Well yes, me too, believe it or not. I love the idea of absolutely fresh ideas realized in an enthusiastic way and with a budget to pay for it! Three cheers for the city of Birmingham, who, I presume, funds these fascinating premiers. Go read the whole thing and listen to the two clips. Here is one, a three minute abbreviated version of "Crowd Out" by David Lang:What do you do when a composer announces that the work you’ve just commissioned for 15 musicians will need 1,000 performers; or asks for the premiere to be in a boarded-up shop; or wants you to time precisely how long it takes to get from the top floor of your concert hall to the bottom?Smile, breathe deeply, and cheer. Today’s composers like to tread new territory, and in hearing things afresh, they sometimes need to rewrite the rulebook. This urge to explore is what makes contemporary music so exhilarating and so unexpected. And it’s why I love it.
So what do I think of these pieces, aesthetically? Well, obviously I can only comment on the ones I have heard. What I think is going on here is a great deal of creativity being applied around the periphery of music. There is a lot, an awful lot, of what you might call music theater or performance art here. Which is fine, of course. But much of it, while eerie or complexly confused, is not interesting or genuinely moving--at least to me. Crowd Out is obviously a lot of fun, but that is partly because it turns the audience into performers, or vice versa. This checks an important box: egalitarianism. "Requiem to let" is rather more interesting, though not so interesting musically. It is about capturing the sadness of empty retail spaces, though the presence of an audience does rather remove the "empty" aspect. Still, an interesting idea. But what I hear, musically is a solo voice doing something that sounds rather like Hebrew cantillation, alternating with solo bass clarinet over a very dreary and repetitive pre-recorded vocal track. Neither seems to actually go anywhere so we are left trapped in the empty retail space, symbolized by the closed circle of the music. That is what I am hearing, at least.
The problem for any composer is to create something that is musically substantial and entertaining for an audience. But I think that those challenges are being fudged a bit here. On the one hand, government funding takes away the urgency of appealing to an audience and on the other hand, it is probably easier to come up with the idea of "1000 people shouting in the street" or creating a space that suggested oceanic depths than a fresh musical idea. I don't want to diminish the creative brilliance of theatrical ideas, but I do want to say that they are peripheral to musical ideas. I have to confess an ongoing disappointment when I read about some striking new idea, something really new and amazing, only to find out it is just people clapping and shouting at one another in a mall.
But this is just me, of course. I have very focused tastes and really like to hear music with a bit of meat on its bones, as it were.
Here is a piece that I think is creatively brilliant, with some fresh ideas, but that finds no need of any added theater or staging.
This is WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich and you really need to see the text as it is hard to make out what is being said in that recording.