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from Friday, January7th of the year2011.

So, I know it’s not polite or good form to go after critics, but I feel like we, as a community, need to rally together against Mark Swed’s recent weird hangups. Some sample paragraphs, the first from here:

The hipster in the bunch is Nadia Serota, who plays solo viola music by fashionable young New York composers on “First Things First.” The disc is on New Amsterdam Records. At least I think they are fashionable young New Yorkers. There are no program notes, which are considered passé in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn new music clubs these days. The drink menu is thought the place for description and intellectual rigor.

Notice a few things: Nadia Sirota’s last name is misspelled. There is questionable grammar. What does “Fashionable” mean? He introduces this idea of new music clubs. Does he mean LPR? He introduces the idea of a drink menu.

Now, we have this horseshit:

Brooklyn is hopping with bopping young composers who play a mix of new music and pop that often winds up being static sugar-coated minimalism suitable mainly for chilling out or dancing in clubs that serve high-caloric cocktails. Missy Mazzoli stands out in this scene as something more.

What? Has this dude ever been to New York? What’s insane about this whole thing is the understandable Los Angeles-Versus-New York cultural “war” or whatever. But surely the way to perpetuate such a thing is to write in this stupid way? It’s that old thing: if you think it’s a competition it becomes one. Also if it’s hopping, why not name names? Also, what would he rather we, as New York composers (I, for my part, don’t live in Brooklyn), do?

I should point out that it gives me great delight to defend my friends against stupid critics, but in the interest of full disclosure, Swed has given me what I think amounts to a positive review, although it contains some similar bizarre LA/NY attitude problems and a big error about music technology that I don’t need to get into here.

But y’all? It’s not a competition.


  • This makes me think of how the twitterverse is all up in arms in an imaginary Bandcamp vs. Topspin battle, started by some provocative Lefstetzing. We know Ian Rogers and we’re business buds. The truth is 99% of musicians are on platforms other than Bandcamp and Topspin. It makes sense for both of us to focus on that 99%, and not buy into a fabricated turf battle for a square inch of the playground. Enough with your false dichotomies! It’s not a competition.

  • Ha, the LAT review was very entertaining. Swed bolstered his straw man of “Muhly as bold, possibly-overrated NY musician” at least 3x before he got around to saying anything. And then to end on a positive note. So weird.

    Maybe you should re-title the piece per the LAT’s badly factchecked re-title “The Great Understanding”? It makes it sound like less like an old New England hymnal, more like a fin de siècle philosophical tract. The world can always use more philosophical tracts. Not!

  • “A mix of new music and pop”—of course, intrinsically divergent. Pop goes in aisle three, New Music is over by the produce.

  • My favorite thing in this blog post is: It’s not a competition. I couldn’t agree more. Bravo!

  • Obviously, I agree with you about most everything here, but I don’t agree that a L.A.-NY culture war is “understandable”. That’s what I find most mystifying about the whole thing. It’s not just that there’s no rivalry; there’s hardly a connection. Seriously, name 5 composers from L.A. who write concert music. (That’s not to say that L.A. composers could name NY composers, either — my point is just that a rivalry needs knowledge of one’s rival.) If Swed wrote for the Boston Globe, this would make some measure of sense; though it would still be wrong, I’d get what it was. I’m sure James Levine thinks there’s a lot of sugar in the club, or whatever. But when have L.A. and New York ever been musical rivals? This guy is inventing it out of whole cloth.

    Yeah, and it’s not even actually LA-NY. It’s more like “NY Sucks.” But it’s like, okay, so don’t listen to Missy. It’s just stupid to inflect every review that involves somebody from New York with these weird stereotypes. Plus also, that Green Umbrella thing in LA has been really great about getting both West Coast and East Coast and Other Coast composers out to LA, so the whole thing is just mysssturrrrious. Whatever.

  • PS “high-caloric”

  • Critics never change , whether it be dance , drama, art or music. They have to sell themselves, as well as the newspaper or magazine or blog. So, they make a special place for their viewpoint, and their wonderful self. in doing so they get weird or so middle of the road they say nothing but what people want to hear. If critics could be artist, they would not be critics. There in the rub!

  • Betsy, you are NOT HELPING.

  • everything is a competition

    like these comments!

  • What is a “Mark Swed”?

    I just bought (sorry I’m late) the “full-fledged CD in fine sound” with Christmas money from my Grandma (I KNOW) and have been listening to it non-stop ever since. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

  • time and time again, there will always be the re-positing, re-positioning of one over another and many can and will do not the same thing, but variations thereof.
    Sugar-coated minimalism? … That’s hardly minimal…
    Nico, thank you for pointing out that this is NOT a competition.

  • What an arrogant little lightweight you are!

  • I think you overplay the “culture war” a bit. Those words attribute deliberation and tactical maneuvering to what mostly appears tossed-off journalism- mis-spells, phrases like ‘hopping with bopping” (ugggghh!, OMG, so shamfeul), “fashionable young New-Yorkers” (also ugghh), “for chilling out or dancing to” (an amazing piece that provides equally for both!) Mostly it seems an attempt to be nice, but not too nice, to some “youngtsers”,on whom he doesn’t want to spend much time.

  • […] Muhly states the obvious about Mark Swed, or well, gets close to it.  The guy has prejudices but is incapable of expressing […]

  • That’s good idea…

  • “Hopping with bopping”!

    Dude should be a rapper, or maybe a beat-poet.

  • Swed’s opinions aside…

    “…hopping with bobbing…”


  • I don’t understand the measure of antipathy all around. Why would someone write “What an arrogant little lightweight you are”? That seems so mean-spirited. I read the Mark Swed review cited, and he says something about a young composer begging for attention … I’m sorry, but writing boundless amounts of music and offering that to the world is not begging for anything, it’s a gift. And if you find someone a lightweight, why are you reading their blog and making nasty comments? Move on, there’s nothing to bother with. I’m mystified by the nastiness of places like “Parterre Box” or whatever that thing is. Is everyone looking for an enemy? It takes so much energy to have one If you don’t like what you’re hearing, make something beautiful. If you see your job as attacking people, you seem to be on a strange mission It leaves a sickening hole in the air.

  • Seems like the lack of civility in the political space is seeping into the world of music. What’s next … critics coming to concerts locked and loaded? Composers in the cross-hairs.
    “Can’t we get along”, as some L.A. resident once said.

    I’m surprised at Mark. He’s usually a good read. But I live in Oakland, and it’s the L.A.-Bay Area thing for us. Never trust L.A. critics .. they’re “only in it for the money” (I’m quoting another L.A. resident named Zappa).

    Keep moving, there’s nothing to see here.

  • “…a mix of new music and pop that often winds up being static sugar-coated minimalism suitable mainly for chilling out or dancing in clubs that serve high-caloric cocktails.”

    Hey, that sounds great! Where can I hear me some a that stuff?

    Dontcha love it when the crits make something sound cool by trying to slam it?

  • Godgigoden Nico,

    I feel the need to apologize; just heard The Little Match Girl Passion out here in LA last night, and I could have been forcing everybody I knew to come along had I listened to your blog and gotten a copy three years ago! I left floating on a cloud and determined to learn “When It Is Time for Me to Go” post-haste.

    For penance I pledge to wrap my ears around the next two pieces you recommend immediately (on this blog, or by email, or whatever). To save you the potential conflict of interest, I think I have everything of yours that’s been released (Sam Amidon’s too).

    Cool note: the tenor part was sung by Grant Gershon. I owe it to him that I have any idea who you are – went to the Master Chorale to immerse myself in Pärt’s “De profundis,” and left wanting to know more about “Expecting the Main Things From You.” Shortly afterwards came I to deinen Blog, and the rest is still writing itself.

    By the way, David Lang hung out to greet well-wishers and new fans in the lobby afterwards, which was lovely, but what does one say in such a situation other than “hey, thanks for rearranging my brain more beautifully?” Does a composer really get much out of hearing such things?

    Fare forward voyager –

  • Nico: the pieces you’ll be debuting with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, will they ever be performed again? Or is this one’s only hope to hear them? As rotten as this sounds, I think I’m already going to too many concerts in February. And I don’t even live in New York. But I love me some medieval colonial English travel stories, and I love me some “Pretty Polly” (!