Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Week II: Success and... Not Success

Sometimes I think I'll do okay at this whole music thing. And sometimes I just think I'm useless. Let me elaborate:

Yesterday afternoon was the chamber concert that I've posted about here a few times. I made a few errors on the Rzewski piece, but they were minor and on the whole, the concert went extremely well. There was quite the crowd for the small venue (packed in, I'm guessing, to hear the arrangement of the Debussy), and while you can't ever make everyone happy, the general response I got was that even the people who had no idea what they were about to hear enjoyed the bold, hypnotic Rzewski. Most importantly, I think (I hope...) the players enjoyed it.

In short, I could not have asked for it to go better. Then today came along.

Part of the requirement for the composition course is to write a piece for a specified ensemble; the College then organizes workshop days for the ensemble to read through and record them. Today was just such a day, and my piece, 'Difficult Loves', was unexpectedly laden with errors and balance issues. Most of it was simple stuff that I learned how to correct years ago and haven't had problems with since. So why now? My actual time with the ensemble went rather well (especially given my own mistakes in the score) but in general I feel like it's more effective if I conduct my own work — no need to explain to a conductor the nuances that I would just do anyway.

After the workshop, however, when I went up to the conductor to get my score back and ask him if he had any additional feedback or thoughts about the piece, he responded with 'Actually, I haven't given it much thought at all, really'. What a charming and professional thing to say to a composer about his work! Yes, even though it had mistakes, I still put a great deal of thought into it.

This kind of set me off, and I spent the rest of the day fuming about the cold, imagination-free performance practice that has pervaded contemporary music, removed from it any sense of phrase or line, and fostered performers and conductors who don't find it necessary to put any thought into music. If instrumentalists play hundreds of years of repertoire with emotion, vigor, and personality, why not the music of today?

Admittedly though, I am also fuming about my own clumsy mistakes.

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