It’s a heartfelt testimonial by the Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat. His credentials are impressive: he’s studied from Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Usrula Oppens; and he’s played with the London Sinfonietta, the Rotterdam Philharmonic and some other orchestras. (You’ll find more information about him here.)
His tastes in new music are broader than my own – and for this I envy him. However, something in the concluding paragraph made pause:
“I strongly think that any musician is almost obliged, to his or her audience and to the greatly talented composers of today, to at least include works of his or her own time within every concert.”
I don’t think our well-intentioned pianist is alone in feeling this way: in my years hovering around the new music world, I’ve often encountered this attitude. And there was a time when I would have endorsed it wholeheartedly. In my undergraduate days, at the University of Western Ontario, I would annoy my fellow students by asking if they were going to play any music by a living composer on their next recital. Usually they weren’t – and I would try to convince them it was something they ought to do, whether they cared to or not.
But since then, I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve come to feel that an appeal to obligation is a pretty thin straw for any kind of music to grasp at, in hope of staying afloat.
Consider Haydn’s “London” symphonies, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Mendelssohn’s Elijah – or even Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. When these pieces were new, nobody presented them, or attended the performances, out of a sense of duty to new music. No arguments of moral persuasion were needed: it was what people genuinely wanted to do. That’s a sign of a healthy and honest musical culture.
Speaking as a critic, I’m convinced that new music needs to somehow find its way back to a place where it is genuinely enjoyed – not just by a few connoisseurs, but by enough people to achieve a cultural critical mass. We won’t get there by talking about obligations.
And speaking as a composer, I hereby absolve all musicians everywhere of any ethical compulsion to perform my music. (Most of them seem to share my view already!)
© Colin Eatock 2011