28 April 2012

Giya Kancheli on the [marital] virtues of revealing, accomodating

Giya Kancheli

M  usic, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism. Romanticism is a high dream of the past, present, and future—a force of invincible beauty which towers above, and conquers, the forces of ignorance, bigotry, violence, and evil.”
  — Giya Kancheli.

I ’m listening to a recording of Tblisi-native composer Giya Kancheli’s 26-minute-long 1997 Piano Quartet ‘In l’istesso Tempo’ performed by Bridge Ensemble. The consistent pulse and the narrative epicness of it intrigue me. I replay it twice and the complexities and layers that I’d missed on the first listen gradually become more apparent...

G  iya Kancheli’s sustained tones build in layers; melodic lines hover like chant, either offered plainly or decorated with trills and turns befitting a liturgical cantor. The mostly-smooth surface gives way to bare plucks, crackling outbursts and grand crescendos with a Romantic sense of drama... The wide-open space of his music stems more from silence than the repetitive structures of minimalism.”
  — Aaron Grad, 2009.

A nephew of mine and his fiancé are getting married next month; I think about them as I listen to this ‘In l’istesso Tempo’. GoogleTranslate says ‘in l’istesso tempo’ means ‘in the same body’—which seems poetically fitting, given the line of thought that Kancheli’s piano quartet and its pulse has induced in me. This piano quartet is full of musical artifacts of a healthy intimacy... a kind of transcendence through durability, with the relationship between lovers deepening and diversifying as things change and as time passes. No [Nietzschean?] pre-conception of will-to-power with forces/personalities/resources coming together, pushing and pulling. Instead, a [Heideggerian?] will-to-dwell: mutual, enduring attention and being present for the other, present-in-body and present-in-mind.

A nd a pluralistic view of truth that does not insist on any one voice (partner) being ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’... a kind of aletheia (ἀλήθεια).

T  he Italian tempo designation ‘in l’istesso tempo’ signifies a musical passage where the speed of the underlying pulse does not change, even if the division of the beats within a bar does so. Music written this way can create an impression of stillness.”
  — David Lewis.

K ancheli’s enduring pulse—affirms that love is not love that alters when it alteration finds. There is what music cognition researchers would call ‘event-salience’ in these piano quartet rhythms as-written, leading to automatic beat-induction (BI) for the listener/performer. Auto-BI, in turn, leads us to recognize nature—our bodies!—and how out of our control they are! This is no determinism or fate in which we have no choice or in which human free will plays no part; instead, just an important dimension of reality, and one that we’d do well not to ignore. By the time I’ve finished listening to this the third time, I’ve come to regard the quartet’s accomodation of meter to a pervading, faithful pulse as a romantic gesture—an inspiring acknowledgement of constancy and mutual devotion of friendship, marriage, or civil union founded on true love. No idea as to whether that was what Kancheli had in mind, but the notion is plausible, and I am grateful that the music happened to propel my thoughts in this direction. Unexpected effects like this are a big part of why any person likes music, I think.

T  he nothingness of the individual, expressed in simple musical ideas, and its relationship to a more meaningful whole lie at the heart of Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s work, often disconcerting in its profoundly sad take on modern society. The composer’s aesthetic is admirably served on this exceptional ECM disc by performers who appear to share his vision of a world afflicted by destructive turmoil.”
  — Andrew Stewart, Music Week.

O ther ‘in l’istesso tempo’ pieces include Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Op. 36, v. 1; or Ginastera’s Variazioni e Toccata sopra Aurora lucis rutilat, Op. 52, vv. 3,5,6; or Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, vv. 1,2,3,6,9,10,14,23. I’ll plan on immersing myself in those on some future evening. Maybe they will lead me further on this path.

B y the way, Artemis String Quartett and pianist Jacques Ammon will be performing at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC on 01-MAY-2012. Their account of Kancheli’s ‘In l’istesso Tempo’ is really superb. Their performance of ‘In l’istesso Tempo’ was positioned in middle of program in last night’s concert in Kansas City and received a standing ovation—which is a pretty uncommon occurrence in mid-program in any performance in any country, you must admit.

A  gain and again, with deep regret, we see how alongside obvious achievements of the civilized world we are being worn down. Our planet is being torn apart by bloodshed and antagonisms, and no creative deep is able to withstand that destructive force, which so easily strikes out the fragile means of progress. Taking very close to my heart all that is happening around me, I am trying to express in my music the state I feel in my soul, writing basically for myself, without illusions that ‘beauty will save the world,’ as Dostoyevsky said. That is why my music is more sad than happy, and is addressed more to the lone individual rather than to society. Here you won’t find appeals for striving, equality, or ‘a bright future.’ Most likely, you will find threads of sorrow caused by the imperfection of the world, which keeps disregarding the most horrendous examples in human history. My thoughts are expressed in extremely simple musical language, and I hope that the audience ... will not mistake my deliberate simplicity for what, in my opinion, is the most dangerous phenomenon: indifference.”
  — Giya Kancheli.
T  he biggest tragedy is to write music.”
  — Giya Kancheli.
aletheia

25 April 2012

Frogs: Invasive Chamber Music

Tamara Lindeman © Yuula Benivolski

T  heories pass. The frog remains.”
  — Jean Rostand (French biologist/philosopher, 1894-1977) ‘Ce que nous apprennent les crapauds et les grenouilles’, 1953.
I ’m awakened by owls’ hoots outside our bedroom window, third night in a row. I listen for awhile, then all is quiet again. I get up, don my bathrobe and headphones, and put on ambient music of amphibians.

F roggy recordings by The Weather Station [Tamara Lindeman, pictured above in a woodsy Canadian landscape], Thom Brennan, Anne LeBaron.

H armonic soundscapes like these invite our taking rhythmic journeys. Invite our acceptance of deafening silence as well as deafening sound; accept uncountable, anonymous plurality as well as self-obsessed namable individuality.

W e are reminded of the karmic virtue that attaches to our accepting life’s uncertain beginnings, uncertain middles, and uncertain and sometimes sudden/catastrophic endings.

T he politics of this music are what I decide to call ‘interspecies anarchist’. The psychology of it: ‘agoraphilic’. Agoraphilia admixed with coexisting/concomitant agoraphobia. After all, predators are seeking prey, suitors seeking mates. Situatedness with no hope of escape, in the long run.

T hese recordings are ‘specimens’ illustrating the paradoxes of solitude in a crowd, evidence of unfoldings that don’t yet realize what end-state toward which they are unfolding. Burden and necessity and automaticity of living. Heart that beats and beats, from one beat to the next, not needing a reason.

T his is not ‘droning’ or ‘cacophony’ as its detractors allege, only a [human-ambitions-agnostic] diversity of natural purposes that are opaque to human reason.

T his [the sounds; the animal originators of the sounds] can be experienced but not owned. This can be embraced but not held.

E very sound/song on these recordings challenges or refutes the property rights we as individuals imagine that we have, unmasking our self-delusion of human mastery or control.

T he naturescapes of Lamont Young and Terry Riley will be on my list if awakened tomorrow. Or the sound sculptures of Morton Subotnik. Early Brian Eno, possibly.

D ialectics of sonic invasiveness/intrusiveness/pervasiveness... every living being has a right to be here. But not every living being has a right to sleep.

S ome people might not like this principle. Instead of headphones, I could maybe amplify it through the loudspeakers on our patio...

Passive Agressive

23 April 2012

Sex, Lies, and Music: Schumann’s Poet-Lover Alter-Ego

Dichterliebe, Op. 48, No. 1

D  ichterliebe’, the title chosen or accepted by Schumann for his choice of Heine’s texts, involves a double-meaning. Schumann the composer-poet found in the poems evidence that their protagonist is a poet-composer: one who is inspired by bird-song (No. 1), one whose sighs become nightingales (No. 2), one who inspires the lily to sing (No. 5), one who dreams magical fairy-music (No. 15), and one who finally buries all his songs at sea (No. 16). That persona, originally Heine’s surrogate [was embraced by Schumann as his own surrogate]... For the purposes of the poems, Heine spoke through the role of the unhappy Dichter; for the purposes of the songs, Schumann transformed that figure into a Dichter of his own.”
  — Edward T. Cone, ‘Poet’s love or composer’s love?’, in Steven Paul Scher, Chapter 10.
T he relation between Schumann and poetry is pretty revealing,” said pianist and long-time chamber music presenter Cynthia Siebert at a recent dinner party. “It is? How is it revealing and what is it that’s revealed?” I wondered. The conversation proceeded off in other directions. But my curiosity was piqued! Challenge accepted!

M usic theorist/pianist/composer Edward Cone wrote 20 years ago that Robert Schumann’s Dichter (poet) is dramatically different from Heinrich Heine’s Dichter. According to Cone, Schumann’s Dichter chooses music as the primary means of expression while words are secondary.

B ut the music depends on the other. The piano is inseparable from the vocal melody and the words. The piano persists in completing the voice’s unfinished cadences in No. 2, with the prolongation of each B. Every B, relinquished by the voice, resounds briefly before it resolves to A. The same prolongation-resolution motif appears also in No. 3.

N o. 4 has piano doubling the voice, and the two parts alternately imitate each other—a kind of counterpoint that might either suggest the complete co-dependent behavior of both, or the deliberate independence of each from the other. The rhetorical reversals [“He went to the country; to the town went she.”] are chiasmic: miniature embodiments of musical absorption of two-into-one where the two quasi-orgasmic experiences paradoxically highlight the separateness of the two at the peak of their union.

N o. 7 has voice and piano extensively doubling each other throughout—a kind of lovemaking or lovers’ dance. The voice is “on top” or leads through most of the song, but the piano is the one whose outburst at the climax has the voice in an inner or lower position.

M  ost subtle in the ‘interpenetration’ of voice and accompaniment is the very first song of the cycle, which sets the tone for all that follows. The doubling is delicately heterophonic—as when the voice, but not the piano, anticipates the resolution of a suspension; or when the piano, but not the voice, remains suspended; or when the voice, after inserting an appoggiatura, resolves a suspension. The effect is the kind of blurring that might result if the piano could pedal the vocal line, treating the voice as a strand of the piano texture [and subduing it, see m.4, image above].”
  —  Edward T. Cone, ‘Poet’s love or composer’s love?’, in Steven Paul Scher, Chapter 10.
I  look up the date and see that Dichterliebe, Op. 48, was composed in 1840, when Schumann was 30 years old, the year he and Clara at long last became married, against her father’s will. Susan Youens and others see nothing too subtle about the motivations and construction of Dichterliebe:

T  he persona sings of his tears and sighs transforming themselves into [sprouting, turgid] floral offerings and love’s nightingales in ‘Aus meinen Tränen spriessen’; he sings in hectic, [pumping] alliterative excess of ‘die Kleine, die Feine, die Reine, die Eine’ in ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne’; and finds that he cannot trust the beloved’s words of love in ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’.’ In ‘Ich will meine Seele tauchen,’ the persona longs to submerge his soul in the lily’s chalice. That this is a sublimation of sexual imagery is evident in the post-coital sobbing in the piano at the end.”
  — Susan Youens, Carnegie Hall program notes, 2010.
T here are 14 excellent essays on music-text relationships in the multi-author volume edited by Steven Paul Scher (link below), including several that address music-text manifestations in Schumann’s compositions. Juicy bedtime reading!

14 April 2012

Jonathan Biss: Proairetic & Hermeneutic Codes In Action, Realtime Beethoven-Janáček Message-Passing Protocol

Jonathan Biss

I  ’ve done all-Mozart, all-Beethoven, all-Schubert programs, but there is always the danger of a stylistic sameness, or rather a lack of confrontation between the pieces. Concerts of works of two composers are great because they still offer enough music of each to create a sense of immersion in the composers’ sonic worlds, and yet the concert becomes a dialogue between the two, which often moves in surprising directions. The question of which composers work well together (and which don’t) is particularly alchemical, and I think it is one of both similarity and difference. The success of Beethoven and Janáček as a pairing relies in part on the terrific intensity that characterizes both... The intensity may be similar, but the language is utterly different... Beethoven’s sonatas are incredibly tightly argued... Janáček, by contrast, is perhaps the greatest master of the musical non-sequitur... Beethoven and Janáček could not be more different, which makes the similarities in temperament between the two all the more fascinating.”
  — Jonathan Biss, 2012 essay.
N ot ‘non-sequiturs’ exactly. More like the worldview of peoples who have for centuries lived along a foggy seacoast and whose language now innately reflects their inability to see or predict what will loom into view in front of them from one moment to the next.

F orgetting, the renunciation of cause-and-effect and the obverse of forgiving. Beethoven afflicted with abject loss and despair (as in the Adagio of Op. 27 No. 2); Janáček surprised by optimism, welling up from where?

I just returned from Jonathan Biss’s Beethoven-Janáček recital at Kansas City’s Folly Theater (Sonata No. 5, Op. 10, No. 1; Sonata No. 14, Op. 27, No. 2; Sonata No. 26, Op. 81a; V mlhách, JW 8/22; Sonata 1.X.1905, Z Ulice, JW 8/19).

T he ‘affective’ content and contrasts of these intense works—both the composers’ affect or psychological state and intentions, and the performer’s affect—are what makes the program spellbinding—emotionally compelling to experience (confirming what Biss has written in his essays; see blockquote above)!

T here may be elements that denote a similar state of mind or parallels in terms of Beethoven’s temperament and Janáček’s temperament, as Biss says. But the orderliness and certitude of Beethoven—contrasted with the randomness and the existential acceptance of doubt and uncertainy, even the recklessness of Janáček—these features make us think about our differences, not just the differences between these composers or their respective eras.

T hese antithetical qualities—and how such personalities or such ‘stances’ that we adopt influence what happens to us in life—are constitutional, innate, inherited styles. Well, they are partly inherited and partly learned/habitual.

E very mixture, every conciliation, every passage through the barrier of our inherited and habitual style is a transgression with self-discovery.

N ot every transgression is transcendent or momentous. Some of them are ironic, trivial, or tame—much like when a belovèd pet cat trips and experiences embarrassment at its clumsiness, so out-of-character and façade-dropping. Sometimes events bring out the best in us. We appear virtuous and do and express commendable things. At other times, our undesirable qualities come out.

A nd some transgressions are outrageous or transformative. Putting these two composers next to each other makes for an intense two-way street—stylistically and emotionally. This program forces/enables the two to ‘mediate’ each other’s views and to rhetorically critique the other.

I t is as though Biss has learned from literary theorist Roland Barthes and reveals the “hermeneutic code” that governs the semantics of each of the two composers’ worldviews, the “semiotic code” of the musical motives of each, the “proairetic code” that governs the formal structure (or, for Janacek, the renunciation of cause-and-effect structure), and the “referential code”—musical abstractions and metaphors and borrowings.

T he ‘next-to-ness’ Biss creates in formulating this program conjures the main forces that drive the narrative—and that drive our own desires to listen attentively.

T he “hermeneutic code” (see links below) refers to those plot elements that raise questions on the part of the reader of a text or the viewer of a film or the listener to a program of music. For example, in the Beethoven Op. 10, we get tragedy—the anxiety becoming mourning, weeping, descending (Movement 1, Theme 1, Phrase 1) leading to violence (Movement 3, Theme 1)—which leads us to wonder about the reasons for these traumatic events. Then, in the Janáček, we get a fatalistic indifference to a world in which cause-and-effect processes break down, or in which some events can’t be prevented or explained. We need the ‘loose ends’ of the narrative ‘tied up’ in order to feel satisfied, like a good detective story—and that is what Biss does for us by the end of the concert. The entire narrative of a story like this operates via hermeneutic encoding. We witness a murder, and we enthusiastically spend the rest of the concert learning answers to the questions that were raised by the initial Beethoven scenes of violence. That is one half of how this concert program works.

P roairetic code”, on the other hand, refers to ordinary actions—those musical phrases or plot events that simply lead to yet other phrases/consequences/actions. Suspense is driven by action rather than by a reader’s or a listener’s desire to have unsolved mysteries solved. This “proairetic code” is the other half of how or why this particular concert program works—event or ‘message-passing’ between the works, in a fashion resembling what happens with remote procedure calls (RPC) and protocol buffers in software systems.

B iss’s idea of programming this seemingly-disparate-but-narratively-confrontational repertoire is really an excellent one—attractive, interest-holding, suspenseful—provoking us to reach a deeper understanding of the human condition, as well as deeper understanding of the mental states of two specific composers and of the nature of the works made to confront each other in this way. One could hardly wish for a higher form of “fun” than this. Bravo!
C  an a piano work convey a bustling ‘severalness’, or the sense of many people congregated in a social gathering, as convincingly as a chamber work? I think so — parts of Schumann’s ‘Carneval’, Mussorgsky’s ‘Marketplace at Limoges’, and Ravel’s ‘La Valse’ spring to mind as trivial examples. One tempting view is that the composer is aiming to depict the entirety of the human condition: everything is in here and, just as in the real world, the profound and the banal are constantly rubbing shoulders. I don’t think this is wrong, but the truth may go further... By presenting a unified work in which the high and the low aspects of humankind are contained together, the composer invites the listener to find these worlds contained inside each other, not merely nearby. The piano sonatas may have a touch of this ‘adjacent’ humor—the riotous trio in the second movement of opus 110, or the manic dotted-rhythm variation in opus 111.”
  — Jonathan Biss, 2012 essay.

05 April 2012

Sangam: Santoor, Bansuri, Tabla, Odissi performance in KC on Saturday

Sangam

B  eautiful Syām, you have been awake all night;
  your lotus-eyes are drowsy.
Red fingernail marks are etched upon your chest
  like half-moons.
Your turban, once tied, now dangles on your head:
  your clothes are falling off, and your tilak is gone.”
  — Poem K207:P3/146:S832, quoted by A. Whitney Sanford, Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramānand’s Poetry, p. 46.
T his Saturday there will be a special performance of Indian traditional music, connected with the annual Sangam festival. The 4 performers are renowned both in India and far beyond (see links below).

W hen I have written about Indian classical music several times before in this blog, I’ve mainly focused on long time-scale rhythmic and melodic patterns... some of the features that are maybe most distinctive to a Western listener. But this time when I learned of this special performance and looked forward to the possibility of attending it, I decided to learn a bit about the history and motivations of these musical forms.

W hat great fortune I had!—namely, discovering Whitney Sanford’s excellent 2009 book ‘Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramānand’s Poetry’ (link below)! It is beautifully written—concise; clear; highly readable—and its detail and insightfulness serve as a tremendous help to the Western reader who wishes to understand performance practice for carnatic and other genres of Indian music, regardless whether it is extemporized or is performed in traditional ritual.

A lso covered at length are the motivations of the structure and orchestration of such music, engineered as it is so as to induce synaesthetic Scriabin-type “audio-visual/sound-heard-as-colors” transcendent experiences in the listener. Besides synaesthetic qualities in the medieval poet Paramānand’s writings and in music that is composed or improvised in a similar manner, Paramānand also propounds the unity of the One and the Many—a mystical oneness of all individuals with the Divine. The infinite and the finite are the same—homeomorphic, according to Paramānand.

T he classical Indian listener is ideally well-familiar with the ritual and with the spiritual context that it is meant to facilitate. Ideally, the listener is also equipped with powerful memories from previous participations in it—and all of those memories are ready to be triggered by the music and ambient sounds, and sights, and scents that are associated with the new year’s festival performance. There is, as Sanford’s book vividly attests, a tremendous physicality to the experience—the entire experience; the music, the dance, the imagery and colors, the scents, everything!—something I had not appreciated before, with my passive, CD/MP3 listening only. Multisensory overload, almost—aiming at achieving spiritual or mystical union.

I f you’re in Kansas City this Saturday afternoon, I hope you will be able to attend the performance and experience something mystical yourself. The performance promises to be deeply enjoyable at the very least! Links below, if you’re interested!

[Note: Praveen's music frequently employs the technique of singing into the flute (gayki style; resembling Judith Shatin's 'Fasting Heart' or George Crumb's 'Vox Balaenae' or Jethro Tull). He is also a master of thanthrakari flute style. Very cool, at least to us who play flute!]

Sangam

02 April 2012

Cross-cultural Reflections on the Cult of Novelty in Music, “散乐”[sǎn-yuè]

China Institute
S ome readers’ responses to the previous ‘American Mavericks’ post coincided with an intense social media dialogue about the merits of Louis Kahan’s famous quote (below), about originality in art.

A  rt is a journey into the most unknown thing of all: oneself. Nobody knows his/her own frontiers… I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road if I knew where it led.”
  —  Louis Kahan.
T he very next day, I visited the China Institute’s current exhibit on sǎn-yuè (散乐; literally, scattered/aleatoric/improvised folk music), chamber music from pre-Qin times. Unexpectedly, that visit—and the materials in the exhibit that span such great geographic/cultural distances and many centuries of time—enabled me to explore my feelings about what ‘novelty’ or newness or radical originality in music means. Maybe you, too, will reflect on this subject. At the bottom of the post are some links that may interest you.
  其是在泱泱大唐时期 ,借助于“海上丝绸之路”,华夏中原与西域丰富多彩的散乐、百戏、, 可上溯至远古时期,在典籍中常被称作“散乐”。

[Especially in the Tang period, by way of the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ and Chinese Central Plains and its diverse folk music or ‘one hundred plays’, sanyue can be traced back to pre-Qin times, as early as Zhou (1075-256 BCE), and was often called ‘loose music’ or ‘variety music’ in Chinese literary classics.]
T he materials on-display at the China Institute demonstrate a characteristic elevation of spontaneity and boldness as a value. In my own native Scandinavian culture and its sagas, in Snorri’s ancient eddas in Old Norse, it was wrong for a skaldic poet to fail at extemporizing excellent, heroic poems on-the-fly. The poems were meant to be spells, effective at invoking the gods; if your recitation was conventional or formulaic—not ‘loose’ enough—the magic would fail; the gods would not appear or, worse, would be displeased. So, too, it seems with the ancient Chinese sǎn-yuè music, especially the elegiac pieces that commemorated the honored person’s life. Maybe the best way to describe this sort of heartfelt innovation is in the archaic sense of the word 'illustrious' (luminous), in keeping with the book Da Xue (The Great Learning) by Zeng Zi (505-437 BC), one the four classics. Ritual may provide a necessary context for magic, but ritual/convention is not by itself sufficient for magic. It’s the loose magic that you’re aiming for, not the ritual per se; the ritual is only one means to an end.

F   rom its very beginnings, the American venture was permeated with adventure, with the challenge and conquest of the unknown... Thomas Jefferson merely formalized the already deep-seated conviction that the American enterprise was not only ‘novel’, but about novelty... Novelty has become a value esteemed for its own sake, a cult of permanent potential. In this regard, the cult of novelty is closely related to the cult of speed.”
  — Michael Gellert, The Fate of America, p. 169.
A mericans’ obsession with ‘new’ seems, to me, deeply connected with our culture’s individualism—our crazy fascination with ourselves as the current descendants upon whom The Future depends. How much more sensible the Chinese view seems, as expressed in sǎn-yuè (i.e., long collective lineage, in which the current generation of individuals is almost inconsequential compared to cumulative impact of the revered ancestors)!

A  lthough revolutionary novelty in art... turns out more often than not to have arisen from a countercultural milieu, bold innovation—no matter how contrary to the status quo—does not itself a counterculture make. Authentic counterculture is driven by an impulse even deeper than the desire to innovate or to overturn conventions.”
  — Ken Goffman & Dan Joy, Counterculture through the Ages, p. xxii.
W ere the compositions in the recent ‘American Mavericks’ concert series explicitly motivated by the composers’ ‘counterculture’ aspirations? Or were they motivated by a wish to create musical ‘magic’? Or by something else?

T  he world of hyper-critical online commenters ... have created the perception that glory is reserved for those who can out-shock, out-weird or out-hip the last batch of musicians... Making music should be about pleasure and fulfillment, not some intellectual divining of ‘progress’ and uniqueness. Today’s musicians would be well advised to heed Van Morrison’s words: ‘In silence, easy—to be born again.’ ”
  — Mark Thomson.
H ow, then, to foster more and deeper musical innovation, in a world that’s become so much noisier with each passing decade? Where to find real -9.4 dB silence anymore?

I  t is with a horrible irony that one reads Solzhenitsyn’s essay ‘The Relentless Cult of Novelty and How It Wrecked the Century’ (Feb. 7, 1993). It is an attack on all things modern… It is small comfort to note that Mr. Solzhenitsyn has a more universal cast of heroes than Zhdanov did, invoking as he does… the music of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert as the spiritual foundations of foregoing centuries. It may be appropriate to decry the calls of post-modernism, but to do so in the name of a past—a set of circumstances no longer applicable to a world in which all but Mr. Solzhenitsyn live—is hardly to awaken Russia and the West from ‘the coma and a period of silence.’ Rather, it dooms us to a traditionalism even older than xenophobic nationalism.”
  — Irving Horowitz, NY Times, 14-MAR-1993.
A  bright, open-textured scoring makes it almost impossible not to achieve a thrilling and outward-looking effect, an emotionally-moving and meaning-filled ‘path’, even if it is a ‘path’ that is a familiar one. A dark, densely-textured scoring makes it almost impossible not to achieve a brooding, interior effect, which can likewise be an emotionally-moving and meaning-filled ‘path’, even if it is a ‘path’ that is a familiar one.

W hat’s more, we wonder about the inner lives of people who inhabit the extremes: those whose feelings burn intensely vs. those who are impossibly cool and detached. The emotionally intense people seek variety, radical novelty, and complexity, far more than the cool ones do. They have more diverse goals, and because they are doing so many different things, they experience more conflict in their lives. This comes out in the music they compose, naturally…

B y contrast, in the sanyue compositions, we hear a kind of ‘explosive novelty’... not unlike the animal beauty of hunter-jumper equestrian competitions... a prodigious urgency, a drive or impulsion, a ‘Can I do this? Yes!’ puissance. We hear all of the five traditional Chinese moral virtues: ren (仁 - benevolence), yi (义 - righteousness/justice), li (礼 - propriety), zhi (智 - intelligence), and xin (信- honesty/belief/truth). These are adhered to—not in a perfunctory, stilted, inauthentic or forced manner but instead in an inspired, extemporaneous, improvisational and authentic ‘hunter-jumper’ manner… especially so in the case of elegiac ritual pieces.

I n summary, even very volatile, mavericky people seem gradually to mellow some with age; the constitutionally, irredeemably ‘mavericky’ ones, not so much. In any culture, what matters with regard to the social value and durability of the spontaneously crafted music is whether its expression—radically novel or canonically familiar though it may be—is honest and nontrivial and genuinely empathetic to at least one constituency of size N>>1.