Stepping Out of the Familiar

“The Creative Fire” took place last evening in Santa Fe’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel. We premiered two new works by living composers, Aaron Alter (Carlsbad, CA) and Daniel Steven Crafts (Albuquerque, NM). Both pieces were very well received by those who took a chance and tried something new.

The NM Bach Society Ensemble performs Aaron Alter’s “Together We Create and Sing.”

Composer Aaron Alter and Santa Fe painter Richard Kurman pose before the concert.

Santa Fe artist Richard G. Kurman presented a number of his recent paintings. The music for the concert was a wonderful reflection of the Classical roots that inspired his art, on the one hand, and new music that reaches back to those roots to do something new, on the other. The texts for the new musical works were also rooted in major English and American literature from the 15th through the 20th centuries. To put it succinctly: something new from something old.

Richard Kurman’s paintings on exhibit at “The Creative Fire” (May 9, 2017 in Santa Fe’s Immaculate Heart Chapel).

But let’s step back for a moment and consider why the NMPAS Bach concert on April 9th was completely sold out and “The Creative Fire” drew a very respectable, but smaller audience …

Having personally lived through many performances of “modern” music, I can certainly understand how many people shy away from concerts that feature new works. Much of the music of the 20th century, in particular, has come from the academic world and emphasizes “perfection” and “intellectualization” to what I consider extreme degrees. There are modern composers who write electronic music exclusively and openly state that this is the only way for their music to be “perfectly” realized. Human performers are simply incapable of producing the kind of “perfection” they seek, so computers are the wave of the future for this group of pioneers.

Those of us – and we are by far the majority! – who don’t appreciate music that comes mainly from the intellect are considered unsophisticated and incapable of appreciating the genius of these forward looking composers. But does it matter whether music actually sounds good or not? To me, this is a central question.

Continuing along these lines, I would argue that the complete break with past traditions as envisioned by Arnold Schoenberg and others has not resulted in music that people like to listen to. In college music theory classes, I recall being fascinated by scores that “looked” amazing. When I went to the listening library to hear them, whatever initially fascinated me from a visual standpoint was overshadowed by the actual sound of the music. Most of the time I couldn’t hear the theoretical underpinnings of the work, which led me to conclude that, if you can’t hear it, then what’s the point?

Yet despite the problems with a lot of 20th and 21st century music, I am still a big fan of new music that sounds good and speaks to me. And this is really the main point of this blog post: One of the goals of New Mexico Performing Arts Society is to present high-quality performances of music that reaches the hearts of audiences. And if some of that music is new, so be it!

For those who may have boycotted this particular program because of other new works that they have not enjoyed, I’d like to invite them to Step Outside of the Familiar and try something different when the next opportunity arises.

Linda Marianiello

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