The disparity between old and new, serious and “non-serious,” and highbrow and lowbrow is a running theme throughout all art forms, but for various reasons the argument is especially pronounced in modern music. Differing opinions on the relevancy of certain eras or the legitimacy of particular styles can have an impact that ranges anywhere from humorous to devastating. Indeed, history has shown how consideration of this kind can manipulate audiences, patronage, the part of town that an event is held, or whether the event is held at all. As for the musicians themselves, the spectrum runs from immortal canonization to dying alone in a dirty river, the way free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler did. Or as one writer put it, and I’m paraphrasing, dying “simply because he wasn’t loved enough.”
What might seem trivial to some can obviously have serious consequences on artists and their art. The third installment of The Dallas Festival of Modern Music addresses these issues in an enlightening and positive manner, and Rachel Yoder, the festival’s executive director, gave me her own take. “Personally, I feel that there is sometimes a gap between new music ensembles that focus mainly on world premieres and living composers, and traditional chamber ensembles that play only the Bach/Beethoven/Brahms canon,” Yoder says. “By presenting Bartók, Stravinsky, and Carter…in combination with new works, we are able to bridge that gap.”
She noted that Elliott Cook Carter is now 102 years old, which is a remarkable fact. But enhanced with the information that he was still writing 17-minute pieces at age 98, it becomes nearly unbelievable. The composer will turn 103 on December 11th, apparently solving the “old vs new” music quandary simply by producing work past his own century mark.
It was in another artistically progressive organization that Yoder became involved with presenting this particular genre in Dallas. She interned with Voices of Change, a contemporary music ensemble that has been active in Dallas for over 37 years. Yoder says their approach has parallels with the Dallas Festival of Modern Music in that “they have recently been taking a similar strategy with their programming.”
As far as the public demand for such willfully diverse musical activity, Yoder is convinced that there is a built-in and informed audience. “It’s great because so many music students and fans of the contemporary arts in the DFW area want a chance to hear works like Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale, which might be considered “too modern” by many presenters and “too old” by new music groups.”
But Yoder doesn’t seem content to simply play to the contemporary audience alone or to limit the festival to contemporary classical music. “To us, another important aspect of “modern” music is those acts that are more rock or jazz oriented, and may not fit well in a classical music venue, but are doing experimental, artistic music.” In that regard, Yoder has even challenged the idea of venues where such music is played. “Our Taste the Music series addresses this by presenting local experimental music groups at Good Records. This year we have saxophonist Mike Forbes, who is known for his masterful improvisations using crazy extended techniques, playing with Aaron Gonzalez and Gerard Bendiks.”
The festival’s attempt to expand on ideas of place and context is one that’s long overdue in Dallas music, and it’s an effort that will hopefully have our area’s musicians feeling a bit more appreciated than the largely unheralded Ayler. Yoder further explained the importance of blending different types of musicians in unexpected places as such, “From what I have heard of all these musicians, what they are doing is every bit as interesting and relevant to modern music as the classical works we program, and they represent more of the avant-garde. We want to provide an opportunity for them to perform in the context of a contemporary music festival, and for an audience that might be different than what they would get playing in a bar in Dallas.”
The Dallas Festival Of Modern Music begins tonight at Steinway Hall, starting at 7pm. The first showcase is by Reuben Allred and Imre Pátkai, who will be performing Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion by Bartók. More information will be available on FrontRow throughout the rest of the week.
Elsewhere this evening:
Mates of State/Generationals/Smile Smile (The Granada): I’m very interested in the Granada’s new “Sundown at Granada” (now hiring!) restaurant endeavor. And some smart and healthy friends will be doubly interested in the establishment’s proposed “vegan, vegetarian” options. But does this mean they still won’t let me off the damn patio, even with a wristband?
Whatever Wednesdays (Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios): Tonight’s special guest is noted Cleburne musician Tiago Varjao.