Dillon in the Times

Incidentally, it’s obviously N*w C*mpl*x*ty week in the British press – here’s a very fine piece on James Dillon (whose music is also being performed in Huddersfield) in today’s Times.

The complexity came about as a way of creating music that approximates to the complexity of being alive today, he says. Which is why he was never tempted by minimalism. “I’m not keen on hypnotics,” he explains. “It’s why I gave up acid. They render you mindless; you stop thinking. There’s something politically and ideologically dangerous about it.”

But isn’t there a middle way? Composers who are producing more accessible music, such as Judith Weir and Julian Anderson, are the ones winning friends, aren’t they? “These are people who are — how does one put it? — embraced by the establishment. But are they winning audiences in France, Germany, Italy and Spain?” he asks. “The world is not England for me.”

4 thoughts on “Dillon in the Times

  1. Why do we need to put names to everything? Composers of new music should not be dictated to by fashion. Yes there is a middle way and it has no boundaries! Composers should put onto paper what is in their heads. To hell with fashion. That’s just the western equivalent of Shostakovitch’s Soviet repression. Don’t worry about critics. They represent just one person’s view. Don’t worry about academics. They should be teaching our up-and-coming just how to achieve what they want to. If you compose music the public likes to hear, then they will purchase your music and come along to concerts. If the public doesn’t like your music then you may need to re-examine your career path! Everything else is a diversion. And as a (new) composer, blogger and totally committed supporter of classical music, my strong impression is that the majority of the public want to return to their musical roots. They want memorable melodies and nice harmonies, not atonal, harsh, cacophonous noise.

  2. I’m sure James Dillon dislikes the term ‘new complexity’ as much as any other composer who might fall under that banner. I’m not happy with it either, hence the asterisking-out. (It’s quite an old description now, anyway.) But sometimes naming things is a useful way of dividing the world up into smaller, manageable units, so terms like this will persist.

    I’m not quite sure how Dillon might be described as being dictated to by fashion or not putting down what is in his head, though. If either of those were the case he surely wouldn’t be writing music that appeals to a small number of dedicated followers. I’d have thought that his (relative) obscurity and difficulty would be exactly the opposite of pandering to fashion? Which is, I expect, one important reason why he does compose like he does: because it is what’s ‘in his head’ and isn’t what populist fashions or market-driven tastes would prefer him to write.

    He still does OK out of it, mind you.

  3. Your measured response to my rant has impelled me to rewrite much of the second part of my blog, which will hopefully be a lot clearer as a result. In it I have defined “fashionable” in contemporary classical music as that which is popular with music professionals, particularly critics and academics. Their musical tastes tend to be highly developed and intellectual, and they generally enjoy atonal, experimental music. Of course this rubs off onto graduate composers and academics, and the cycle continues. To my mind “fashionable” does not equate to “populist”. It is the poor old general public whose favoured music is often derisively referred to as “populist”. The public prefer the simple melodies and harmonies which are largely ignored by contemporary composers. Consequently the public sticks with all the old melodic favourites and are bewildered – or plain annoyed – by most contemporary classical music. Faced with 150-year-old music and traditions, or cacophonous contemporary music, it is no wonder that classical music is regarded as “elite” by so many.

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