74 composers will get premieres in the NY Phil’s 2016 biennial

74 composers will get premieres in the NY Phil’s 2016 biennial


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2015


-Ilan Volkov will conduct a chamber orchestra of New York Philharmonic musicians in the US stage premiere of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest (2010), at Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center;

-Alan Gilbert will conduct the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ALUMNI at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Ligeti Forward, three programs exploring György Ligeti through three of his concertos — the Piano Concerto, performed by Conor Hanick; Cello Concerto, performed by Jay Campbell; and Violin Concerto, performed by Pekka Kuusisto — alongside works by his students Unsuk Chin and Gérard Grisey as well as works by Alexandre Lunsqui, Marc-André Dalbavie, Dai Fujikura (Japan, b. 1977), and John Zorn;

Ligeti hamburg

(c) Lebrecht Music&Arts

-The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival will take place as part of the 2016 NY PHIL BIENNIAL, featuring several concerts of pure electroacoustic music;

-Alan Gilbert will lead the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall in works by two American composers of the same generation: the World Premiere–Philharmonic CoCommission of a Trombone Concerto by William Bolcom, with Philharmonic Principal Trombone Joseph Alessi as soloist, and the New York Premiere of Conjurer by John Corigliano, with percussionist Martin Grubinger as soloist in his Philharmonic debut.

-And much more here.


  • Frank says:

    Another festival designed by insiders, for insiders. There’s very little I see here that the general public could grab a hold of.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      György Ligeti has been the gateway to classical music for many listeners, especially through his music’s inclusion in Kubrick’s 2001. As a young person, I initially could not respond to the Classical, Baroque and Romantic music that normally represented all of the classical music tradition. Hearing some of Ligeti’s works one day was a real stunner, and it gradually set me on the stage towards appreciation of all of it, working backwards from Ligeti to earlier 20th century modernism, then Mahler, then Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and eventually early music.

      Unsuk Chin generally strikes listeners as the heir to Ligeti with her sense of whimsy, color, and curiosity about non-Western traditions, and I’ve witnessed her make a strong impression on people who normally don’t care for classical music. Similarly, Dalbavie, Bolcolm and Corigliano have all stated that they are attempting to engage a general audience.

      So, I don’t know what you are complaining about. This festival is presenting a lot of safe choices, not a particularly polarizing avant-garde. (Though it’s important to keep in mind that in a city as big and diverse as New York with its myriad arts niches, to a large degree those looking for unusual modernist art are a general public.)

      • Jaxon says:

        To highlight just one example, “Unsuk Chin strikes listeners as an heir to Ligeti” only if the listeners are classical music insiders. Like, full stop. I’m not saying the NY Phil needs to aim for the mass market, especially in the context of this kind of festival, but I would caution people not to imagine that just because Marc-Andre Dalbavie says he wants to reach a larger audience with his music, it means that this is a festival with lots of easy footholds for the general public.

        This is a festival for people who are really excited by boundary-pushing contemporary orchestral music. That is only ever going to be a small segment of the general population.

        • Christopher Culver says:

          “This is a festival for people who are really excited by boundary-pushing contemporary orchestral music”

          But most of the composers involved are not boundary-pushing. Most of them established their mature careers by refusing the extreme rhetoric and total chromaticism of mid-century modernism and turning back towards tonality. Their music is full of overt tunes and lively, engaging rhythms. As I said, this is a collection of safe choices, not an avant-garde.

          In any event, these days any orchestral music (like myriad other styles that aren’t ordinary pop music), even if it were standard repertoire, is always going to attract a small segment of the population. What do you think that the NY Phil could have programmed to draw more than a small fraction of the population? Program Beethoven and Brahms and the bulk of the population will still accuse you of elitism. Program video game music and, while you might get larger numbers of young people in seats, they will still represent only a drop in the ocean of popular taste.

          • John Borstlap says:

            To begin with, ‘popular taste’ is entirely irrelevant in discussions about classical music as a genre.

            Then: “This is a festival for people who are really excited by boundary-pushing contemporary orchestral music.” The notion of ‘boundary-pushing’ stems from postwar modernist rhetoric and is one of the more important reasons why new music has become, let us say, less welcome in the central performance culture. That most composers of today no longer are ‘pushing boundaries’ – i.e. stretching the musical language far beyond any musical meaning – can be interpreted as the discrete appearance of some common sense and the understanding that music has nothing to do with ‘boundaries’ but with musical vision.

            In times with a very restricted stylistic range (end 18C), personal expression resulted in broadening the possibilities of the language, but this was never the goal of composition, but merely the result of a much more personal interpretation of a given musical language (Beethoven). In the 19C this personality cult became the romantic obsession of heroic avantgardism, which has created so much havoc in the 20C.

            So, the NY Phil’s new music policy can be described as, indeed, ‘boundary pushing’ but into a quite different direction.

  • william osborne says:

    Even though the intention of this Biennial might be to illustrate the creative vitality of orchestras, there is an ironic subtext that it is celebrating a post-orchestral aesthetic. So many of the included composers consistently wrote with the ironic whimsy of people playing an endgame, a sense of looking back at the orchestra as something past, as a historical artifact with which to toy. There’s a proud defiance in it, like two 80 year-olds dancing a vigorous tango that only makes the ethos of death all the more apparent.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A comment inspired by the ideal of progressiveness, the typical postwar lame duck. In art, there is no progress, only change. If contemporary composers take the nature of their tradition into account instead of ‘protesting’ against its ‘authority’, they feel no longer to be under the obligation of following a timeline from an ‘outdated past’ into an ‘utopian future’. Tradition is not convention but a value framework against which the personality of the individual composer can stand-out: in his personal handling his unique voice can be heard. In that sense, he writes something new. But that has nothing to do with progress.

      • william osborne says:

        A view filtered by your own bias. The word progress is not used in my comment, but rather the idea that the sense of change is imbued with a kind of whimsical irony, a feeling that orchestras are becoming increasingly alien, something inevitably used with irony like driving a Model T.

        On a semantic level, any form of change can be defined as a progression, even if conservatives might not label it “progress.” Most likely, their real view is that it is indeed progress, but in a backward direction. As for me, I’m not interested in such debates because the values are so subjective. To each their own, so now add more “absolute truth” and we’ll all let it go at that…

        • william osborne says:

          We could look at other forms of “progress.” Perhaps a composer who has taken to heart postmodernism’s ethos of dissolving aesthetic hierarchies and neo-liberalism’s concepts of artistic “entrepreneurship” to write an “accessible” music. Perhaps something programmatic and profound like a Tibetan Grofé mixed with vocal parts like slightly elevated Enya. It pushes all the right buttons to please a wide audience ranging from baby-boomers to their millennial children –cultural sophistication in simple tonality, exploitative exoticism, moderate minimalism, and a bit of spiritual dilettantism. And be sure to remain strictly apolitical except for an ingratiating poke at communist China and “human rights.” The postmodern and neoliberal ideal of aesthetic, moral, and economic expediency is fulfilled. If you can give a pre-concert talk and twinkle with radiant and modest charm, so much the better. You might even become established in New York or the Bay Area. As you can see, I’m a big champion of the “progress” our society is making.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The problem with this kind of thinking is that an art form is politicized, as if it is merely the expression of a political position. In reality, this is mostly not the case, given the fact that artists have to deal with a social reality in which they find themselves. Most of the times, they try to survive and produce their work at a distance of worldy concerns. If they come too close to them, they are challenged to make judgements – but that does not mean that art is by its nature political.

            The leftish world view emanating from this comment is as distorting artistic reality as any rightwing political restrictions would, as there was no real difference between communist state art policy and German fascist requirements.

            To take an example of the complications, Beethoven is a good one, who harbored some core ideals from the French revolution but was supported by representatives of the ancien régime in Vienna – who were, coincidentally, quite liberal. Was Beethoven betraying the revolution’s ideals? Or was he subversive in a suppressive climate? What meant his ‘progressive music’ in that context? He merely had to survive in a time where values were in flux, and from biographical evidence we know that he never ever expressed the wish to be ‘more progessive’ or ‘more modern’, but strove after being ‘better’ and ‘more personal’. The result was a new type of music, but never as a goal in itself. It was later generations who felt they had to cultivate ‘being modern’ to arrive at an artistic level comparable with Beethoven’s. It is HERE where the obsession with progress began….

          • william osborne says:

            Insisting that art is an absolute truth relative to nothing else doesn’t change the fact that it defines a historical progression, and that these continuities can have clear political implications.

      • sl says:

        No other art`s development was obviously so much guided by ‘progress’ than European serious music. Beethoven, Berlioz, Wagner, Schönberg: they all spoke about progress, but not as protesting against tradition, but as widening the horizon, extending technique and indirectly expressing contemporary developments in human life. Tristan and Isolde is something ‘more developed’ than a motet by Machaut, as are the rhythms in Sacre or the complexities of Moses an Aaron somewhat more challenging than Tristan etc. Cage’s Europera’s are hardly an enjoyment for anyone but they perfectly express the chaotic environment of sounds, recorded or live, we are entanglend in nowadays, especially the burden of ‘tradition’ and the impossibility to escape from it.The best music always expresses something of its time (see Adorno), so as human expression it developed with time and in accordance to changes in society, other arts and human psychology. It didn’t loose anything, it won. The Avantgarde movement did suppress the personal voice in order to concentrate on expression of things that were never connected with the art of musical composition before. They directed the listener/analyst to crucial contemporary developments of his time as well as to findings of research in human sciences, natural sciences, aesthetics of other cultures etc.They did widen the horizon and make aware of the complexities of our world in a way that was not imaginable before. How could you express subjects from phenomenology, semiotics, physics, stochastics, fallacies of human perception, astrology etc. with ‘traditional’ means? It is really not a question about ‘personal voice’ but about content ant the means to express it. In literature and other arts we had a similar development from Joyce, dadaism to Beckett etc.
        You always seem to juxtapose ‘tradition’ with Avant-garde (which you never seem to fully understand, sorry). But this makes no sense to me, as they are simply not comparable so easily. Why would someone even bother? Its an enrichment in the art of music, not a loss.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It all depends upon how we define the art form ‘music’. If widening of the notion of music means imitating science (resulting in bad science, most of the time), you can say it’s neither science nor music. You cannot widen the boundaries of an art from infinitely, as you cannot go on discovering unknown lands on the planet – after a while, everything has been catalogued. It is a reflecion of extreme narrow-mindedness if faint imitations of territory, that (as can be argued) lay beyond music as an art form, are simply labelled as ‘extensions’, because thereby the nature of the art form is watered-down and eventually, dissolved, and that is exactly what we have witnesseed in the last half century. I don’t need to point-out the crazy nonsense that is still around parading as ‘contemporary music’ – of which this is an extreme example:


          This has been only possible because of notions comparable as expressed in your comment.

          When everything can be art, nothing is, it is really THAT simple. Distinction is a precondition of content and meaning, in every human activity. Why not in art, in music?

          With all due respect – because of intelligently formulated – your comment emanates all the ideological nonsense of postwar explorations which, carried by the wave of liberation from tradition and enough money around, set fire to an inheritance which was never a museum culture but a living practice. It is exactly this ‘innocent’ misunderstanding which greatly contributed to the loss of musical quality…. to which the NY Phil is offering possible solutions, and courageously so.

          • John Borstlap says:

            PS: Also telling: it has always been the strategy of postwar avantgardism to reject any critique of its ideals as ‘not understanding’, as if it were impossible that an understanding of avantgardism could ever produce some sort of argued critique. This is very close to the taboos surrounding religious sects (I’m just warning…..) It is not so hard to fully understand the ‘avantgardism’ of the last century, because it exposed itself so amateuristically. Just read it’s ‘holy texts’ (Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis ect. etc. – just for the record: I read them all, and alas – yes – it was not so hard to understand them because so philosophically flawed).

  • Ross says:

    No interest in this crap at all.
    I used to go to the Philharmonic more often, actually was even a subscriber for a few years.
    Then Mr Gilbert showed up and started programming his steady diet of crap.
    Stop with this nonsense already and just give us Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, Prokofiev, Dvorak, etc. That’s 9+41+4+9+4+10+7+9= 93 Symphonies alone, right there, not to mention dozens of other orchestral works those composers wrote. Getting to know those works could take a lifetime, especially if you only go to a few concerts a year. No, I never get tired of listening to them, but I sure do get tired of listening to all the ugly crap they program.

    • sl says:

      Agreed. The problem with contemporary music is that it is now on the lowest level imaginable. We get to hear all of these boring crap from any recently graduated talentless ‘composer’ who hasn’t got further than rewriting what others have produced already. It is the mission of any big orchestra to support young composers in commissioning new works from them. As a result, masterworks from the recent past are hardly played at all. I remember Le Grand Macabre as one of the greatest things Gilbert did in New York. The orchestra was fabulous. Exactly the thing they could do better than any other US-orchestra. But anything thereafter was just shallow in comparision.
      I see, the will perform Per Nørgård, certainly a very different calibre. Although I wished they would perform No.6 instead of No.8. This is really one of the very last GREAT symphonies, unfortunately hardly played at all.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Interesting that Prokofiev figures in this list. This is not ‘easy listening’ at all. So, beauty is considered an important ingredient of music, be it old or new. If this is so, this is the greatest challenge for young composers nowadays, since ‘beauty’ has become a badge of ‘bad taste’ and ‘kitsch’.

    • William Safford says:

      Today’s “crap” could be tomorrow’s masterpiece, or tomorrow’s addition to the repertoire, or at least a piece to hear from time to time.

      Just read Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invective” for hundreds of examples of this, including works from most of the composers you listed.

      Most new works won’t enter the repertoire. Then again, countless works in history never entered the repertoire, both by composers familiar to us all (when is the last time you heard the Mozart Masonic Funeral Music live, or Beethoven orchestral marches, or the majority of Donizetti operas (I actually played in “Rita” a few years ago), or a lot of Stravinsky’s output (Threni, anyone?)); or composers we’ve never heard of (I can’t list them, because I haven’t heard of them!).

      Every work you listed was new at one point. Heck, every work of music was at one time new.

      There was once an ethos that promoted fresh, new music. Haydn was on staff expressly to write new music for the prince. It was considered an oddity for Mendelssohn to bring back from the dead music by Bach in concert. Mahler conducted his own works when he conducted the New York Philharmonic. The Boston Symphony commissioned and gave the world premiere of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. (A professor of mine attended that concert.)

      It is only in relatively recent history that the classical repertoire has ossified.

      This is bad.

      I applaud anyone who programs new music. I am lucky in that a local regional orchestra has made a name for itself by commissioning and presenting new music in almost every subscription concert. I applaud this, and I subscribe in part because of this. I may or may not applaud any individual work on its merits, but I am glad to encounter new music. We need new music.

      What a shame that you have closed your ears to new music.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A very apt comment.

        But: in former times there were receptive value frameworks in place, shared by composers, performers, commissioning parties and audiences, functioning as an instrument of communication and judgement. The formation of the existing ‘classical repertoire’ is the result of repeated testing by performance and judgement, which is only possible in the context of such value framework. Where composers break down the framework, the doors are opened to all sorts of nonsense, abusing the goodwill of any well-meaning performing bodies prepared to give new things a try. The result is a bad image of any new music, BEFORE it has sounded. Therefore, the initiative of the NY Phil is incredibly courageous and in the same time, dangerous. It is to be hoped that the audience will remain loyal to the orchestra.

        • William Safford says:

          Thank you.

          However, I disagree with your opinions re frameworks being dispositive to audience appreciation, and to the worthiness of the music.

          One does not need to be a follower of Adorno to see that it is entirely possible for music to be progressive, to transcend your “frameworks” — or, better, to create new frameworks.

          There have been major upheavals in western classical music, and the audience has often followed. Look at the transition from polyphony to figured bass in the early 17th century. Look at the enduring popularity of the Rite of Spring. In smaller ways, look at the upheavals that Beethoven brought to the table, or Wagner, or verismo opera, or the popularity of galant music, or many other sub-genres.

          Also look to the enduring popularity of reactionary music, such as that of Bach. It can cut both ways.

          And, of course, there is such a thing as bad music, irrespective of genre. (I’m so glad that I haven’t yet had to perform Wellington’s Victory!)

          That said, people can and do bring their prejudices to the concert hall; just look at Ross for one example. For another, I still remember, about fifteen years ago, bringing my parents to a Schoenberg concert at Carnegie Hall. I practically had to drag my mother kicking and screaming to it. The program? Gurrelieder. Mom fell in love with it, and thanked me profusely at the end.

          I do agree, though, in the importance of the audience as one leg of the triad of the composer, performer, and listener. (The Sessions book is on my list of books to re-read.)

          People who reject new music out of hand abdicate their role in this process.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Maybe you’re right.

            But: with ‘value framework’ is not meant the various different stylistic contexts you mention, but the agreement, by all parties, of the nature of the underlying dynamics of tonality, narrative, etc. which makes musical works understandable and performable. The Sacre is, in this sense, equally musically effective as Machaut and Mozart. These are differences within the value framework…. And where a new framework is developed, which is, by all means, fully legitimate, it will be another field of experience next to the existing one, like sonic art next to music. But mixing the frameworks leads to destruction – like an economic framework forced upon a musical one leading to the erosion of musical culture (i.e. the purely economic assessments of music performance while leaving-out its core value).

            You cannot have a healthy, thriving pluralism if the boundaries between the things that make-up the pluralism are dissolved: then, there is nothing left to define as ‘pluralistic’, but only a mass of indefinite nonsense. (Look – hear – around.)