A couple of weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post by composer Doug Balliett: he was honored to be a part of ICE’s Mostly Mozart 50 (fifty new works to be premiered this year). His new piece for soprano and harp would be performed as part of Lincoln Center’s annual summer festival. I’ve actually known Doug for a few years now, having played and premiered a number of his works. He’s a beautiful composer with a generous spirit. I quickly checked my calendar – I was free and so there.
Last Thursday evening, I was back at my old stomping ground, Lincoln Center. I stopped at the outdoor café: “I can really take my glass of Prosecco over to the seated area??” #livin. The concert itself was no longer than 15 minutes – it was actually advertised as a “micro concert.” This concept piqued my curiosity, and to have some of the city’s top new music performers participate in a format that challenged our expectations of the traditional concert experience, was pleasantly refreshing.
But the brevity of the whole evening had me thinking about how too often we forget the premieres once they’ve taken place. We share posts, upload a filtered photo or two, and obsessively check for likes over the next 24 – 48 hours. But what happens to these brand new pieces once they’re played for the first time? This week’s review is about a phenomenon called #instanewmusicgram.
Following a warm introduction to the concert, soprano Tony Arnold and harpist Bridget Kibbey quickly walked on. The program opened with a piece by Suzanne Farrin, titled Il Suono. While it featured some effective uses of extended techniques for the harp, I felt a bit lost in translation, as the Italian text unfortunately went completely over my head. By contrast, with its lilting rhythms and stylish melodies, Doug’s piece David beautifully filled the unusually crisp evening. While I found myself longing for a more intimate setting so I could catch some of the musical subtleties, I could sense how both players seemed a bit more at ease. What I’ve come to admire most about Doug’s music is that it feels really really good to play so that you can’t help but smile while doing it.
Given that the way we communicate with one another has so fundamentally changed, as performers of new music, we have to think critically and creatively about the channels by which today’s music is both seen and heard. In 1990, composer William Bolcomb lamented, “The serious music publishing industry is almost defunct … sales of records and tapes are suffering.” (Musical America). I think all of us in the scene can agree that yes, the traditional processes of dissemination are unfortunately no longer relevant. And as performers, I fear that not enough of us think about what happens after the grant’s been awarded, the residency scheduled, and the premiere date locked in place. More than ever, we must task ourselves with the responsibility to seek opportunities to program, record, and even post about the latest works by our fellow composers, especially the ones that make us smile.