Atonal and/or Complex Music and the future
I have often spoke of where music is going in this blog and proffered my postulations as to the growing need for tonal music to remain a focus of new composers (although I certainly don't think music needs to be restricted to the classical definition of chord progression and harmonic movement). What I am trying to put forward is the need of composers to understand the role of the "audience" (future performers included in the term audience) in their quest for writing something new. Brian Ferneyhough understands the type of performer who is going to tackle one of his pieces and the type of audience who will attend concerts of his works. While his music isn't necessarily the type of music I write, his audience isn't necessarily the same as the one I write for - although, if I ever get famous enough, we may have some bleed-over in the world of professional musicians.
Understanding who your "audience" is is critical for a composer. It seems Harold Rosenbaum thinks the same thing. In a recent article in the NY Times, he is stated as championing new works where choral conductors have shied away from them for being too complex or atonal, and where music publishers have avoid new works for the same reason. Mr Rosenbaum thinks there is a lot of wonderful contemporary choral music out there, but it's not getting heard because of the perception of contemporary music.
I think this perception is due to the educational system. Universities and Conservatories are stressing the avantgard composers, pushing musicians to work with and understand the more remote (albeit widely accepted - accepted by the educational institutions) composers in terms of music. Composers are encouraged to follow in these remote footsteps in the attempt to find their voice and so numerous compositions are done pushing the bounds of tonality and complexity. I would suggest most composers write more music when they are in University than they do after they have graduated, so the bulk of their material is done in an experimental phase.
Experimentation is good, don't get me wrong. It is important to try new things and explore new worlds. But it's also important to find ones self, to understand what it is that really makes you tick and part of that is learning who your audience is.
For those conductors out there, don't give up on new music. There are a host of composers who are writing very accessible works; they just are perhaps a bit hard to find. Keep looking!