonderful book "What to Listen for in Music."    Read it as perhaps a first step in reconsidering a categorical aversion to ALL contemporary music. 

I'll mention just a few wonderful  pieces that are written in a "modernistic" idiom:  The Dutilleux cello concerto, the Lutoslawski cello concerto, the Schnittke viola concerto, the Schnittke piano quintet.  Check out the Rostropovich CD of the Dutilleux and Lutoslawski pieces just mentioned and listen to it a few times.  If you give it a chance may find that it's some of the most sublime music you've ever heard.

November 10, 2008 at 12:56 PM ·

One newer work that I really enjoy is the Glass Violin Concerto. The slow moment is gorgeous. I would be interested in seeing what other people have found to be worthwhile.

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