28 October 2006

The New Avant-Garde

I was at a rehearsal a few weeks ago and one of the musicians said something really deep: "Harmony is the new avant-garde." I've heard people say similar things, but this really seemed to put everything in perspective. Of all the elements music has traditionally been divided into, harmony is indeed the most lacking on commercial radio right now. This helped me make a connection to another issue I'd been thinking about recently, which is that for some time now, there has been a wing of "contemporary" music that maintains that the symphony and concerto are dead forms. Others may go as far as to say this about the symphony orchestra in general, and yes, you'll even hear it uttered occasionally that instruments played by real people are obsolete. For the first time ever, I started to wonder a couple of weeks ago if I really had anything meaningful to contribute as an orchestral composer, or perhaps if it was even still possible to have anything meaningful to contribute as an orchestral composer. I still think the answer is yes, at least to the latter if not the former. But with all the recent talk of "saving" classical music, I started to wonder what position it would put us in if classical music indeed "died." The answer is clear: eventually, the orchestra would be new again. People would forget about it, or be born and raised without knowing it ever existed. Then suddenly, a revival would be upon us. The craze would sweep the country. There would be professional and community groups popping up left and right to capitalize on the opportunity. Well...I'm not betting on this happening, but I think that given the present conditions, there is nowhere to go but up: from now on, the more marginalized the orchestra gets, the cooler it gets. Perhaps the symphony is the new avant-garde.

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