Not necessarily so at Sequenza 21, where there were as of this writing 43 comments ranging from positive to downright indignant. I’ve posted the following as a comment there, and also here for regular Vftp readers….
“Well…. how interesting to catch on to this thread after a few days.
Maybe now’s the time to respond to a couple of things, and try to underline some important qualifying points I made in my post.
First, I tried to make clear- the advice is only practical and advances no artistic or aesthetic agenda. I read Kyle Gann’s blog regularly and always am interested in his point of view, so was doubly saddened to hear him summarize my attitude as “That conductor’s advice pretty much boils down to, “Be as conformist and inoffensive and unobtrusive and inconspicuous as possible, and maybe the orchestra can zip through your piece without too much objection from the board.”
Far from it- I can imagine nothing more pointless, unrewarding or tedious than conducting conformist and inoffensive music, and it is my job to drive the board, some of whom would always be resistant no matter what you wrote. I could put my name on a Strauss Waltz and %5 of any board would tell me after the concert that they hate modern music. I don’t advocate that music be tonal or notated along common practice norms, and the tips apply equally well or not at all (in my opinion) regardless of what kind of music you write. I couldn’t agree more with Kyle’s first piece of advice “Write such fucking incredible music that for a musician to ignore you would be career suicide.”
Note that I am careful not to say “use standard notation” or “use Italian terms,” but to use the simplest and most standard notation appropriate for your music, and to use Italian terms where possible. I do not begrudge Debussy or Mahler their French and German and neither would I or any other conductor begrudge you using English. I have simply observed over many years that, in general, you will get better, more accurate and more thoughtful performances of your pieces in a wider variety of performing environments if you, for instance, use Italian when it is adequate for getting your point across. If it is not adequate, don’t use it, but just ask yourself if ten years from now when your new piece is being recorded in Bulgaria by a Malaysian conductor, if you might have been better off using terminology that all the performers would understand. It’s your decision- if it is important to you to use English or Finnish or Russian, that’s fine- someone other than you will translate it when needed (probably into Italian!).
I knew full well when writing those tips (at the request of a composer on O-list- he asked the list for advice on getting your music played and I took the bait) that they would sound condescending to some and would simply annoy others, but all they are intended to be is one guy’s take on how to get as much of your music as possible performed as well as possible, and to hopefully make things a little easier for the composer who follows you into the same working situation. The etiquette tips have nothing to do with soothing the board or kissing up to the maestro- neither is a worthwhile goal- but with getting the most out of the time available and building a general sense of enthusiasm for new music in general and your music in particular, and, let me say it again, it has nothing to do with what kind of music you write.
There are two other statements I want to address- First is another from Kyle Gann “But I gather I would rather never write another orchestra piece than work with the organization Woods describes.”
Fair enough- there are better orchestras. However, I think that for a tiny organization to find funding for a composer-in-residence when the orchestra had previously played almost no contemporary music was a brave thing to do. Did we have to overcome a vocal and obstructionist minority to do it? Yes- which should be all the better indication that this was a group that wanted to do new music and was committed to it. I now regularly get suggestions from orchestral musicians of new projects they would like to see us pursue. Since 2003, when the original post was written, the group has premiered and commissioned several other pieces and has worked to help the composers who have collaborated with us find other performances and opportunities. As the orchestra gets better and the season expands, we’ll do more, but we can now confidently program new works knowing that doing so can bring in new listeners- for instance the visual arts community I described in the post who continue to be very supportive of new works even though their interest in “standard rep” may be minimal.
Finally, Samuel Vriezen says “and if you come to it with a specific esthetic program and are actively promoting it, they will hate you for it. Better be professionally bland. The orchestra is an institution that now stands for nothing…”
He was referring to my suggestion that composers not bring their dislikes to work. I do not believe that our musical culture is not like a gallery with limited space on the wall, and that one work displayed must push another into storage. When an orchestra plays your piece, we are fighting for your aesthetic program, %100. You may be a Darmstadt modernist, and we will do everything we can to show the value of that outlook, but the next week we have to do the same for your minimalist colleague.
This does not mean we stand for nothing- it means we believe it is our job to play the music and make the strongest possible case for it, not to judge the music.(The only judging is in the decision to play it in the first place, and then whatever impact it has on musicians and audience at the end). It is not that we don’t want you to advocate your program, we just have an ethos of trying to offer the next composer (whether that is Adams, Carter or Haydn) the same courtesy- and maybe orchestra musicians will resent it if they feel you’re not willing to offer all music a fair hearing. We want our audience to feel that every piece we program, including yours, is something we are passionately committed to and is worth their time and attention. Anytime someone forgets that, whether it is a board member slagging off your piece or you slagging off Beethoven, the power of the orchestra to bring art to life is dimmed in the eyes of the public. We want your ideas, and those of your colleagues, living and dead, to be heard- that’s why we got into this business.
Taking a cue from Kyle’s tips, might I suggest the following-
1- Write incredible music (I thought that was a given)
2- Remember that composition is both a creative art-form and a practical craft, and that you should excel in both areas, as you never know where one side ends and another begins. Solving a practical problem (figuring out the most idiomatic way of achieving your creative goals) is just as worthy use of your time as writing a bitchin’ tone row.
3- Understand how performing organizations work, from practicalities of scheduling to nuances of etiquette, so you can maximize the results you get from every performance
4- Don’t fuck it up for the next person.
UPDATE- There is also another discussion runing in the Northern Sounds forum, here.