06 November 2010

The Aging Process

According to last night's program, the ensemble Zeitgeist , a local new music group which hosted my ensemble C.o.S.T. as part of their fall cabaret, is planning an "Early Music Festival" for next April. The featured composer is Henry Cowell (1867-1965). Though I generally have a low tolerance for hyperbole, I think the idea of labeling work from this era as "early music" in the year 2010 is not only brilliant, but also necessary, and I'm glad someone thought to do it.

To neglect most of the great living composers is one thing; to neglect most of the great music of an entire century is quite another. I wonder if advocacy for "living composers" as a group is one way the behemoth institutions at the top of the classical music food chain get away with continually abdicating their duty. As long as composers Cowell's age are wrongly categorized as "new" or "contemporary," orchestras will continue to point to their latest commissions to middlebrow careerists as evidence of a commitment to the ever expanding tradition, when the only things actually expanding are their noses. Kudos to Zeitgeist for calling them on it.

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