Thursday, 9 January 2020

Programming new symphonic music

Much new music which makes it to be performed by a symphony orchestra, is not really functioning according to the fundamentals of the performance culture of the medium. Or said differently: the new works chosen to be performed, are more often than not chosen with the idea that they should, somehow, represent modernity. And this notion of modernity is more often than not, a misunderstood modernity, as if ‘modern times’ force us to restrict our minds to a small number of choices. These choices often tend to conform to the idea that the music should offer associations with contemporary entertainment music, or with inaccessible complexity (because the modern world is complex), with sound effects 'never heard before' (to signify newness and progress) and recognizable as coming from modern industrial complexes or the world of computer technology, with bland repetitative processes reminiscent of certain pop music - in short: a connection with contemporary concerns or points of recognition. But all of these associations stem from outside the cultural tradition which is the symphonic performance culture, and tend to neutralize or to diminish the expressive means of the medium which have accumulated over a long period of time - from the late 18th century onwards.

Since orchestras are considered a remnant of bygone ages and of a culture that no longer exists – in terms of writing for them – the idea behind programming new music is that it should somehow ‘anchor’ the orchestra within the context of our own time, to somehow ensure its viability and survival in times with an increasing distance to the periods in which the classical repertoire was written. Ironically, since the choices are so often based upon a narrow and misunderstood notion of modernity (a straightjacket, with taboos), the choices effect the opposite: what is experienced as ‘modern’ by audiences, somehow does not fit in the symphonic culture, and does not appeal to classical music audiences. And this in turn confirms the museum character of the genre.

In short: the fear of being seen as ‘conservative’ by not programming pieces which reflect ‘modernity’, is undermining the orchestra's aim to preserve its place within contemporary culture. Trying to find new music which is both new, and in the same time respects and builds on the symphonic culture, is not conservative, because the existing repertoire is still very much alive. If progress is understood as improvement, choices of programming will look differently from a one-sided and simplistic idea of 'modernity', and that which is truly modern may happen to be improvement on the basis of artistic quality and in harmony with an existing and symphonic performance culture which is still very much alive.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Conformist bubble

Every year, the Donaueschinger Musiktage - a festival of sound art - presents 'new works', chewing on aesthetics and ideas half a century old, with ever reinforced efforts to keep the myth of postwar modernism intact. The results are, however, primitive as always, and have nothing to do with music which is an art form based on fixed pitches which form relationships with each other. There is nothing wrong with sound art, but the stunning phenomenon that so many people call it 'music', and its creators 'composers', can only be explained by the thorough conformism which reigns within the bubble of sonicism. Elsewhere I have already written about the German sonic artist Helmut Lachenmann ('Be liberated!').....

..... with sufficient arguments. Festivals like the Donaueschingen can only be described as entirely conformist, conventional showcases for ambitious people without musical talents or musical understanding, parading as 'progressive composers', entirely unaware of the primitive nature of the results of their efforts and the old tradition of their futurism. It would be so much more honest if the festival would drop the claim that it is about music, and fully embrace the description of sonic art ('Klangkunst'), instead of presenting their sounds as music which is an entirely false claim. It seems that nowadays, females are entering the field, to give the art form another gloss of 'progressiveness'. That gendered conformism does not alter the results, is however an insight still escaping the sonic idealists.

Monday, 23 September 2019


Description of the work of a 20C American painter:

...... these works—included in the exhibition—are now clearly recognized as works of pure genius and are almost priceless.

So, not totally priceless, but remarkable enough to receive the accolade of 'genius'. What could this be? The work of Cy Twombly, whose visual exercises struck the heart of every viewer who thus recognized the state of his/her own inner life. Obviously, as can be seen when the link underneath is followed, this type of work is not about visuals, but about the ideas around it, and the intention of the maker. It is an 'art form' where content has been completely transferred from the object into the rarified sphere of ideas, which can be easily manipulated because being so disconnected from the reality of the object.

There is more:

It is remarkable how powerfully these early works pulsate and vibrate with the intense energy that the artist invested into them almost 70 years ago and it is easy to see why his professor, Robert Motherwell, said “there is nothing to teach him.”


During the 1970s Twombly was championed by Yvon Lambert, the French gallerist  who instinctively grasped Twombly’s genius and exhibited his first solo show in Paris, in 1971. Lambert’s energy, combined with a special synergy between him and the artist, generated enough interest in Twombly’s work to bring about an exhibition of works on paper at the Musee d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1976.

Obviously, such 'art' is infective where the absence of aesthetics offers space for psychopathological projection. Here is the source, which reads like a spoof, a hilarious joke, to caricature the nonsense of such 'art'. But no, it is a deadly serious exercise: