Friday, 26 July 2019

White males dominating classical music

On Norman Lebrecht's website Slipped Disc, a post appeared about the "2019 Racial Equity and Inclusion Forum, a convening of artists, administrators, and advocates to discuss racially inclusive and equitable opportunities for creative musicians happening September 7, 2019 in Saint Paul, MN." One of the well-intended efforts to fight discrimination which, as is well-known, is rampant in the USA. But focussing on discrimination and its solutions has its own dangers.

These types of efforts to break down discriminatory barriers, may create comparable barriers themselves, because emancipation movements create and feed group think: ‘we’ against ‘them’, which is another form of discrimination. ‘Your privilege is my bad luck’. But life is not so simplistic.

If emancipation is not about fighting for rights but fighting against privilege (of whatever kind), then social progress is no longer defined by acquired freedom, but by an as evenly as possible distribution of suppression. The result is a ‘politics of resentment’ which is a breeding ground for populism and, eventually, fascism, as history clearly shows.

There is nothing wrong with the ‘domination of white males’ in classical music as long as any person aspiring to the profession is welcomed on the basis of his/her own qualities and not ‘minority background’. Unfair barriers are best battled by education on a general level, and not by special group think initiatives. 

In an ideal world, it is not group think which offers chances in life, but the disappearances of unfounded prejudice, in a society where each human individual is treated as an individual human being according to his/her own qualities. But how to get there? The only really effective medium seems to be education on all levels, not only in music education.


Friday, 5 July 2019

Krier on modernism

"Modernist propaganda continues its dominion via the fraudulent appropriation of the term 'modern' –which strictly means 'of the present time, current, contemporary'–, claiming that theirs is the only legitimate form of modernity in art and architecture. They arrogate universality for a sectarian view. They equal this view with progress and imply fallaciously that to practice traditional art and architecture today is backward and hence anachronistic. The claim is factually erroneous, ideological, intolerant and undemocratic, it expropriates the general public, clients, students and professionals, of their individual right to judge and choose. It dominates architectural practice, education and media and is uniquely responsible for a generalized architectural illiteracy and with it, for the debased built environment of today. In the end, however, the poison seems to have produced an antidote. The Trüby-initiative has fostered unintended countereffects. At long last the news media and hopefully soon public cultural policies may voice contrary opinions."
Extract of "The end of hypocrisy. On the reconstruction of the Frankfurt Old Town houses" by Léon Krier
Download the full book with this article and other abstracts of the lectures of the The Reconstruction of Cultural Heritage International Seminar:…/La-Reconstrucci%C3%B3…

The same situation reigns in the field of new music: aesthetics and ideologies of more than a half century old dominate education, funding networks, cultural policies. As a result, the classical performance culture has withdrawn into a defensive museum bullwark, where only minimum space is given, as a superfluous tip for a dish not asked for, out of a vague sense of obligation and as a marketing tool to show adherence to 'modernity' - without understanding what the term really means. In the end, for classical music to survive in modern times, it will have to accept real injections into the repertoire, contributions which respect the formats and the nature of the medium and the art form. Fortunately, such contributions are already written and performed - which bodes well for the future.

Composers, and especially composition students, should take notice of these developments in architecture, and carefully explore Krier's ideas and especially, the philosophy behind his vision. These developments are not merely about restoration and reconstruction, but also about regaining an aesthetic and technical sensitivity and craft.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Imagining an alternative

The contemporary neo-traditionalist, or neo-classical movement in architecture and urban design, was first imagined by architect Léon Krier. It is now inspiring many architectural and urban undertakings all over the world, in spite of immense opposition that Krier had to face, and devastating critique from all corners of the profession. New architecture inspired by the past is now a widely  accepted option, and no longer some kind of marginal oddity cultivated by people 'who don't understand their own time'.

A new way of interpretation of contemporary art, different from 'received wisdom' of half a century of ideological domination, first has to be imagined. Krier's imagining of an alternative brought him back to the achievements of the past, where he found universal laws, or dynamics, which determine form, function and expression.

Krier got the idea that there was such a thing as objective laws in architecture, that these laws remained more or less the same over time, and that in the West, classicism - in the widest sense - was the best expression of these laws. These laws are not fixed rules at the surface, but function on a deeper level, where the dynamics of invention and creation and fantasy operate in the subconscious of individual artists, and where they are fed and stimulated by examples. Related to music, we could say something similar: the internal dynamics which operate in all Western classical, serious music since its beginnings in medieval times, find ever new forms but their nature remains similar. The tonal dynamics under the surfaces of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto are of the same nature as those who give Monteverdi's 'Il Coronatione di Poppea' its compelling expression, as Wagner's 'Parsifal' makes use of the same dynamics that radiate from Palestrina's 'Missa Papae Marcelli'. 

In the context of a music world where modernism and its watery progeny has built something like an ideological consensus network of vested non-musical interests, to be adhered to (by composers), or to be ignored (by most classical performers), or to be criticized (by audiences), an alternative has first to be imagined before a new music can be written in full awareness of the implications, in other words: not in a spirit of denial of reality, but of full understanding of that reality and thus, deciding to explore different, alternative paths. This is something different from merely continuing a musical language of the past without taking into account what has happened since the beginning of the last century. To reject something, it is good practice to know it first. Therefore, in 'The Classical Revolution' much space is given to descriptions of the fallacies of modernism, misunderstood by some critics as an extremist attack. Where the subject matter is extremist in nature, a description cannot avoid showing the nature of the thing. (A description of the nazi concentration camps cannot be a pleasant and polite exercise.)  I believe that a true rejection of modernism (and its weak following) needs a full awareness of what it has brought into the world, so that something different can be imagined and created.... a renaissance of music, no less.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Modernity as a religion

What could be considered, in general, the tenets of 'the modern outlook' in today's world?

  1. Humans are in one category and nature is in another.
  2. Scale doesn’t matter.
  3. History can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past.
  4. Science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world.

This superficial view of the world is not shared by serious scientists, or serious cultural 'entrepreneurs', or any person gifted with a serious form of intelligence. The results of the damages done by such views in the territory of the arts, can be seen all around us today. But the dangers of this type of 'modernity' are much greater. 

In fact, this 'modernity' is a narrow-minded version of the concept, and stems from times when naivety reigned supreme - the postwar faith in technological progress, not hindered by a deeper understanding of human nature and nature in general, and of human history, including the history of the arts and their meaning for our civilization.

An intelligent article on the website of 'Resilience':