This past weekend in the middle of conducting “The Nutcracker” a thought occurred to me. Didn’t composers try to use new instruments as soon as they became available? Case in point the Celeste. We hear Sugar Plum now and the first thought from conductors and musicians is probably Great only 10 minutes till the end of the ballet! Seriously though, when it was first heard it would have been like hearing an Electric Guitar in the orchestra today the sound was so new…
It makes me think that we need to look at our orchestra or more importantly composers need to in a new light. Even with all the possibilities for color with the existing palette, when was the last instrument invented that became a regular part of the orchestra or a new solo instrument that stood regularly in front of an orchestra? It seems throughout history composers fell over themselves to be the first to introduce a new instrument and to utilize its new sound and color possibilities. There has been experimentation for sure in the last 50 or so years, but I think we potentially stifle “commercial” instruments such as the Electric Guitar because they are absent from major institutions of musical learning, or is it because they are not acoustic? Whenever I have accompanied a classical Guitar concerto the soloist always amplifies themselves. My feeling is that the newest solo instruments are from the Percussion family and it is great to hear composers embracing them. I love the Schwantner Percussion Concerto, listen to samples here.
The hottest composer on the planet right now Osvaldo Golijov made this very eye opening statement in an interview:
“The human fire of creativity today is not necessarily where people think it is. I don’t think it lies in the classical conservatoire system. Maybe Björk will produce the next masterpiece rather than someone from classical tradition. It’s a question of relevance to the world.”
We always go to the mat for the survival of creativity, yet are we not stifling it also by not letting newer instruments in? If we don’t then I fear that “classical” composition is in danger of being a non practicing art form just like Latin is now a non spoken language. There is much more than ever for composers to write about, and there are now more instruments to write with. In the end the greatest works of art survive not through appreciation, but through their continuing relevance to the world which is what Golijov is talking about. His music clearly demonstrates this also, inspiring!
Read about a piece by Stewart Wallace called Skvera for Electric Guitar and Orchestra. I was lucky enough to conduct the world premiere of his Ballet Peter Pan. His Music is very in the moment, intense, brilliant!
From the world of Electronica, check out on You Tube this amazing performance by the extraordinary Imogen Heap, she is hypnotic.