Greatest Hits of new music. Really?

Greatest Hits of new music. Really?


norman lebrecht

September 26, 2017

Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie has gone a bit mad with a four-day fest of what it calls Greatest Hits.

Against a backdrop that may provoke epileptic fits in some visitors (take care), it wants us to believe that composers Peter Eötvös and Gérard Grisey have world star status in some imaginary parallel universe.

As if.



  • Simon Evnine says:

    Peter Eötvös is a great guy and orchestras love him for his collegiate, efficient ways and his ability to stand in for indisposed conductors in any repertoire.

    But in terms of composing, he’s pretty lightweight. He’s prolific and has churned out lots of stuff, but quite old-fashioned.

    The late and lamented Grisey is something else though. His pieces need a lot of attention.

  • John Borstlap says:

    That imaginary parallel universe is the circumscribed circuit of (post-)modernist music (i.e. sonic art), which is separate from the central performance culture of music, and where norms are based upon ideas of progress half a century old and which are entirely imaginary (there is no progress in the arts, only change).

    This festival seems to be appropriate for the Alp Phil, given its utopian, progressive postwar modernist style – there is no progress in architecture either. The festival appears to be a time capsule from the period when composers were happy to be liberated from the past with its entartete Musik.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    To the informed community, Grisey and Eotvos are indispensable. Their works are considered classics in any universe. History will look fondly on them. For the rest of you, go ahead and enjoy your Philip Glass and Mason Bates. We cannot convince you that you’re wrong. You will need to come to this conclusion yourself, or be relegated to the dustbin of history.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is so nice that occasionally also sonic enthusiasts voice their innocent enthusiasm, because then we can take notice of the echos of totalitarian ideology still reigning in those circles…. the ‘dustbin of history’ is kept ready for all people who dare to criticize sonic art. When IRCAM gets the necessary funding, it will create concentration camps for the ‘conservatives’, because the only conservatism acceptable is their own.

    Here is a sonic’classic’ (observe the Napoleonic look):

    Some more acoustical explorations – for people who are either insomniacs or neurasthenics longing for some static emptiness to recuperate:

    You can only listen to all of this after having taken distance of all norms which would be related to music as an art form. This is something else, one should listen to it with mere attention to the acoustical patterns of line and colour, as in abstract painting. If you listen to it psychologically, i.e. in terms of expression – in other words, what it ‘says’, you end-up noticing only two types: a) aggression and b) static boredom. It is a purely materialistic art form. So, it is unfair to expect musical, communicative aspects; it is about the sound as such, and this can be quite interesting. I say this without irony.

    But let it not parade as music and claim space (and money) in musical contexts.

    • Nate says:

      OK, John, I’ll bite. I’m a professional musician who’s been paid money to play “Partiels.” It’s an excellent piece that utilized my technical and yes “expressive” capabilities in a way similar to the music of composers you might know — Mahler, R Strauss, etc. Sorry you don’t think these abhorrent creations should go parading around as “music” played by evil musicians like me!!!!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Funny…. but if you consider the expressive requirements of Mahler & Strauss on a par with those of sound works, you either have no idea what those requirements in Mahler and Strauss are, or you are much too generous in applying your expressive qualities on works which don’t ask for them. Also, it is not clear what you mean by abhorrent creations, surely not M and Str?

        I know there are quite a few performers who have no difficulty with playing music and sonic art and move easily from one territory to the other without any sense of crossing some sort of boundary of genre. This is often sported as open-minded, progressive, tolerant, etc. etc. but it could as easily be insensitive to what is really happening in these 2 territories. Sometimes very musical performers apply their expressive playing style to sound art, making all the gestures which would be justified if the notes would be in the right place, and then sometimes such art is indeed mimicking music. But it is also a bit crazy, when the performer tries to connect things which are specifically written in such way that the notes don’t invoke associations with tonal relationships. In sonic art, notes are there merely to provide a hang-up for timbre and texture, and they are only globally, approximately, chosen – never as a node in a relationship between notes based upon the harmonic series (which is a natural phenomenon and not a stylistic thing). Ask any sonic artist…. and he/she will confirm this procedure. It’s a common thing, not a matter of taste, but a matter of point of departure: avoid musical associations.

        • Nate says:

          You are hilarious. I cannot wait to hear about the next great orchestra that commissions a piece from you. And wait and wait and wait and wait and…

        • Nate says:

          Taking an instrument out of its case requires more strength and fortitude than you’ve ever exhibited publicly with your pathetic diatribes and whining manifestos on this blog. Get off the internet and produce some work that actually excites someone. I’m out

    • John says:

      “a) aggression and b) static boredom” are my typical reactions to your posts.

  • Alan says:

    Please provide a link to this interesting series of concerts.