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April in Albuquerque

I spent the beginning of this month at the John Donald Robb Composer’s Symposium. This annual event at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque always includes an intriguingly eclectic array of music reflecting both regional creativity and a cross-section of current national trends.

George Lewis was the “headline” composer at the symposium, and on several occasions he performed alongside flutist Nicole Mitchell, who also performed some of her compositions with the UNM big band. Mitchell’s pieces conveyed a beautifully imaginative approach to form, and hearing Lewis’s mind engage with computer interactivity was an illumination. Equally illuminating were conversations with him about how discrimination in music education becomes institutionalized. One of the points he made was that in the academy, though everyone is engaged in the same curriculum, some students have more “access to information” than others. In other words, the private conversations outside of class, the one-on-one talks in which mentors and colleagues pass on critically important information, are not the same for everyone. The access to networking that enables careers to be built, for example, may be granted selectively, and often to those with similar cultural or academic backgrounds to their teachers.

On a personal note, the Hoffmann-Goldstein Duo performed my composition O Star Spangled Stripes, which they requested in 2005 and have played numerous times since. For the first time I have experienced an ensemble refining their performance of my music over many years. What a gift, to actually hear an interpretation that has had the benefit of time and experience to season it. In the rehearsal prior to the concert they continued to ask questions, and we made a slight change to their approach that put a new sheen on the performance that night. While I am not comparing my music to Beethoven’s, this experience reminded me of those incredibly polished performances we so often hear of his chamber music, because after so many interpretations over so many years, the work is in such a different place than a completely new work.

My congratulations to symposium director Chris Shultis and the faculty and students at UNM for creating an event that allowed for such a diversity of musics, and a diversity of ideas, to blend and to be heard.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Lukas Foss


Christian Carey with Lukas Foss in 2004

1. Lukas Foss was not one for pigeonholes. An accomplished pianist, conductor, and composer, his path charted an ambitious geography, including Europe, Israel, and numerous locations in the United States: New York City, Southern California, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Bridgehampton. His early career included studies with Hindemith at Yale and a wunderkind era of appearances throughout the country as a piano soloist and up-and-coming composer.

2. Lukas was a college professor for much of his career, at UCLA, SUNY Buffalo, Carnegie-Mellon, and Boston University. I studied with him at BU during 1995-96. Lukas packed all of his teaching into one day a week, flying up from New York to work with composition students and, sometimes, to conduct the university orchestra. Every other week, he met with students for private sessions. Lukas was a phenomenal pianist. One of my favorite things about the lessons was hearing him blaze through my drafts, perfectly sight-reading them up-to-tempo; sometimes faster! Lukas frequently played Beethoven excerpts too; talking with great enthusiasm about technical details, as well as the great composer’s sense of drama and humor.

3. On alternate weeks, Lukas and his assistant, Apostolos Paraskevas, would arrange for readings of student pieces, usually of solo works. During the course of the year, students in Foss’s studio would be required to write a new piece every two weeks. We’d meet as a group to hear each others’ compositions read. Foss would discuss each instrument’s capabilities and comment on our efforts.

4. Some composition teachers will encourage their students to extensively edit and rework their music; Lukas took a different approach. He tended to comment on what he felt worked and didn’t work in a piece. Then, he would encourage you to apply those principals to the next thing you composed. “Keep writing!” he’d say.

5. It was fascinating to watch Lukas in action at a week-long celebration of his music given at Avery Fisher Hall by the New York Philharmonic in 1995, conducted by Kurt Masur. Lukas took copious notes throughout the rehearsals, but was gracious to both the conductor and musicians, choosing his battles wisely and his criticisms carefully.

6. About Lukas as a conductor: his technique was never the prettiest, but he knew how to get results. One of the best performances I’ve ever heard of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was Lukas leading the BU student orchestra. He brought out more spirit, musicality, and yes, details, than one ever would have thought possible with an amateur group, making an old warhorse seem fresh and vital again.

7. Perhaps Lukas’s greatest contributions as a conductor were in somewhat modest settings. He helped a number of emerging professional orchestras develop into fine ensembles. While this was certainly true of his time in Buffalo and Milwaukee, he’s probably best known for transforming the Brooklyn Philharmonic into a top-notch group capable of assaying challenging repertoire, incorporating a great deal of contemporary music into their programs.

8. Works: Symphony No. 4, String Quartet No. 5, Tashi, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Time Cycle, Renaissance Concerto; choosing favorites among Lukas’s pieces is not easy. Many have commented on the difficulty of evaluating his catalog in any kind of systematic way; its creator was such a compositional polyglot, an enthusiastic composer in many, many styles. That in itself serves as a kind of composition lesson. Too often, today’s composers are defined by their stylistic profile, their relative merit weighed against the trends of the day. Lukas was more than happy to try out different styles—Americana, neoclassicism, aleatory, avant-garde, minimalism—but not due to the whims of fashion. Rather, he was spurred by a genuine curiosity, eager to explore music in many forms and create pieces that reveled in the inspiration of the moment, rather than worrying about how a particular piece “fit” in his catalog or bolstered his profile.

9. Echoi: Improvisation played an important role in Lukas’s activities and output from the 1950s and 60s. It was another facet of his inquisitive nature; another musical problem to be assayed; and a joyfully simultaneous expression of his enthusiasms for performance and composition. The quality of the works from this period varies, as does the degree to which improvisation is successfully integrated. At its best, in the piece Echoi, there is a spontaneity and organic character to the wedding of improv and composed music which provides a beautiful result. Lukas’s engagement with the practice was a bold maneuver, and a fruitful one. It helped to free his music from its previous, somewhat conservative bent and from there on in imbued it with a sense of surprise. One never knew quite what each successive work by Lukas might have in store, but one always knew that it would be interesting. Indeed, groups like Alarm Will Sound, Icebreaker, and Bang on a Can owe a debt to Lukas. His forays into free improvisation in a concert music context mark Lukas as a kindred spirit and worthy predecessor for the current, fertile Downtown scene.

10. At BU, Lukas would frequently pass by the students at work in the lounge area of the music building, poring over scores or correcting parts. He’d peer over the composers’ shoulders, playfully make faux sweeping comments: “Too diatonic! Put in more dynamics! Where’s this phrase going?” On the way back from the beverage machine, Lukas would often pass along an extra cup of cocoa or coffee.

11. The last time I saw Lukas was in 2004. The Music Festival of the Hamptons had programmed Mourning Madrid, my piece for live locomotive and orchestra. Lukas was a fixture of the festival: advising on the programming, conducting, and appearing as a piano soloist.

12. Bach: another touchstone for Lukas. The concert in the Hamptons also included a performance of Brandenburg Five with Lukas as soloist. Even as an octogenarian, his Bach was thrilling to hear. Lukas’s Bach would not have wooed some early music buffs: his use of ornamentation was restrained and he played the piano like a big concert grand, with no intimations of the harpsichord. Of ornamentation in Baroque music, Lukas said, “One can use plenty of ornaments in some of the lesser Baroque composers; but I don’t think that Bach requires too much more than what he wrote!” Hearing Lukas play the Brandenburg was like watching an affectionate conversation between old friends; Bach informed his compositional and performance decisions throughout his career.

13. In a conversation after the Hamptons concert, I thanked Lukas for his generosity at our first meeting, when he’d listened to a tape of an early piece of mine for string quartet. Even though there were glaring shortcomings in the music, he cared enough about the fragile confidence of a fledgling composer to give words of encouragement that would inspire me to go on. As he would so often in the future, Lukas had told me to “keep writing.” In parting, he said with a smile, “Remember what I told you? I was right.”


Christian Carey is a composer, performer, and music theorist. He’s a contributing editor at Sequenza21, and has written articles for Tempo, Signal to Noise, and Musicworks.

Brian Eno’s Recording Studio as Sackbutt

When teaching the history of electronic music, I naturally spend a fair amount of time talking about the technologies of the fifties and sixties, and even the forties and before. Univac computers, punch cards, and 78 rpm disc-cutters are all technologies I had heard about but never seen, let alone worked with. Almost all of my undergraduate students, born at the end of the 1980s, have never heard of, let alone seen, a reel-to-reel tape recorder or even a reel of tape. So it becomes a bit of challenge to explain the hybrid splicing techniques of James Tenney or the multiple looping process that gave birth to Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, as a fair amount of cognitive leaping is required on the part of the kids. But I had a real shock when I met with a group of first-year students, all from the media department of the School of Information Technology at the university where I teach, for an introductory class last week. While talking about Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon—which, after all, was the first work commissioned specifically for the medium of the LP—I discovered that almost all of them had never seen a record up close and in person. In fact, some had only the vaguest idea how a record and turntable work. It all made me feel quite old.

I don’t mean to suggest that the LP record is a dead technology, lest Christian Marclay, followed by a thousand DJs, come after me to put my head on a spindle and watch it turn around at 33 1/3 rpm. Yet as more and more iPod scratchers and Wii musicians emerge, its passing may come sooner than one might think, and will surely turn on generational grounds. Analog tape’s death as a creative tool certainly seems unexaggerated—the only person I know scratching and performing with it live these days is Joseph Hammer. Still, the paradigms of the analog recording studio inform music of the digital age—looping is just one example. Now plug-ins on the market are designed to affirmatively install the artifacts and flaws in processing that people used to work quite hard to remove. I’m surprised no one has invented a looper that adds the slight—and sometimes not so slight—speed variations that occurred as a long tape loop traveled around the circumference of an electronic music studio, threaded around microphone stands, chairs, and whatever else was handy. But this is just a kind of sonic nostalgia, as the processes for composing and performing evolve forward without looking back. It’s interesting to observe how young musicians think about time and process. Loops, tape, even CDs are linear and time-based. Young musicians today use flash memory, random access, broadband, hand-held devices. The LP record will fade out in the creative community, and the compact disc won’t be all that far behind.

It goes without saying that the means of composition effect, consciously or not, the results. In computer music, today it’s hard to imagine having to wait days before hearing the results of your meticulous program carefully punched on IBM cards and submitted to the batch processing center at your university—results that probably were one or two seconds long, at most. Since the availability of analog synthesizers, the computer music composer, the programmer, the engineer, and the performer have merged into one, while taking on the role of the audience as well, using the instantaneous feedback the medium provides in a way that was unimaginable in the era when the biggest sound you could make came from an orchestra. It’s interesting that Brian Eno, who postulated the idea of recording studio as instrument, has expressed discomfort with the computer, considering that it has encapsulated and extended the functions of said studio, and put it into the hands of hundreds of thousands of artists.

Not sure exactly what point I’m trying to make here—maybe I’m just smarting from the realization that such a gap would exist between a teacher who somehow still likes to pick up and hold his music, and his students, to whom a song, a track, a tune, a composition, is as ephemeral as an infrared signal from a game controller. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

NewMusicBox Special Edition: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela

We want to thank all of the many friends who are calling and emailing to find out if we are okay in the wake of the horrifically diabolical attack on the world as we knew it. As many of you who have visited the Dream House know, MELA Foundation at 275 Church Street is only 12 blocks north of the World Trade Center at Church and Vesey Streets. Thanks to God’s grace, we are fine and despite the destruction so nearby, this tiny haven of harmonic vibrations had all necessities—water, gas, electricity, cable TV, telephone, email, fax etc.—and no need to be evacuated. It does get progressively worse each block south of us. We know of friends being evacuated from Duane Street only four blocks below us, so we feel even more blessed that we are so unscathed.
We had been out at 6:00 am Tuesday, September 11 to vote in the mayoral primary, wandered through Chinatown, came home, trimmed back our bonsai tree, then began to prepare some food. We were in the back of the loft when Marian heard a strange loud boom and may have seen a flash but could see nothing out the back window. When we turned around it was already on CNN and then the tragedy unfolded. La Monte actually saw the second tower burst into flames from the front window. We saw the buildings collapse and the streets below were suddenly filled with people running up Church Street from downtown.
Very little has changed right here at Church and White Streets except that it is now a staging area for national guardsmen, rescue and construction workers, authorized vehicles, supplies, and as an alternate traffic artery from the disaster site. They are working night and day to get power and phone service to the Wall Street area, which they hope to open on Monday, so now there are bright lights at night out in front of our building, the sound of portable generators humming, and the street being dug up a few blocks below to run the new lines.

This is also for now a so-called “frozen area” of lower Manhattan and it is necessary to show a picture ID and have a reason of work or residency to be permitted to cross the police barrier at Canal Street. The line of demarcation runs west from Broadway, so Church Street is not open to normal pedestrian activity. Hopefully, this will change in a few days, but it is causing us to consider the possibility that we may have to delay the reopening of the Dream House, originally scheduled for next Saturday, September 22nd from 2:00 pm to Midnight.

We hope to reopen the Dream House as soon as possible so that there will be a small place in the midst of this devastation where people can come and find an environment of peace and harmony. Please keep in touch with MELA’s website to find out when the Dream House will reopen for the 2001-2002 season.

We offer our prayers for all who have suffered through this event and pray that the world will eventually find love and understanding as a better way to resolve our differences.

NewMusicBox Special Edition: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello's Installation from his 1999 World Trade Center Residency Photo by Johnna MacArthur

Stephen Vitiello’s Installation from his 1999 World Trade Center Residency Photo by Johnna MacArthur

In 1999 I was awarded a studio for six months on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One. The culmination of the residency was to exhibit work produced during the residency, ideally something site-specific. The space I was assigned was equally beautiful, ugly, awe-inspiring and sort of sad. It had been the office of a Japanese bank executive. It seemed like the company had left in a hurry. Phones had been pulled out of the walls. A mug and a pair of slippers were lying in the corner of the room. Most striking, of course was the view. My immediate reaction was that incredible feeling of looking out at all that was below me and in front of me, but also how it felt flat and unreal. It was only when I recognized the silence, shut-in by the windows that could not be opened that I found a clue of how I should proceed. The challenge was to bring the sound from outside in through very thick, sealed windows. I came onto two methods to bring sound into the space. The first was to affix inexpensive contact microphones to the windows, accentuating certain frequencies and taking out others until I started to hear life outside. The first sound I heard was bells ringing from somewhere in the city. I never heard them again but it was beautiful. The sounds heard and gathered each day varied, depending on wind conditions and work that might be going on or outside the building. At times there was a massed sound of everything at once that gave the effect of an orchestra tuning up into a large reverb chamber. At other moments, I could hear people on the streets below. The planes and helicopters buzzed or stormed by. The day after Hurricane Floyd the room was creaking like an old wooden ship. The second set of recordings was done with a technician and friend, Bob Bielecki. I wanted to find a way to create sound or respond with sound to the lights that we saw after dusk, when the buildings faded away leaving trails of white and colored lights across the sky. Bob wired a small photocell to one of my guitar cables. By pointing the photocell into the eye of a telescope, we were able to locate and transform light frequencies into sounds. Police cars and the Colgate Clock were heard as droning tones and rhythmic static. Most of the time, I would listen through headphones. A sort of stethoscope of the two mics fixed to the windows, sent through my board and into headphones. It is strange to imagine an intimate experience with this building that had felt so oppressive, but sitting, alone, late at night I often felt I was connecting to the building in a way that no one else was. For the exhibition, the sounds described were played back live and from pre-recorded CDs, on headphones and through speakers. The effect was that people who had formerly seen the view from my window as some sort of cinematic fabrication now were able to touch on an experience of the physicality of the space in and around the building and our own vulnerability.
Of course, artistic experiments of perception and an implied sense of vulnerability mean little in the face of what really happened two weeks ago. Like most of my friends, I still have trouble believing that the buildings are gone and only at rare moments and in dreams can I start to picture the people who have been lost. New York has always felt haunted. This disaster adds a whole new level to the need for real-estate by the increased population who will continue to haunt us.
[NOTE: On Tuesday, September 25, 2001, 6 P.M., please join The Kitchen and Thundergulch, the new media arts initiative for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), for “World Views: A Response to September 11, 2001.” Speakers include former World Views resident artists Stephen Vitiello, Kevin McCoy, and Justine Cooper; critic/activist Robert Atkins; and others. Moderated by Kathy Brew, director of Thundergulch. Last week, LMCC lost its offices in World Trade Center Building 5, and Michael Richards, an artist participating in LMCC’s World Views Residency Program located on the 92nd floor of World Trade Center Tower 1, lost his life. As LMCC regroups in its own version of rescue and recovery, the focus of the previously planned collaborative evening has shifted. Originally scheduled as a Digital H@ppy Hour focusing on artists affiliated with the Montréal-based Société des Arts et Technologiques (SAT), the evening now also includes a discussion on how the arts community can come together to reflect and respond to civic and global crisis. The event is free to the public, but there is limited seating. A reservation required: 212-255-5793 x11.]

NewMusicBox Special Edition: Listening Beyond September 11

The musical silence that week was deafening. Just as every sports bar in New York had filled its dearth with wide-screen CNN, my own speakers were streaming nothing but news reports. Getting through a three-minute song without distraction was a chore, to say nothing of a symphony. We did have some “help” from Clear Channel, the Texas-based radio network that sent out a wildly disregarded no-play list of some 150 “inappropriate” songs—as if anyone had thought about Steve Miller‘s “Jet Airliner” since 1979.

The unthinkable had happened. Not just the events themselves, which have already changed us all, but the fact that music—for many of us our chief consolation in troubled times—seemed a powerless, even frivolous, response. It took four days for the curtains to start to rise again on New York’s arts institutions, but even then, most of us still felt like the lone drawing in the New Yorker‘s Black Issue: a woman who had set down her violin to mourn.

But rise those curtains surely did. Urged by Mayor Giuliani to get back to normal, New York City Opera‘s belated opening weekend had singers and audiences alike gathered more as a civic duty than as a service to the art. The choice of shows didn’t help, either. After witnessing our city’s skyline hideously destroyed by a team of suicidal mass murderers, the last thing we needed to see was The Mikado. By the time Ko-ko’s list of things that won’t be missed got around to Gary Condit, Martha Stewart and Monica‘s dress, I wanted to scream “THAT’S JUST NOT IMPORTANT ANYMORE!”

The next day it was off to hear a Bach recital by Richard Goode, whose very pianistic approach toward the composer is filled more with the heart than the head. Just the kind of thing I usually hate. But this time was strikingly different. The playing was emotionally pitch-perfect, the pulsing essence of life tempered by the proper restraint. Minor keys flowed into major keys, as if unfolding light out of darkness. It was music to grieve by.

Around the country, orchestras were adjusting their programs, replacing both loud pieces and travel-impaired soloists with more appropriate standards like Elgar‘s Nimrod and the Mahler symphonies. Barber‘s Adagio became the national threnody. It was concert as public ritual, with emotionalism not only tolerated but encouraged.

It’s become a cliché to say that we are not the same country anymore, but what that will mean on an artistic level is far from clear. A tragic seed has been planted in every sensitive composer. Audience tastes will no doubt change as well. Is the omnipresent Star-Spangled Banner an indication of a new era of musical patriotism? Will programming veer toward frivolous escapism, or a taste for some of the darker emotions? There are no clear answers right now, but we can divine a few things from the past.
“Audiences will want to hear their own sensibilities matched by music that doesn’t pander to them, that isn’t sentimental or kitsch,” says conductor and Bard College President Leon Botstein. “Somehow, the vocabulary of John Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber just doesn’t do it. When music becomes a public service, it’s crucial to fit it properly to the occasion. Music can do things words can never do.”

After the current spate of musical comfort food runs its course, Botstein’s hopeful scenario has audiences responding favorably to some of the more gritty and emotion-laden aspects of modernism that have been jettisoned in recent years in the name of accessibility. On the way out is “wallpaper music” that is “narcissistically self-expressive,” as well as academic music with no relationship to the audience.

“If anything good can come out of this, it could be the reassessment of our values,” says composer John Corigliano. “The last few weeks have been a very humanizing process.”

“One of the reasons I became a composer is that music is one of the best ways of expressing the inexpressible,” says composer Aaron Jay Kernis. “And the experience of listening or performing is communal. Half the time we don’t realize how connected to other people we are. But if anything, musical expression now feels more necessary, more direct. There’s a feeling of being lucky to be alive, and having the need to express that feeling creatively.”

But what music will we find? I think we can assume that John AdamsDeath of Klinghoffer, with its sympathetic portrayal of Palestinian terrorists, is unlikely to get performed any time soon. Nor, for that matter, will works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose professed admiration of the terrorist strike as a brilliant conceptual piece set off a backlash in the musical world, with many tarring the avant-garde and its barely disguised contempt for the public as an implicit devaluation of human life.
An immediate halt also came to Supermax, an opera by composer Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie about the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado that at one point housed Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh, and Islamic terrorist Ramzi Youssef, who led the first World Trade Center attack. The 75-minute opera, portraying the prisoners’ daily hour outside of solitary confinement in the prison exercise yard, was scheduled to open next spring at The New Group, a New York musical theater company.

“This presents a certain problem for us now,” says Wallace, whose earlier reality-based operas with Korie included Harvey Milk and Hopper’s Wife. “This is a serious piece, with the men speaking for themselves and, we hope, hanging themselves by their own ideology.”

But one of arias has Youssef singing, “the two towers of evil keep tumbling down,” which presents some obvious sensitivity issues. “If we continue, I think we would follow our original concept,” Wallace says. “We don’t want to do anything to provoke, but we don’t want to follow the party line, either.”

Besides glibness, another potential problem with such musical reactions is excessive sentimentality. “Works need a certain gravity,” says Botstein, citing Leonard Bernstein‘s Mass, written for the opening of The Kennedy Center. “Compared to Bernstein’s own conducting of the Mahler Second in memory of Kennedy, which had a public monumentality about it, Mass didn’t make it.”

While the details of the World Trade Center destruction may be unparalleled, the emotions in its wake are not. “There’s hasn’t been great music evoking the Holocaust,” says Botstein, offering a comparison. “Events like these exceed any kind of direct musical evocation.” Like Beethoven‘s Sixth Symphony, which the composer claimed was not a “nature” piece but one artist’s response to nature, music fails in depicting tragedy but becomes a perfect repository for the artist’s grief and despair that words cannot express.

Just as America has quickly seen any isolationist ideals shattered, audiences can find solace in many past artists who’ve been there before. Botstein cites a number of works that reflected the emotional turmoil of the Holocaust—the Misarae (1935) and First Symphony (1936) of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, the Symphony No. 3, Liturgiqueof Arthur Honegger. But one could argue just as pervasively that none of those works convey the power of Steve Reich‘s Different Trains, which took 50 years to emerge.
So how long until the new spirit of America is reflected in music? Film composer Jerry Goldsmith‘s September 11, 2001, a two-minute tribute to the victims, premiered at the Hollywood Bowl that Friday with the speed of a score to a real-time movie. Most composers need a little more time to process their reactions.

Christopher Rouse, whose own death-obsessed music in the late ’80s and ’90s earned him the nickname “Mr. Sunshine” at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, likes to quote Berlioz‘s dictum that “Hot passions must be set down in cold blood.” He adds, “I don’t think it’s possible to create anything worthwhile in the heat of an intense emotional experience. You file it away, and gain a certain distance from it until you have the ability to express it.”

Kernis, whose Second Symphony was largely a reaction to the Gulf War, concurs. “You need time to process raw emotion into art,” he says. “Otherwise the results can become hackneyed and overbearing.”

As a father, Rouse had become obsessed with a British murder case, where a 2-year-old had been killed by two 10-year-olds. But, he said, it took a year and a half to put those reactions into music. Likewise, Rouse was in the middle of his Flute Concerto—a happy work—when his mother was facing death.

Like Stravinsky, who wrote the Symphony in C as his wife and daughter were dying, Rouse had to finish the music as written. “There’s an emotional temptation to put in some thunderclap of despair in whatever you’re writing, but the music has to be itself,” he says. “So I continued in this happy, bubbly vein, but resolved to write a piece later for my mother.”

Just the opposite happened with Corigliano, whose Symphony No. 1 became the first significant response to AIDS from the classical music community&mdahs;but only because Corigliano changed a commission to his terms. “Georg Solti had originally wanted me to write a Concerto for Orchestra, which I couldn’t bring myself to do when I was seeing people I knew dying,” Corigliano recalls. “Suddenly, all that became meaningless. I told them, ‘Look, a piece that shows off the brilliance of the Chicago Symphony is a wonderful thing, but I need to write something for my friends.'”

Wallace, too, will likely channel his current feelings into Book of Five, a concerto for the cutting-edge British new music group Icebreaker and the American Composers Orchestra to be premiered this spring. Stuck with what to do with his middle movement, Wallace is now contemplating it without soloists, making a noticeable absence. The title of the middle movement would be September 11, 2001, with the next movement, “a raucous, life-affirming response,” called September 18, 2001, the birthdate of Wallace’s son.

For a big-picture look at what to expect, Corigliano offers the AIDS crisis as an example. Despite the obvious differences in the situations—a massive, immediate onslaught versus a long-term viral invasion—the two have created similar reactions in the national psyche. Both came by surprise, and both put the nation in fear of daily life. “People in the ’80s were constantly thinking about death—their own and others’—just as a lot of people today are now terrified to go into a building or board a plane,” he says.
And most importantly, the artistic response to AIDS was also a particularly American phenomenon, he says. Composers who had once neglected to consider the audience as part of the musical equation were now writing public music with naked emotional power.

“The AIDS crisis was the moment of awareness that exposed the main conceit of the avant-garde,” says Corigliano, echoing the theme of a recent essay he wrote for the New York Times (9/23/01). “Composers began writing to their audiences directly and personally again. We began to find strength in American pluralism, which is as big a strength in music as it is in our political thought. Unfortunately, there are people in music as well as politics who believe in a supreme morality and have practiced exclusion rather than inclusion.”

“At times, composers have approached me and asked, ‘How can you respond so directly to the events around you?’ ” says Kernis, whose work has fashioned personal responses to the Los Angeles riots as well as the Gulf War. “Many of them thought my music should be less connected to the world directly.”

Responding too directly, though, makes for journalism and not art. Part of a work’s future in the repertory depends on how well it hides its roots. “I heard the Second Symphony about a month ago in London, and the piece was no longer about war,” says Kernis. “It’s about conflict. I’ve never considered the piece to be programmatic, so even though it came as a response to a specific war, it no longer seems to be specific to its time.”

“We can be as specific as we want to be, but for the piece to survive it has to live as an abstraction,” adds Corigliano. “My First Symphony appeared in Kiev without program notes, and the audience heard it merely as a tragic symphony. But they were just as moved as the people who heard it two weeks later in San Francisco.”

As of last summer, Corigliano had cancelled several commissions, claiming that as an artist he “had nothing to say.” That’s changed now, as he slowly contemplates his next move in response to this new Black Tuesday. “I’m not sure how it will come out,” he says, “but it will probably be an opera.”

Kernis, for his part, says he spent so much of the past few years focusing on loss he doesn’t see himself revisiting it. “At least right now,” he adds. “The trauma is going to take a long time to process.”

Struggling to finish a piece for the opening of the Philadelphia Orchestra‘s new concert hall in December, Kernis found his life and work that week coming to a complete halt. “I sat in front of the TV for three full days in total shock, wondering how long it would take for life to begin again, and how I could keep going,” he says. “I remember turning off the TV at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and by the weekend I was back spending as much time composing as I had in front of the screen. Everything still felt inadequate to the tragedy. And yet, I found myself moving forward just by getting back to work.”

NewMusicBox Special Edition: Terry Riley

I am sending you my most supportive best wishes for what must be an overwhelming difficult time to be in New York. You New Yorkers are all heroic and actually have always been and you have my admiration as you move toward the healing that must take place now. I would love to see them set aside some land of the WTC, when they rebuild, for a peace park where there would be meditative spaces for people to come and sit and reflect, pray, make music, love and whatever it takes to heal this vulnerable heart that is now New York City.

NewMusicBox Special Edition: Tod Machover

The horrific events of September 11th were shocking and unexpected enough—mammoth enough—to throw me into thoughts and feelings that have really surprised me, and still do. The most immediate sensation was of how fortunate we are in our society and daily lives, of how much I tend to take for granted. What I hope for the future of music, for my music, for humanistic uses of technology, for the integration of creativity and imagination into everyday life, and most importantly for the unbridled development of my daughters, ages seven and four, and of all children—all of this is built upon a stable world, a generally caring and enlightened environment. Now this whole structure appears to be more fragile than I ever realized; a return to the chaos of Germany in the 1930s or of Rome before its fall does not seem totally absurd. Faced with this terrible thought, I first found myself feeling powerless, both in my art and also in my ability to protect my children physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is now exactly two weeks after the disaster, and I have gotten back to work (somewhat distractedly) and see that my kids are doing fine—in fact, I suspect that they have given me more strength during this crisis than I have given them. And while I usually pride myself on being relatively thoughtful about weeding out inessentials, I’ve woken up abruptly to the shallow ring of many activities: too many meetings, too much e-mail, too much thought about surface perception and reception, too much interest in technology for its own sake. My only desire now is to spend time with loved ones, and to focus on the human messages in my compositions.

Music is so powerful because it simultaneously stimulates many thoughts and feelings; the better it is, the less polemical, and the more likely to open sensitivities that make one aware of life’s complexities. This subtle approach to life is what we now need to embrace, and using our music to touch others with this quality is something that we can do, that we must do. The events of September 11th have made me think hard about what really matters, and have renewed my conviction that by pursuing these essentials each of us can indeed make small, positive changes in the world. These changes alone may not be enough to save us, but without them—without trying—we are all surely lost.

NewMusicBox Special Edition

We here at the American Music Center, located a mere three miles north of the site of the World Trade Center, are lucky that we are all safe as are all our immediate friends and family. In the wake of these terrible events, we have been touched by the outpouring of concern from our colleagues throughout the nation and around the world.
We wanted to take the opportunity to provide a forum for people in the new music community to voice their thoughts about these events, so we have created this Special Edition of NewMusicBox to share anecdotes from eyewitnesses La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, thoughts from composers personally touched by this tragedy such as Tod Machover and Stephen Vitiello, who had been an Artist-in-Residence at the World Trade Center, and offerings of support from others around the nation, including California-based composer Terry Riley. We have also included an essay by Ken Smith reflecting on how recent events will impact the creation of new repertoire and what American audiences will want and expect to hear in the coming months.
Also, veteran forum member Tom Myron shares his thoughts in a special topic entitled Composing after 9/11.
Special Edition Contents:

Tod Machover

Terry Riley
Stephen Vitiello
Lamont Young and Marian Zazeela
Listening Beyond September 11
Composing After 9/11