Why is new music so lame

Less new music!

By Malte Hemmerich, January 13, 2018

Simply programming in more contemporary items is not enough. When will directors and journalists finally find the courage to deal with new music in a really professional and yet effective manner? And is it allowed to look at a problem child critically?

“More contemporary music in concert!” Is the music journalist's credo, which will almost certainly get a lot of applause in the industry. This statement seems a bit like the equivalent of "Against the Death Penalty" and "Protect the Environment". A large majority will agree, even in silence, an angry minority will cry out.
I don't want to exclude myself when it comes to enthusiasm for new things. Because often a string quartet with new playing techniques or an opera from the last 50 years is simply more exciting because it is more demanding and, with its differentiated technical possibilities of expression, closer to our today's polyphonic world. And especially for us professional concert goers within the company, it is nice to hear a Dutilleux symphony instead of the hundred and eightieth Beethoven.
But after my concert experiences, especially last year, I slowly but surely believe that the eternal New Music advocates are just as little preaching the truth as the old music critics, for whom music history after Arnold Schönberg ends.

For example, last year at the Aldeburgh Festival I heard young British composers with contemporary compositions that sounded as if Claude Debussy hadn't dared to orchestrate excitingly, fell asleep during an evening with Rihm songs and was annoyed by new music that was so full of programs Without meaning, understanding and added value, but was squeezed into festival programs in praise of the columns. Not to mention the famous sandwich structure. Sure, when it comes to commissions for world premieres, for example, you can't always tell what you will get. But it often seems as if the organizers have not even bothered to deal with their commissioned artist. A horror. Of course, a lot here is also a matter of taste, and admittedly there are days when I can watch a Cage work wide awake, others when I prefer to be lifted into other worlds with Bruckner symphonies. Sometimes you need sweets instead of spinach.
Merely hitting this still comparatively rare genre of contemporary music (and I mean mostly everything from 1960 onwards), or ignoring it, is just as dangerous as just eating sweets. Many people, including those in charge, would be only too happy to interpret this as a general rejection of this music and remove works from the program due to critical articles on this music. The conservative audience isn't a legend, after all.
In the Mozarteum, a piece by the composer Miroslav Srnka was still demonstratively yawning and stingy with applause, but a mediocre Mozart Requiem in a half-baked interpretation was praised like the Holy Grail. This is of course a kind of creepy development that can make you angry. It wasn't really about Srnka's music, but about a general attitude towards modernity: Nobody in the audience yawned because they had already sucked out this Srnka twist and found it no longer effective, for example because Beat Furrer composed it better, but rather, because he didn't even get involved. It's just unproductive. So how can you cope with this emotionless confrontation with something new? What is needed is a constructive criticism of new music, not pampering. Through intermediaries, through music journalists.

No more disinterested pampering

This requirement alone harbors huge problems.
Who still has an overview of the widely ramified scene in which more and more composers cannot be assigned to any school, some even no longer study classical composition, but program and create electronic sounds? Who is able to make expert selections and criticize? In the festival teams, directorships and also among the journalists only very few. And that's because much of this music from the last fifty years has not often been heard in concert. A vicious circle that turns quickly.
In order to keep up with the development of music, the professional critics would have to adapt their tools every year, rethink their categories and define other criteria.
Whoever determines what is good, interesting and worth performing in contemporary music will hopefully no longer think in terms of “classical” and “contemporary” categories in the future.
At some point, the same sentence will apply here as well, which already brought about a certain arbitration in the war of popular and serious music worshipers: There is only good and bad music. The problem remains that sometimes only the time, the recipients and, increasingly, personal taste decide.
First and foremost, however, speaking about contemporary issues from the niche and, perhaps sometimes with a provocative thesis on new music, has to stimulate a discussion.