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Here’s a problem with Banff: how is a guy supposed to get anything done for the rest of the day after experiencing a lecture by Lera Auerbach first thing in the morning? She spoke about her music, played several excerpts of different works, and then most unforgettably played her Third Violin Sonata with the equally remarkable Stanislav Pronin who, we were later informed, first saw the music a week ago.
A morning like this gives one a whole lot to work through. For me, it’s always a trying thing to have an experience that reminds me concert music is not in fact dead or pointless. It forces me to revise or at least question many of the thoughts I’ve been posting on here for the last three years.
Auerbach’s music has a historicist element, which leads to the facile comparison with great Russian composers like Gubaidulina and Schnittke. But unlike Uncle Alfred, her music doesn’t refer so much as it integrates the music of the past. It doesn’t feel stylistically radical, nor does it strike me as conservative. The style simply doesn’t draw attention to itself.
Here at the Banff Centre there is a brand new building called the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation. Quite the name, right? There is a cafe and bar there, and the new home for the library. They also use it for lots of meetings and conventions for corporations and organizations that come through. The building just opened in July, and you get the sense that they’re still figuring out how to use it. It’s a beautiful space with lots of light and many wonderful pieces of the Centre’s art collection on the walls. But a building’s blueprints in two dimensions are ultimately much different than the building itself in three (and especially in four, as it ages). The imagined functions probably don’t correspond to evolving daily exigencies.
I thought of this when Pronin talked about the well-worn approaches one faces playing the music of Beethoven or Brahms versus a Violin Sonata that was written five years ago. Similarly, this is a new building we’re dealing with. It hasn’t been lived in yet. We have an idea how it should function, but you don’t really know until you have dozens of people walking around in it for a few years. You don’t know to what uses it will be subjected, to what demands it will have to bend.
I like this metaphor because it suggests people living inside a piece of music, which is basically what we do. It’s just the classics have had so many thousands of people living in them for so long, and a new piece of music is so clean and empty by comparison. Dealing with it becomes an opportunity, but also a responsibility and a puzzle to work through.
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The latest addition to Luke’s post-everything musical landscape is the Nels Cline Singers, none of whom are singers. Guitar-bass-drums. Nels Cline is most famously the current guitarist for Wilco, and is generally a guy who has his hands in a serious panoply of musical projects.
Genre-bending and boundary-breaking are very much in the news these days, but much as I love the idea on paper the results are not always convincing. Contortions of style have a way of drawing attention to themselves. This is not the case with Cline’s band, who just play, and don’t really seem all that concerned with how they’re going to tag their album on Myspace.
If style and genre don’t matter, it is not because they ever held real creative musicians back. It’s not that they don’t matter “anymore”; they never meant anything to begin with. Genre is not a creation of artists. It is a creation of marketing professionals.
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To quote John Corigliano, a musician to whom I rarely refer: “Anyone’s personal style is usually not apparent to them, because style is made up of the unconscious choices you make, not the conscious ones.”
Today we’re awfully conscious of style and our stylistic choices. It’s easy to get into your head so much that you feel you need to make these choices before you start writing the music. I’ve dealt with this a lot. But it’s best, if you can, to suspend these worries far enough into the process that they manage to resolve themselves -- because freezing your style before the fact is probably futile, and definitely means hobbling yourself, closing yourself off to possibility.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts