Can we talk for a moment about “New Music?” Recently, I was asked to play Jerry Grant’s Tuba Cycles, which, I believe, to be the major contribution to the tuba literature since “Encounters II.” I was please to be placed on a concert of all works that had been composed within the past few years. I was speaking to a few people I knew and invited them to the concert, not to just hear me, but as a show of support for all the living composers who were going to be in attendance. NONE of the people with whom I spoke planned on attending the concert, nor did any of them show up. I asked them why they didn’t plan on attending and their unanimous answer was (and I quote), “I don’t like new music.” Being heavily involved in new music, I don’t get this. I tried to figure out from where this pervading sentiment originated. This came screaming back to me as I VERY recently played a concert of all music by a well-known composer. The piece I played on was a good piece and fun to play. The orchestra was terrific and the conductor was pleasant and well prepared. The work was not really intended as a symphonic piece, but rather was intended to go along with another live-theater medium. One work that was performed before I walked on to the stage was so bad, that at one point I laughed out loud. Honestly, I have NO compositional skills, but the music I have TRIED to write is better than this stuff. I would not embarrass myself, or make my listeners uncomfortable, by performing my music; it’s garbage! I can write great tuba quartet arrangements, but that’s it.
So, now I try to trace the history of the anti-new music sentiment. ALL the greats, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, Stravinsky had their works performed right after they were written. The best I can figure out was back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s there was so much new music written and performed, much of it awful, that the 1970’s - 80’s audiences were bombarded with so much crap, that “I don’t like new music” became an anthem for serious concert goers. You HAVE to blame someone for this as there are WONDERFUL composers writing truly GREAT works. I blame conductors and orchestra managers. Lack of courage and embarrassment is responsible. An orchestra would commission a work by a composer and when the work arrived, since they had paid for the music and had already scheduled it, good or bad, they played it anyway. Subjecting their ticket buyers and supporters to bad music, either KNOWING the music was bad, or not taking the time to truly consider the quality of the music that was being presented. Being right in the middle of that, I have played HOURS of crappy music. On one concert, my colleagues joked about playing the concert with brown bags on our head so no one would know we were playing that garbage. Many people with whom I have spoken opined that they didn’t understand new music, or they didn’t like it. Truth is, many concertgoers can really discern the difference and they don’t dislike NEW music, they dislike BAD music. And since so much BAD contemporary music is scheduled, bought, and played, it has turned their minds off.
Folks, it is up to US to fix this. We HAVE to play ONLY quality music by living composers. We must purchase, schedule & play excellent new music. We must encourage talented composers to keep writing. BUY their music, invite them to performances, and work with them to promote their work. We must play well-crafted pieces and NOT be intimidated by the name of the composer printed on the upper right hand corner of the title page. There might be a budding Mozart in our midst and it is in our best interest to get his/her music played.
You are with me on this, right?