Friday, 11 November 2016

New classical music is not impossible

Five successful performances of 'Solemn Night Music' (Feierliche Abendmusik) in this year by the Dallas Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic demonstrate, that a new classical music, which completely ignores postwar 'avantgarde' attainments in terms of material and language, and harks back to the early 20th century and - in some respects - to even older times, can make a valuable contribution to the repertoire of the orchestral performance culture. I have to thank above all the conductor, formidable Jaap van Zweden, who initiated the piece's commission on the basis of his acquaintance with my earlier music, and who has no interest in ideology, theory and strategic music policies still playing such influential role around new music today: he tries to find the musical qualities of a score, not its positioning in a politicized field.

The credibility of the idea of a 'new classical music' is, of course, entirely dependent upon the sounding results, which can only be convincing if it is performed with the same care as is usually spent on the classical repertoire works. But that means that enough rehearsel time has to be planned, which with a new work may be more than with music that every single player in the orchestra knows by heart and of which numerous recordings hammer its narratives in the mind of every music lover. With these performances, I am grateful for both orchestras' time resources. Also, conductors have to entirely delete the ideas of historicism and new music propaganda which they will have accumulated in their student days, and they need to have an utterly independent mind. In short: they need to be musicians first, and trust their musical instincts, and not be afraid of being accused of 'conservatism' if they present something new and original in a more or less known musical language; only people who think that the wrapping paper is more important than the content, level such critique to new works which reject the superficial 'requirements' of postwar modernity.... I think we should be happy that an injection of new life into the orchestral performance culture is possible at all, an injection which refutes the idea that this culture is a mere 'museum culture' - although there is nothing wrong with a museum, as long as its exhibits still have something of value to tell us.

Also, the quite positive audience and press reactions upon 'Solemn Night Music' showed that something new which encompasses also musical complexity, can be taken-in if the language does not throw-up barriers of musical understanding, an insight that still escapes quite some orchestral programmers, reluctant to accept a new music that leaves modernism and trendy hip behind. Much of new music produced today, shows compromises to an idea of modernity which mostly fails to engage audiences, educated on the existing repertoire and its musical value framework; accepting this framework, however, does not necessarily mean accepting restrictions on invention, fantasy and expression. What for many programmers - and quite some conductors - seems impossible, can be done, and it is to be hoped that this new opportunity to stimulate orchestral performance culture will also be taken-up by other orchestras, especially in Europe where outdated ideas about new music still hinder acceptance of new classical music.

Press reactions to 'Solemns Night Music' can be found on my website:

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