New Music Gathering in January 2016

I started off the year right by going to the 2nd annual New Music Gathering, this year in Baltimore, Maryland at Peabody Conservatory. It was three bounteous days of concerts, panels, and networking.The theme was “Community” and the mix of composers and performers ready and willing to meet and potentially work together was inspiring.

The first panel I attended was about commissioning, and the panelists were all performers and ensemble directors who have been or are just starting to commission new works. Messages: Compatibility and a personal connection is important. The composer needs to understand what the ensemble is trying to say in order to make a piece that will have staying power for the performers.

There was a bit of dancing around what commissions actually might cost, but there was an emphasis on creative funding, including benefits other than money, such as repeat performances and recordings. Transparent budgeting was another suggestion, where everyone knows the total budget and their part of it, with benefits all around if fundraising is more rather than less successful.

The panels were scheduled three at a time, so I had to choose – hard to do! All were standing-room-only in large classrooms. If this conference continues to grow, they are going to need some larger spaces. For panels, though, classrooms were conducive to lots of questions and discussion.

Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, gave an inspiring keynote speech. Some of my notes — I may be rephrasing the quotes through my own lens: “make friends through chamber music and improv”, “we’re not just a community of misfits. We have fun”, “avoid the boundaries between genres”, “non-professional musicians enrich our communities”. Here’s my favorite: “All music was/is/will be new music for someone”.

She also suggested that new orchestral music is too expensive to rent, and publishers should create a fund for young conductors to program new music.

On Friday, Kevin Clark from New Music USA talked about Economics for New Musicians. Surprisingly, this was not budgeting or fundraising –it was a broad view of economics and how the arts fit within a business economy that is becoming more and more efficient. Baumol’s Cost Disease was a new concept to me. Here’s a summary, as I understood it: that as productivity increases in some sectors, other sectors that don’t have tech-produced efficiencies become stagnant, making them too expensive from an outsider’s point of view. These sectors are people-powered, like medicine, teaching and the arts, of course. They don’t benefit as much from tech efficiencies.

I heard a lot of good performances at NMG. Highlights for me were:

  • Pianist Holly Roadfeldt played a marvelous short set of music by Kala Pierson, Kirk O’Riordan, others.
  • The Fourth Wall was enchanting with its choreographed performances. The musicians moved and danced as they played.
  • Tuba player Aaron Hynds gave an in-depth presentation of extended techniques for tuba.
  • Tammy Evans Yonce played Jay Batzner’s music for glissando flute – a flute with a head joint that slid back and forth for slide effects.
  • Stranded Silver, a flute quartet from North Carolina, played a textured piece that reminded me of an updated Smetana’s Moldau. So much of NMG’s music was experimental that Stranded Silver’s selection seemed a little out of place, but refreshing. It followed a piece for piccolo and electronics that required earplugs.

I felt that if my music were on the program, it would seem conservative and out of place too. I dabble in experimental sounds, but my soundworld is rooted in the traditionally beautiful sounds that performers work so hard to perfect.

I missed two of the evening concerts to spend time with my sister who lives nearby, and there were other presentations that I would have liked to hear. The days were dense with information and music.

After the flute concert, I attended the final panel discussing diversity, inclusion, and appropriation. I learned: One of the easiest things you can do to help people feel included is to be up front about the limitations of your event. If you tell people about accessibility, they don’t have to call to ask. If your venue has a unisex bathroom, a trans person doesn’t have to figure out what to do. The desire to be better citizens was a theme through the whole conference.

I was bothered by the judgments of one presenter on the issue of appropriation. If you are stepping into someone else’s culture, are you collaborating, stealing, or are you inspired by it? What do you owe when you transform artistic material?

One of the best activities was the composer-performer speed dating. Picture a double ring of chairs, and every three minutes, the performers slid over a chair and we all met some new people. It was very popular!  And loud with all those voices trying to be heard in a crowded room. We couldn’t meet everybody in the allotted hour. Of course, we could continue to meet people everywhere, just by stopping and chatting with someone new.

There’s a Twitter hashtag: #NMG2016

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