from Wednesday, January20th of the year2010.
Pre-concert talks are always really funny to me. I always fear them slightly but know that it’s really important to do because concertgoers tend to really like them. I never go to them, so I have no idea what you’re meant to do to make a successful one. I got sort of blind-sided today by a series of unfortunate events (1. coffee machine malfunction at home, 2. totally weird subway situation, 3. an unexpected walk outside in the very very cold with no coat to a Methodist church filled with home-schooled children who had written a wonderful spatial set of variations on Copland’s Sextet) and ended up at a pre-concert talk at the Wigmore hall where I was disastrously hungry and over-caffeinated and was too OCD to use the toilet and was wearing one layer 2 few. So! I ended up sounding slightly manic and in my frenzy fucked up my Queens (I lumped Purcell in with Elizabeth rather than Mary) and then got totally insane when this random guy asked me My Least Favorite Question in the World.
My Least Favorite Question in the World is a question that only the English ever ask. It is a question that is not in fact a question but is just a mean comment, disguised in an observation. It goes something like this: “Isn’t it the case that in the new music scene in New York, a lot of music is being written ___*insert generality here*___”. If the generality is that the pieces are short rather than long, this is code for “Americans are superficial.” If the generality is that pieces are more for orchestra and less for small ensemble it is a coded comment about Americans being opportunistic. Today’s variation was that music in “the” “new” “york” “scene” is composed, for the most part, of music for voices and percussion ensemble. And I just thought to myself, what on earth is the question here? And instead of answering politely, I kind of lost my cool and just accused this poor dude of coded language and was very unrelenting. I was basically like, “I’m sorry that all the fun festivals at the Barbican are Reich and Adams but, like, Tehillim is a beautiful piece of music and let’s not generalize about scenes” and then I added something about the Kwakiutl and something else about Lesbians just to confound anybody who was trying to follow me logically. After the talk, I tried to find him to apologize and sort of make peace but he had vanished and I had to Majorly Correct my caffeine/sweat/hot/cold/toilet qi.
Anyway, the short version of this story is: sorry, dude! You came to my pre-concert talk and I am super appreciative and you asked what I think was an innocent question and I unloaded a huge pile of sass on you for no reason.
But then, I sort of got to thinking (cue Carrie Bradshaw cut-away here) that questions about “scenes” in other places are always, in a sense, coded. I have written about my sense of, and my relationship to, “the” “new” “york” “scene” in this space before; I’m not even going to link to it because I was very cruel to a few people and hurt a bunch of feelings. If you want to find it, just search in the search box. But the point is, I am so committed to actively resisting these notions of scenes “” I just bristle anytime anybody uses the word. But probing a little deeper into my weird hang-up about this, I realize that my music is slowly unraveling itself from being written in New York. Impossible Things, the piece that Mark Padmore and Pekka Kuusisto will premiere with the Britten SInfonia next week “” not a note of it was written in America. Motion, which we’ve been touring for the last few days, was written almost entirely in Singapore and Cambodia. This giant opera I’ve been slaving over was written almost entirely in Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, with only the merest dynamics and articulations added in the 212. This big piano piece I’m writing now is going to have been entirely written in this ridiculously expensive, vaguely Saudi-banker efficiency in London. What right do I have to speak about what’s going on in New York? An English friend is instant messaging me right now saying that he’s about to see all my musician friends at a gay bar in New York “”Â I am in my pajamas realizing figured bass and the church bells in Smithfield have just struck 3 AM; I am completely Remov’d from the Scene, pieces for voice and percussion notwithstanding. Who has a right to articulate what’s going on in a place?
So now I’ve come back around, and I feel like I was right to bristle at the question. The implication in asking about what’s going on somewhere else is, in some way, a dig. Isn’t all art in Russia this sort of ironic Stalinist self-referential portraiture? Isn’t all music in Bamako just folk music with an electric bass? Isn’t music in Paris just IRCAM algebraic jibjab? It becomes a question about your relationship with your own city: what is being made in London that’s beautiful? Who is making music that moves you, Question Dude? Is it Patrick Wolf (whose slow descent into more & more baritone pleaseth)? Is it Simon Simon Bainbridge? Is it Michael Nyman? Where Judith Weir at? What did you people do with Steve Martland, anyway?
I love London and would love to get a handle on what music is being made here that is touching people. As a foreigner, being fÃªted with these numerous and wonderful performances, it’s hard to get a handle on. I’m doing a workshop for young composers in Cambridge on Saturday, which I hope will give me some sense of, you know, who these people are and where they are deriving their pitch material from. But I’m not entirely sure that seven hours in Cambridge is going to necessarily give me the synecdochal overview that would be the analogue to whatever it was that Dude.co.uk was talking about with the voices and percussion thing. Did he mean the Little Match Girl Passion? Was it a dig on the Little Match Girl Passion? Tehillim? Four Proverbz? That batshit George Crumb thing that’s the most beautiful thing in the world, Unto the Hills?