Notes and Rhythms

February 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

Anthony Tommasini’s column from Sunday, February 12 laments the marginalization of what John Harbison called the “notes-and-rhythms” composers of today. This is somewhat ironic because Tommasini is the biographer of Virgil Thomson, the same critic who gave Jean Sibelius such a brutal time for being precisely that. According to Alex Ross in his excellent book The Rest Is Noise, Thomson’s 1940 review called Sibelius’s Second Symphony “vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description.”

Unfortunately, today’s orchestral programming leaves precious little room for modern music of any kind, be it dodecaphonist, expressionist, neoclassicist, serialist, micro-polyphonist, minimalist, post-minimalist, or some other -ist. The exclusion of modern music from programming more than any other factor has led to the perception that classical music is no longer relevant. The music of John Harbison belongs in Symphony Hall along with the music of Babbitt, Ligeti and Reich. This is not to say that orchestras should abandon the music we most closely associate with the orchestral or classical canon, but simply that programming needs to look both forward and backward.

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§ One Response to Notes and Rhythms

  • Daniel says:

    Right on, Mark! Forward AND backward! Any chance the Seattle Symphony is listening? Unlikely. I’d love to start an organization in Seattle dedicated to the performance of modern and contemporary music.

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