Thursday, July 27, 2006

Composerly Soldiers

Tanglewood is known as a place where young people can be exposed to exciting former trends in contemporary music. This was made evident by a performance featuring the most enlightened of living composers – John Harbison, Elliott Carter, and Milton Babbitt.
Here are three mentors who have been challenging the younger generations to write more like them for decades (except for Mr. Babbitt who evidently accepts all kinds of music, from ISCM to Broadway). At long last, the three have capitulated to the demands of their longtime patron Maestro James Levine and performed a shits-and-giggles rendition of Stravinsky’s jazzy and inconsequential work, A Soldier’s Tale.

Now, this is the kind of multi-media music that interests me. It is not necessary to be an actor to perform those speaking roles. Nor is it necessary to be experienced in theatrical performance to coach the actors as Maestro Levine does. In the current climate of “interdisciplinary art,” it is refreshing to see Stravinsky’s music highlighted by the armchair performances of three towering musical figures. Such a rendition affirms that, even when other “disciplines” are involved in a performance, the music must be the driving force behind the work.

I have suggested that some of my young students, with their addictions to YouTubes and PlayStations, attend more performances like this one – performances in which the acting, the staging, the lighting, and the choreography are incidental. As composers and musicians, we must not allow ourselves to be trivialized and marginalized by other so-called disciplines. After all, we often have concerts without dancing and acting, but let’s see them have a dance or a play without music!

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