Chamber Music America talks

For the past few years I’ve started my year by going to the Chamber Music America conference in New York City. ( This year’s theme was Big Ideas for Small Ensembles. While I personally didn’t have any big new ideas for my trio, Neoteric, I did get to hear two great talks by some important men in classical music.

The first was by Steve Reich, which whether you like his music or not, you have to admit has had a giant impact on the music world, and probably isn’t finished. He started his talk by trying to convince us that music has never been an economically viable art form- which I happen to agree with. JSB (his little moniker for Bach) had the church, Haydn had Esterhazy, and Wagner had King Ludwig. I think sometimes we forget this, and lament that ticket sales won’t support us on their own. They never have! “Haydn never needed the NY State Council for the Arts!”

He also talked at length on his own music and process- including on “Different Trains” and his recent Double Sextet for Eighth Blackbird. He confessed to being incredibly drawn to canons in pairs of instruments. Reich recently turned 70, and clearly is comfortable with himself and confident about what he likes to do, and what he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to compose operas, or teach composition, or write string quartets. His talk was funny, and self-depricating, and interesting.

The second talk I attended was by Leon Botstein.  He began his talk by warning us that he may offend, and then declared that “Recording is Dead!” Controversial at the least! While I don’t completely agree with this statement, I do agree that recording as we have known it for the last 70 years or so is greatly changed. He pointed out that with iPods and downloading, the idea of “definitive recordings” is over, because there are so many available, and that we don’t listen the same way we used to. Walking around with earbuds in is not the same as sitting at home in front of your elaborate hi-fi system. Botstein also reminded us music has never been economically sustainable. (I guess I left feeling a little less of a capitalist and more socialist…) My favorite point of his was that in this new era, people will be able to judge music without fear. Since the age of the definitive recording is dead, there are fewer established opinions to agree or disagree with. We can judge music the way we judge movies- we can appreciate all the “in” jokes and fine points of cinematography, or we can just get sucked into a great story and get swept away.

I performed with my trio (Neoteric) on a session about audience participation. We had commissioned a piece for our trio and audience from John Steinmetz. He skillfully composed moments where the audience sings a drone with us, and claps a specific rhythm with us. John led the session along with Claire Hoffman- who had done some amazing work with the Native American tribe living in the Grand Canyon, and Eli Yamin- who has some great strategies for audience participation while giving jazz concerts on state department tours. I never fail to be impressed by the inventiveness of my musical colleagues- there are a lot of great ideas out there.

Neoteric decided that since we were in NY, we would visit the afterschool program that my mom runs in the Bronx. This was the largest audience of elementary school kids we ever played for, but we think it was a good experience for everyone. John came with us and led the kids in clapping and singing along in his piece. We ended with Bernie Hoffer’s arrangement of “Tale of the Oyster” which the kids really liked (and Jen did some great acting where the oyster, shall we say, re-emerges)

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