Tuesday, June 15, 2010

a successful conclusion + an exciting future

I've said before that this season was "the best ever" and in its already fading wake, I can say that indeed it was. The performances were polished and captivating, and our audience base has grown considerably. Seeing children and young families at our last concert, I realized that slowly but surely, we are beginning to achieve the goals set out in our mission statement. And, we received a standing ovation on Saturday! How cool is that?!

So. On to season four: Poetics(!). The subtitle has several layers of meaning, one of which is a reference to Aristotle's Poetics. I've been looking quite a bit at the text recently and the way diverse artistic movements interact with it over time. Of course it is referenced in the Enlightenment, but I was reading Greenberg's mid 20th century essay, Art and Kitsch, today and there was a reference to imitation "in the Aristotelian sense." Aristotle, in response to Plato, is primarily concerned with the problem of mimesis in art. Is imitation good? Is it bad? How does it operate within an artwork, and what does that mean for the artist? In addition to these basic questions, there are innumerable issues that arise from the discussion. I find myself drawn to the problematic relationship of Poetics with a contemporary society that no longer reads the classics: on the whole, the citizens of the world are unaware of the text, yet its prevalence in Western culture until this moment subtly shapes our own concept of what is "good" and "bad" in the arts. Mimesis is easy; abstraction is not. My current contention is that this attitude has been a part of our historical conditioning and thus results in a phenomenon I like to think of as "pre-conditioned taste." I have a lot more books to read and ideas to explore over the next year (obviously), but I'd like this discussion to be a part of CMM4. From the start, CMM has championed music that is perhaps more challenging to the ear than Mozart, Bach, et al. and I think the above discussion is REALLY helpful for looking at this stuff: if we are cognizant of our historical conditioning (ie preconditioned taste), we can understand it and eventually move beyond it. That is to say, things like Mark Rothko won't seem so "meaningless" (the old, "my kid could do that!" argument); Schoenberg's imitation will gain clarity.

The above is just one facet of next season, the more obvious one is music and text. We're talkin' song cycles people. I'm completely nuts for the art song, and if we're going to discuss mimesis, there is not a better place to start than so-called "word painting." We're looking at Schoenberg's Book of the Hanging Gardens (!!!!!), any number of cycles/songs by Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Ravel...the list goes on. It would fulfill a dream of mine to program and perform Pierrot Lunaire, but we'll see.

Lastly, I'll mention that we're hoping to program some Helmut Lachenmann. From what I've listened to, his music is not at all mimetic, in that it is like nothing I have ever heard before. The Kinderspiel, for example, explore sonic possibilities of the piano in the same way that Pollock explores the possibilities of raw materials (house paint, for example). I could certainly see where Lachenmann's music would be threatening to the American musical avant-garde (such as it is); I'm recalling something James Dillon (an advocate of Lachenmann, and another excellent composer) once said to me about Lachenmann's reception in the US. If I am remembering correctly, Dillon implied that Lachenmann was perceived by the US as a "de-composer" in that by redefining the means by which classical instruments were to be used, he was writing "anti-music." The pejorative connotation of these statements ought not to be ignored; it is a real shame, actually, as I think the music is quite good. Below is a video of Kinderspiel as played by pianist Seda Roeder. When you listen, try to notice all the sounds--in these pieces the residual is just as important (if not more so) as the initial sound. Though I must say, as wonderful as YouTube is for this sort of thing, to fully appreciate these pieces, you really have to hear them live (enter CMM4....).

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