Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cabrillo Colonized

Finally -- an article about the current state of the Cabrillo Festival, here. The Cabrillo Festival was, from its origins, the one music festival on the west coast reliably committed to a west-coast profile and sensibility. By all accounts, the playing is very good these days, but the programming has recently represented the effective summer colonization of the west coast by representatives of the east. When festival co-founder Robert G. Hughes (himself a distinguished composer, conductor, and bassoonist (not hornist, as mentioned in the article)) notes that

Composers with a “West Coast spirit,” he asserts, have by and large turned away from orchestral writing. Not only do they identify it with earlier periods, but they have also been discouraged by the incredible expense and lack of rehearsal time.

he is touching on a vicious circle -- of course, composers will turn to electronics if there are no orchestral possibilities, but if institutions playing orchestral music simply shut out west coast composers in the first place in favor of the east coasters whose works already dominate concert programs in the regular seasons, their hands have been forced, and the possibilities of developing west coast orchestral repertoire get ever more bleak. There is a significant body of west coast orchestral music that needs reviving, and many talented and imaginative composers who live in the west have exciting orchestral ideas that are simply left on hold because the signal sent by institutions like Cabrillo today is, simply, don't bother. And without the chance to experience good performances of ones works, the development of a composer's orchestral skills is naturally going to suffer.


Anonymous said...

Please don't rely on people with an axe to grind to give you an accurate account of Cabrillo programming and philosophy. I think if you look more closely at that article, you'll see that Mr. Hughes's definition of "West Coast spirit" is more "music that I like" than music by West Coast composers.

Half of tonight's program, for instance, is works by Bay Area composers. Both of the concerts we attended last weekend had significant works by west coast composers. The torturous logic by which Mr. Hughes excludes John Adams as a west coast composer seems to indicate his underlying agenda.

Daniel Wolf said...

Robert Hughes does not have an axe to grind; in fact, he's one of the more generous spirits in our musical world, and one who has been completely supportive of continuously opening Cabrillo, whether to Latin America during the Chavez years, to Cage under Davies, as well as to numerous younger and more experimental composers over many years.

In any case, I am not relying on Hughes' opinion, as I'm perfectly capable of having one of my own and one which I have expressed here before. I have followed the programming at Cabrillo very closely since the late seventies, and appreciate the fact that it has focused on contemporary music, but find that the brand of contemporary music receiving the focus is precisely that portfolio of score which the music director can rehearse for taking on the road in her regular season gigs -- it's all mainstream and overwhelmingly eastcoast. Cabrillo was created to do things that other festivals did not do, among them to pay more attention to the west coast and to music that was too experimental to make it onto other programs, and recent programming has definitely disappointed on both of these points.

Interesting how it is always the anonymous posters who rise to the defense of institutions!