After completing the revision of Perceval’s Secret last year, I’ve decided to revise the first draft of Novel 2, Perceval’s Shadow, during the next 6 months. Evan’s composer friend, Owen te Kumara, occupies an important place in Evan’s life in this and subsequent books in the series. What better way to kick off my revision work but to spend an evening at Orchestra Hall with the Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vanska, and the six young and emerging composers attending the Composer Institute this year? The annual concert is called “Future Classics.” It showcases each composer’s work, and the Minnesota Orchestra’s awe-inspiring expertise in performing new music.
As the American Composer’s Forum, one of the Composer Intitute’s sponsors, says, “All music was once new.” It’s hard to imagine now, but such a famous classical music as Beethoven’s Third Symphony dismayed and/or scandalized its premiere audience. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring sparked a post-concert riot at the Paris concert hall the night of its premiere. I’m pleased to report that I witnessed no scandals last night, despite one composer’s use of raw cabbage and macaroni and cheese in his composition (the percussionist must have had some fun with that!), or riots. I witnessed lots of rude people, though, which surprised me. Usually the audience at this concert tends to be savvy and considerate. But last night, a crowd of latecomers surged in after the first piece — the most I’ve ever seen at a concert anywhere — and continued to come in during the first half. The weather was fine, there were no major sports events downtown last night, and no reason for anyone to be late due to weather or traffic. The rudeness extended to people in the audience talking among themselves loudly during the Q&A, and others who treated the Hall as their living room, coming and going at will.
The music blew me away. An exploration of dissonance seemed to be the main theme last night as one piece after another established a musical motif and then played with it, developed it, layered it among the sections, layered varying rhythms and keys, creating dissonance then resolving it. Another possible theme was taking the principles of minimalism and playing with them. I especially liked two: Rhythm: Theta Beta Theta and Manchester. The first used repetitive rhythm effectively to explore dissonance. The second created the effect of slow motion by taking the notes that would have been repeated and holding them out instead.
Each composer talked about his or her inspiration for their composition which is always interesting. They ranged from watching brain waves during an EEG to a museum of medical oddities. My favorite piece was also the most melodic and echoed at least two of Samuel Barber’s works. I would love to hear that one again!
It’s difficult for any professional orchestra to prepare, rehearse and perform one piece of new music. It’s astonishing that the Minnesota Orchestra annually does this difficult work for at least six new pieces of music, and that Music Director Osmo Vanska dedicates an entire week of the season to working with these young composers. Over the five years that I’ve attended this concert (and in earlier years, the rehearsals), I’ve noticed an improvement in the quality of the compositions, as well as a movement away from one particular focus like minimalism. What the composers achieved with their pieces last night was highly original and carried music forward.
As I listened last night, I thought about Owen te Kumara and his music. What does it sound like? What are his influences? His inspiration? In the last century in classical music, there has been a movement away from long lines or melody as we know it from previous centuries. I’m thinking that Owen will compose more melodic, tonal music but not ignore what’s been accomplished in musical composition in the last century. In 36 years, when my novels are set, a lot can happen, but also a lot can remain the same or return to what has worked in the past.
I love the Minnesota Orchestra’s “Future Classics” concert! I look forward to next year’s and the renewed energy and inspiration it gives me….