Last night was a revelation to me. Herter Hall was packed. PACKED. Shawn was gleefully pulling out more and more chairs for people, his stentorian “Welcome!” on rapid repeat throughout happy hour. Ahh, I thought, they must be here for the promise of Chef Josh’s delicious pizza.
Except…they loved the music! I stared into bright faces, delighted, who leapt to their feets in celebration as we panted from the exertion of the evening.
Now, we have an amazing community here at Garth Newel, and standing ovations are given happily, but they are almost always for the warhorse favorites, the Brahms, the Dvoraks…I have never seen such an immediate exultant reaction given to completely brand new music. All the pieces last night were written by composers that were truly our contemporaries. Our program consisted of four living composers, some of them friends and colleagues, and who spanned the ages of 33 (David Biedenbender), 44 (Kevin Puts), 58 (Paul Moravec), and 62 (Zhou Long). This was not one of those “contemporary music” concerts that consisted of music by Copland and Ligeti (incredibly important composers but of two generations ago). This concert represented the creative voices of this generation, a more accurate definition of “contemporary”.
We live in a strange time right now. The music that we love, music that Teresa, Isaac, Evelyn, and I have devoted our entire lives to, music that is so necessary and vital and the reason I get up in the morning, does not hold the same indispensableness for the majority of society. Our relevance as classical musicians are being questioned, heartbreakingly, and a large part of that is because classical music concerts continue to feature the same composers that lived 150 years ago, instead of filling the majority of their programs with works of today.
That’s why Teresa’s words before the Moravec were so rousing. Always eloquent, she had explained that the Garth Newel Piano Quartet had commissioned Paul Moravec to write a work for them in 2012 because they had loved and performed his Tempest Fantasy so much.
“We will always love performing the great chamber works of the past, but there is something absolutely thrilling about commissioning a brand new piece. Not only is it immense fun to work with a composer, but it is absolutely necessary for musicians to perform what’s being written right now, and to give light to the music that reflects the thoughts and culture of our current time”.
Yesterday’s standing ovation proved that yes, audiences are indeed ready, and very excited by, the music of our contemporaries. And this is so utterly heartening to see. Thank you!