Monday, March 14, 2011

New Music in Recital Programs

I attended, yesterday afternoon, a program in the Sundays at Three Series at Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. Flautist David Gerry was accompanied by the church's Music Director Paul Grimwood in a short but diverse program. This series has been ongoing during the Lenten Season for at least 25 years and offers audiences the opportunity to hear a variety of music, most of it for a Free Will Offering. (as an aside, the choir and orchestra are performing Howard Goodall's Eternal Light on Good Friday, April 22, at 8:00 P.M.)
They played a Quantz sonata and three Fauré Mélodies transcribed for flute. The other two pieces, Eve Beglarian's I will not be sad in this world and Sonny Chua's Menagerie, were both written within the last 11 years. I applaud Mr. Gerry for devoting half of his program to contemporary music. He is, and has been for years, one of this region's most prolific performers of New Music both as a soloist and collaborative musician.
One of the standard techniques in assembling a recital is to choose music representing various stylistic periods. One frequently attends recitals (Graduation Recitals being a perfect example) in which the most recent music was written sometime before the Second World War.  Surely performers ought to be making  an effort to program newer music than that and, as Mr. Gerry so skillfully demonstrated, it doesn't have to stretch the audience's listening skills to the point where they aren't engaged by the performance.
The Beglarian piece Mr. Gerry played on bass flute, accompanied by electronics (records of Ms. Beglarian herself singing and chanting). It's source material is an Armenian folksong. It is a quiet and atmospheric soundscape and provided an interesting contrast to the Fauré songs.
Sonny Chua's Menagerie, a suite of short pieces for flute and piano is, by any measure, conventional music: tonal and melodic. The pieces are charming, if a little similar one to the other, and utterly unlike the work which preceded them. It is, however, New Music, in the sense that it was recently composed.
I encourage performers to include new pieces in their recital programs, especially when these pieces stretch their abilities to include sounds and ideas that are outside their usual musical world. As for Graduation Recitals, it is as much the responsibility of the recitalist's teacher as that of the student her/himself to ensure that the student is learning and performing music which is composed by contemporary composers and important ones from the recent past.


  1. Too bad we have to "sell" New Music! perhaps the problem dates back to the 70's when young composers had to write pieces for the sake of being "different" in academia, rather than to engage the audience.
    Thankfully, things have changed and there is lots of beautiful new music out there! As a performance of much contemporary repertoire, I can tell that it is FUN to perform New Music!

  2. New music is not popular often because it demands too much of the listener. is just not very good.
    I think you are right, new music needs to be played or the art form becomes less relevant and fewer new players come to the art. It is a dangerous downward spiral.