My First Exposure to Live Avant Garde Music

i believe that the purpose of life, or at least the purpose of my life, is to experience as much of this world as i possibly can. as such, every now and then i try to test my comfort zone with something completely new and unknown to me. about two years ago, i came up to Manhattan to watch a Chinese opera. that was…an interesting aural experience.

a quick reminder:

i was looking for something to experience on this trip to Manhattan and found out that there is a Festival of New Music put on by MATA, a group founded by Philip Glass, among others, that supports the efforts of young composers.

the concert i attended was the American premiere of Matra by Italian/Swiss composer Oscar Bianchi.


before the performance started i struck up a conversation with the lady to my right, and expressed my apprehension about modern music. she said that what we’d be hearing tonight are “sounds of today” and that, for instance, when twelve-tone technique first came out it was cacophonous but our ears are used to it by now. (well, i guess mine are sort of used to it, based on the samples in Wikipedia.) the rest of the audience, by the way, seemed to be a veritable who’s who of the modern music scene. this lady’s friend she was with was something along the lines of the director of music collections (cataloging? something like that) at the Met.

MATA Outgoing Artistic Director Yotam Haber (L) and the composer, Oscar Bianchi (R)

MATA Outgoing Artistic Director Yotam Haber (L) and the composer, Oscar Bianchi (R), before the performance

suffice it to say, i could not really appreciate the 50-minute work. there were bits and pieces of it — rare moments of a semblance of sustained rhythm or melody — that i latched on to and enjoyed more than the other parts, but they were fleeting indeed. the rest was, as i overheard several people comment (to my relief), “difficult”.

The ensemble

The ensemble

The score -- the most fascinating part for me was how someone could transcribe this onto paper that is meant to tell people how to replicate what he had in mind.

The conductor’s score. The most fascinating part for me was how someone could transcribe this onto paper.

it was, however, quite a treat because we had a number of nontraditional instruments, including a contrabass recorder (well, we had all sizes), a bass flute, and a tubax. also, i felt quite smug for being able to recognize an English horn and bass clarinet thanks to my years in band in high school.

you’re probably wondering what it sounds like. they made a recording of tonight’s concert but it’s not up yet, so here is a bit of another performance from a few years back that i found on youtube. if you can’t bring yourself to listen to the 3 minutes in one sitting (remember, the whole thing is 50 minutes long!), skip around. each bit is quite different from the rest.

i’m very glad i went, if only to expose myself to this, although perhaps next time i’ll take my modern music stuck in the ’50s with John Cage’s 4’33”.

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