Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dreaming About the 21st Century Orchestra and the 2009 League Conference

Today we welcome Frank J. Oteri to the Conference Blog! Mr. Oteri is a New York City-based composer and music journalist. He is the Composer Advocate at the American Music Center and the Founding Editor of its web magazine, now in its tenth year. On Wednesday June 10, from 2:45 to 4:00P.M., he will moderate "Orchestras and New Music: New Idioms, Instruments, and Ideas" at the 2009 Conference of the League of American Orchestras in Chicago.

Posted by Frank J. Oteri:

Amidst all the gloomy news in the media about things getting smaller or getting cut entirely, it’s extremely important not to be disheartened by all the negativity and to continue to dream. Music is perhaps the greatest realization of dreaming in the corporeal world, and orchestral music is perhaps the biggest of such dreams both because it brings together so many people making sound in so many different ways and because it is able to do so effectively despite its seeming impracticality.

So let’s pause a moment to dream a little bit about how an orchestra can be re-imagined for the 21st century. I’m delighted to be moderating a panel at the 2009 League Conference in only two more weeks that will aspire to do just that. Back at the turn of the previous century, Gustav Mahler talked about how the orchestra was a universe of sonic possibilities. And indeed the orchestra he wrote for continues to be one of the most exciting and versatile of all of the world’s ensembles. But over the intervening years many other sounds have captured the imagination of composers and the hearts of audiences. From the vibrant vocabulary of jazz improvisation to the visceral energy of rock, to all of the world’s traditional musics and the new hybrids they have inspired through mixing with one another in today’s globally-connected communities, to all of the new sounds and manipulation of older sounds that have been made possible through electricity, and subsequently through computers and the internet—all of these are grist for the mill for the 21st century composer’s toolbox and have therefore become a part of the 21st century orchestra.

I’ll be talking to four composers who have each expanded the orchestra as we know it to incorporate some of these new 21st century possibilities—British maverick Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose music combines the spontaneity of jazz and the aggression of rock with classical compositional rigor; U.S.-based world citizen Osvaldo Golijov whose multicultural musical panoramas have connected seemingly irreconcilable musical traditions; plus Jeremy Flower and Michael Ward-Bergman representing the next generation for whom the laptop is a digital analog to an orchestra.

Our discussion promises to be a passionate and wide ranging. My only worry is that we only have an hour and fifteen minutes—seems a pity to limit us to the length of a 20th century compact disc! But the talk will hopefully serve as a preamble to countless conversations I hope everyone will be having afterwards throughout the rest of the conference and beyond as we strategize together to reinvigorate a way of making music we all love so much. It is a big dream but one that we’ll need to have not only when we’re asleep but even more importantly when we’re wide awake.

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