For the first time in its 45-year history, musicologists and critics are to be incorporated into the Darmstadt Summer School for New Music. According to the IMD website, the idea for bringing writers into the Ferienkürse fold 'came about through the analysis of the dissatisfactory current situation of writing about music in general, and New Music in particular'. The aims of the course will include training in basic working methods – writing concert reviews, specialist articles, journalistic pieces, etc. – as well as the application of this instruction to practical outcomes. This is therefore an exciting prospect not only for young journalists and critics, but also for non-attendees, who will benefit from the fruits of blogs, internet broadcasts and a dedicated course magazine all produced in the course of the Summer School. The full press release is below the fold:
The Faustian Bargain
A blog about life outside the academy
Contemporary classical music. Surely there is no tougher sell than this. With classical music already a niche market, its contemporary version is a niche of that niche. But there are upsides. The audience for modern composition may be small, and hard to grow, but it is fiercely dedicated. Those who cross the rubicon and bring new music into their lives are incredibly committed: they'll attend dozens of concerts a year, travel long distances for the best festivals, read and listen extensively around their passion and, perhaps most importantly, talk about it with one another.
One of the greatest difficulties faced in the promotion of new music is a widespread perception of composers as aloof, sadistic and unsympathetic to the needs of listeners and performers. The first task of anyone writing promotional texts has to be to find a way to dissolve those perceptions without at the same time watering-down the intellectual content of the music.
The New Statesman have just launched a competition to find the UK's best young classical music critic. I'm no longer young, but the introduction page is well worth reading for the judges' summaries of the critic's art.
Here's Alex Ross:
Critics are, first of all, journalists, and while there is no such thing as an objective, just-the-facts-ma'am description of music, a good review ought to give a sense of what it was like to attend a certain event. It should have atmosphere, human detail, a sense of context and history. The review must rest on a strong foundation of musical knowledge, yet that knowledge should not be shoved in the face of the reader. And there must be a certain music in the prose. Dull, awkward, or jargonistic writing is a betrayal of the art. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to remain passionately engaged over the long term – not to become jaded, politely accepting, cynical, or, worst of all, nostalgic. To the end, critics must remain open to the possibility of being totally undone by what they hear.
And here's Roger Scruton:
A critic should be able to recognise all of the following: pretentiousness, insincerity, bombast, kitsch. And he or she should be familiar with all of the following: singing, dancing, smiling, weeping, praying, kissing.
Words for Red Pen, Blue Pen to live and work by.
Writing about music is hard, and I’m not sure many people go about it in the right way. I don’t think I do either, most of the time. Unless I’m in the (padded, soundless) anechoic chamber of analysis I’m rarely completely happy with how I’ve described musical events, processes or periods of time. But I’ve come to two tentative conclusions, so far.