Music of Now Marathon at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia, February 2, 2013
The New York Times, Feb. 6, 2013
I almost never take issue with the way that my reviews are edited at The New York Times – after all, this is work made for hire, and subject to approval. But while I won't bemoan the excision of a few references to the program running well behind schedule, which I noted in my review of last year's marathon, I would like to clarify a point that doesn't feel quite so strong in the published essay as it did in my head.
Specifically, I didn't intend to suggest that the lovely set by Angélica Negrón, whose work I greatly admire, was the single most striking point of the marathon. Rather, what I was trying to say was that the vast leap in a single bound from Negrón's set to Ursula Oppens's performance of Memo 5 by Bernard Rands – a bustling, rigorous piece that could in some ways be viewed as the polar opposite of Negrón's airy songs – was the afternoon's most exhilarating stretch: a perfect representation of the stylistic expanse that defines contemporary music, and an illustration of the efficacy and appeal that two very different approaches can have.
Negrón's songs were winsome and sweet, demonstrating the potency of present-day tendencies toward inclusiveness and permeability. Rands's piano work was a personal negotiation of historical lineage and inheritance, yet in Ursula Oppens's hands it had a frisky vitality that suggested spontaneity.
My position, should it be unclear, is that both approaches can be equally valid. Eclecticism does not refute tradition. Improvisatory looseness and rigorous workmanship might be opposing techniques, but in practice they can produce strikingly similar effects. Both paths can lead to expressive, engaging works, so long as inspiration is present.
And here, I'll give a nod to this marathon's practice of engaging pretty much every participating composer in a preliminary interview. True, it's probably the reason that Music of Now has run late both times I've attended. But hearing Negrón talk about willfully shutting out the omnipresent Latin American vernacular sounds that surrounded her in Puerto Rico in order to find her own style, and listening to Rands recount a wooly tale about Stravinsky composing until a bottle of scotch ran dry, added a relatable dimension to each composer. In both instances, the personal introduction helped to provide a context, however slender, for the music that followed.
The citywide Composers Now festival, for which this marathon was the opening event, runs through February 28, and the full schedule is here.