Tag Archives: new music

The Fate of Contemporary Composers and their Compositions

The competition piece at the Inaugural Knigge Competition at the UBC School of Music has me thinking about new piano works again. All the works we now consider part of the standard repertoire started life the same way. They were new, unheard compositions which could easily have ended up in the dust bin or completely forgotten. This can easily happen if a work does not get into the hands of competent musicians or if it simply cannot aquire escape velocity. By escape velocity I mean the same thing as a Mars-bound explorer needs a specific speed in order to escape earth’s gravity. Any new work needs the same, except it is measured in numbers of performances. I have no idea what that number is but it is certainly more than one.

This weekend at the Knigge competition, composer Michael Tenzer‘s piece, entitled ‘Invention’ got at least 8 performances. All the performances were good. Some were more convincing than others. As you would expect, the performance by the competition winner was the best. But the question remains; who will ever hear this work again?

Some music is difficult to understand. Composer Robert Schumann’s earliest piano works were almost unintelligible to the average concert goer in the 19th century. Mostly, his work was played at private concerts attended by the inteligencia of the time. We have no such system now. If Kreisleriana were written today, who would play it? Who would hear it? It is quite likely it could remain on the shelf for decades.

Serge Rachmaninov’s first symphony failed miserably because of a drunken conductor who cared nothing for the music and inadequate rehearsal time. It was nearly completely destroyed and only reconstructed from orchestral parts after the composers death. It is actually a magnificent work.

I have no answers. Only more questions. We have no viable distribution system for these works. We have no way for a curious music lover to even find them. I think it only appropriate that I leave this post unfinished.