Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ignoring the Music In Our Own Backyard

Mark Swed gets it absolutely right. Music Festivals in California have been doing a terrible job of paying attention to music from California and the West. I have previously complained here specifically about the Cabrillo Festival, founded by Lou Harrison, Robert Hughes, and friends, which had a long history of taking local composers seriously. While the present directorship has, to its credit, put the focus on contemporary music right up in the name of the festival, it has largely focused on the same set of middle-of-the-road names that can regularly be found in East Coast regular season orchestral programs. Indeed one gets the impression that the music director uses Cabrillo as a try-out for her own regular season repertoire. The complaint that West Coast Experimentalists are not welcome at Cabrillo has been met with the line that these composers don't have enough experience working with orchestras. I call BS and I call this a bad bit of vicious circularity: They don't have enough experience, so Cabrillo can't invite them even though Cabrillo was one of the few places which made it possible for West Coast composers to acquire orchestral experience in the first place. But, in fact, there are numerous current West Coasters who have the orchestral chops and who ought to be in play at Cabrillo. Here are just some senior names (that is, older than me), just from the top of my head: How about Paul Dresher, Chris Brown, Brian Ferneyhough, Bill Alves, David Cope, Janice Giteck, Paul Chihara, Aurelio de la Vega, Lloyd Rodgers, Roger Reynolds, Chinary Ung, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Anne LeBaron, Clarence Barlow, Karl Kohn, Jim Fox, Anthony Davis, or Gladys Nordenstrom? And how about some of the composers in the West Coast musical legacy — in addition to Harrison and Cowell — Robert Erickson, Glenn Glasow, Barney Childs, Will Ogdon, James Tenney, or Mel Powell and even some interesting conservatives-but-all-the-same-West-Coasters like Gail Kubik, Ingolf Dahl or William Denny?


Charles Shere said...

Amen. I suppose it's odd for me to complain, since three of my scores were given at the Cabrillo Festival — Piano Concerto in 1965, Tongues in 1980, Violin Concerto in 1989 — but virtually nothing since DRDavies left, a generation ago, has enticed me to make the trip to a venue that was once the highlight of the year.

It is a sin and a shame; and the only solution is Secession.

Lisa Hirsch said...

While I agree in principle, if you look back at Cabrillo's history, there's a ton of mainstream non-modern, non-contemporary music, plus a ton of music not from our back yard.

Possible straw man question: When was it a hotbed of experimental California music? I'm not convinced it ever was. You can check this out by looking over the festival's helpful history pages. Start here.

Daniel Wolf said...


Yes, the festival began featuring less well-known classical repertioire, but gradually became a mix of repertoire old and new (though not much early music) through the Davies era, often with a dual focus, for example one year was Cage/Harrison and Villa Lobos. I don't fault the present festival for the upfront contemporary emphasis, but for the particular direction of the music chosen.

Off the top of my head, featured local experiemental-end-of-repertoire included music by Harrison, Hughes, Samuel, Shere, Amirkhanian, Ashley, DeMarinis, Gnazzo, Plonsky, (Megan) Roberts, Rudhyar, Lentz, Oliveros, Boone, Garland, Felciano, Other Music (Rosenthal, Doty, Soules et al), Dan Schmidt, Beth Anderson, Pak Cokro, Erickson, Mel Powell, Riley, Mumma. (There was also to be major David Cope premiere, but the percussionists sabotaged the piece!) This was in addition to related work, like the American Five series, Revueltas, Hovhaness, Cage, Curran, Johanna Beyer, Nancarrow, and a very early appearance by Laurie Anderson.

Charles Shere said...

And in any case we're not asking for a “hotbed of experimental California music”. We, I mean I, simply think a festival like this, extraordinarily site-specific (for years the musicians were put up in audience members' homes), should include a good representation of local and contemporary music along with the rest. Note: local.

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