Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New York City Opera, Looking Forward or Looking Back???

News reports that New York City Opera is performing a concert entitled Looking Forward in music while it temporarily relocates while it's home is refurbished. Playbill Arts ran an post on 3 October listing pieces to be performed including "excerpts from Benjamin Britten's Les Illuminations with tenor soloist Brian Anderson (November 2, 16, March 7, April 11) and soprano Lielle Berman (October 4); Olivier Messiaen's Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine with pianist Aleck Karis, ondes Martenot soloist Jean Laurendeau and the New York City Opera Women's Chorus; Lukas Foss's Time Cycle sung by sopranos Jennifer Zetlan (October 4, November 2, March 7, April 11) and Lielle Berman (November 16); and Claude Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane featuring harpist Jessica Zhou. The program, performed by the New York City Opera Orchestra, will also include Igor Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, Edgard Varèse's Intégrales, and Steve Reich's Clapping Music."

What I find interesting is the lack of anything from the last 20 years. Certainly all the pieces in this concert cover what happened in the 20th century in terms of variety of musical styles, from Debussy's modern harmonies to Reich's minimalist rhythms - the first performed in 1904 the second in 1972. It's all interesting music, but I'm not sure I agree with the concept that it's looking forward.

While many consider Glass and Reich to be contemporaries in style, Glass has moved beyond the simple minimalist style creating some elaborate textures. John Adams is another whose current musical output is much newer in style than the 1970's. If George Manahan, Musical Director for New York City Opera, wanted to perform music looking forward he might have considered, Reich's Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings first performed in 2005.

If what Mr Manahan is trying to do is show forward movement, then perhaps putting Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire with Brittan's Les Illuminations might have been an interesting exploration - showing the movement of compositional ideas. Even with that we're still dealing with pieces pre-World War II and so the relevance to current or future trends in music seems a bit dated.

The music to be performed in wonderful music, definitely cutting edge piece of their time. It is not the music I object to, but the reference to this concert's impression of looking forward. It would be rather like suggesting Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" forecasts anything Alicia Keyes is doing.

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