A curious article on music in the New York Sun, which touches on something I’ve been reading/thinking about quite a bit recently. Referring to a recent panel discussion between Aaron Jay Kernis, Joan Tower, Karel Husa and John Corigliano held at the Bruno Walter Auditorium:
Ms. Tower discussed the benefits of composing in America, concluding she “would die in Europe.” She described the European system of cliques and Europe’s rigid requirements of conformity — elements, she pointed out, that formerly existed on this side of the pond.
Ms. Tower, however, may be a bit too close to the subject to realize that she too is part of a rather closed society. In America, it is virtually impossible for someone who is not a part of the academic community to have his or her works taken seriously.
Two brief observations to make here:
- Could Tower please point to some of ‘Europe’s rigid requirements of conformity’ (a prize to anyone who knows what she’s referring to – mention of a 55 year-old piano duet by the young Boulez doesn’t win you the prize)
- Apart from Babbitt, how many major American composers are/were totally embedded in the academic community? Cage? Reich? Feldman? Glass? Young? Wolff? Riley? Partch? Nancarrow? Adams? Lucier? … (the list goes on). (Writing this list it did occur that someone like Tenney perhaps might have been considered part of the academic community, but such thoughts do such a disservice to his music as to only further highlight the weakness of the original argument.)
Björn Heile’s excellent article ‘Darmstadt as Other: British and American Responses to Musical Modernism’ (twentieth century music, i/2 (2004), 161-78) is essential reading here.