Summer in the Back Seat

This summer has been wild. I’ve had no proper vacation, yet have had a lot of quality family time. Musically it’s been rich, but as far as teaching, I have given up my job at the Conservatory of Bremen. Although it is not a financial blow, it will make my musical life poorer indeed.

I imagine I would have time to devote to students and to build up a good studio when I reach my 60’s. However, 65 is the age of compulsory retirement in Germany (and many other countries). It’s just not fair. If I live out my given life-span, I would have about 20 good years to give and devote to my students. Although I will continue to teach privately, coach and give masterclasses, regular teaching will have to take a back seat, for now at least.

This summer has also been filled with large theater projects, where music may often take a back seat. Seen in a positive light, music becomes just one facet that makes up theatrical life. But it is astonishing how one has to often struggle in order to give the musical facet any substance. I sometimes believe that being a dead composer is the most difficult job in the world. Heaven forbid if you have taken the trouble to print specific directions for staging, costume and lighting. They will be ignored and trampled upon by future generations.

It doesn’t do to be critical though, poor J.S. Bach would likely cringe at my interpretation of his Sonatas. Life goes on.

I will finish with a contradictory thought I can’t get rid of. It seems to me that Contemporary Music is undergoing an institutionalization and a marginalization at the same time. (This is in spite of the critical acclaim that followed Stockhausen’s works at Lincoln Center and the Munich Biennale this summer. However, I stress, it wasn’t the music that drew such media attention.)

Institutionalization is likely a natural progression, it has happened to some extent with “regular” Classical Music and Jazz. By institutionalization of Contemporary Music, I refer to the number of Ensembles and Ensemble Academies that have sprung up, and the specialized Masters Degrees that are available. These are wonderful things!

just what are we broadcasting to the universe?

Marginalization is relative and less easy to define, but I can name a few trends. One is less air-time on radio. Another is academic. It is astonishing how few top contemporary players have top teaching jobs, and I mean full professorships and not just adjunct, assistant, whatever. Sophie Cherrier and Mario Caroli are wonderful exceptions. But what about Robert Dick, who is an amazing teacher? And if the trend continues, I believe that upon retirement, Harrie Starreveld will be replaced in Amsterdam with an orchestral player, not with a premiere contemporary ensemble player and soloist as he is.

Feel free to argue with me on these points, they reflect my rather limited experiences.




2 responses to “Summer in the Back Seat”

  1. Jennifer Borkowski Avatar

    Excellent! Not excellent about the retirement age, but the comments are right on. I’d like to add to this, that when contemporary music becomes institutionalized, there’s also a pretty big chance it loses it’s fire. The intense work ethic it took to learn a new notation or understand a composer’s mindset is replaced by tutorials and recordings. There was a whole different level of commitment to learning a new work. Now, I’m not for taking tutorials away. But, it becomes a far less challenging intellectual activity. Tenured teachers who can handle the intellectual bit would be the ones to pass the this on.

  2. Richard Craig Avatar
    Richard Craig

    In many ways Classical music (which in its essence I am devoted to), conserves our heritage, whereas New Music, for me at least, serves to emancipate instruments and musicians. As a result, students need to be intellectually/artistically capable as well as technically to make the right choices for themselves; choices of repertoire; working conditions and their limitations. No matter how small it may seem, collectively these responsibilities have huge repercussions for performers and frankly their survival in the freelance world. Some of us can be lucky to find a teacher with an open mind early one, or as Boulez says in reference to a career in new music “jump out of the plane without a parachute”

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