Monday, November 10, 2008

Neither here nor there

Here's something: within the last weeks, two emails came in concerning a little piece I wrote some time ago; the score has been up on my web page for free downloading, and although I find that it's a sweet little piece, just a little piece for flute and piano, I've never really promoted it, as it strikes me still as one of those pieces written still in the cusp of my apprentice days, too "influenced by (x, y ,z)" rather than striking out into its own territory.

The first email, from a composer and presenter in the US, went:

It looks elegant, but impossibly difficult to realize. It's embarrassing to admit, but (we) can not afford adequate rehearsal to do your piece justice.

The second email, from a presenter in Germany, went (my translation):

I like your piece, XXX, very much. It's very American in character. But sorry, it's too simple for us. Our flute player only wants to present himself in public with more challenging material.

Contradictory evaluations like these, coming from opposite sides of the pond, are not that unusual. It is not my impression that the players here are necessarily better than those there (or vice versa), but rehearsal possibilities do seem to be highly — and increasingly — constrained in the US compared with much (but certainly not all) of Europe, and there are some trends in aesthetic preferences, through which more complex scores are usually better received here while scores that are more conventionally tonal or relate more immediately to conventional performance practice are generally preferred in the states.

What I do really don't know how to respond to is the label "American in character," but nearly every review I've had here makes a point of this, and usually before actually saying anything about the music. I suppose I find "Californian" less objectionable, as the tradition I identify with is probably better defined by a bit more localization, but it's still somewhat beside the point. On the other hand, in the US, my music sometimes gets labelled "European," and too many times the accident of my living here gets used, as if to qualify my music or my words. If I had a nickel for every message that starts out "living in Frankfurt, you really have a different..." from someone who has no idea what life in Frankfurt is like or what I do here... Almost inevitably, it is connected with some insinuation that "I've had things better" over here, which is not necessarily the case. While some things (like GEMA, the local performance rights organization) have generally been better for new musicians than the US equivalents, almost none of the remaining support structure — radio stations, publishers, concert series — for new music is functioning as well as it did even a generation ago, and Europe simply does not have the supply (however Americans may complain) of teaching jobs that continue to employ a number of composers; even the film scoring work I've ghost written from time to time has all come from the US. Moreover, in Europe, it is generally far more difficult to do things from scratch, whether organizing a concert or publishing a score. (In real political terms: better a tightly competitive market than none at all, sez I.)

In any case, I'm flattered by the bit of unsolicited attention in my little flute piece. And while it may not be getting many more performances, I take some pleasure in the notion that in terms of musical qualities (character, style, difficulty, whatever), it's neither here nor there, but perhaps, very much itself after all.

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