On the day of release of David and Wu Han’s new recording of four contemporary cello-piano duos, ArtistLed received an email from a listener asking for comment about the repertoire on the new album. This listener explained, “Over the years I have tried to listen to many modern compositions, and find that most of them are unlistenable.” The following is a response provided by ArtistLed Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo.
Thank you for your email and interest in ArtistLed’s new release. I am sorry to hear that your experience with contemporary music heretofore has left a sour impression. I appreciate your active effort as a listener to learn more about new music—by the time you’ve spent listening to modern music, and by the thoughtfulness of your inquiry about our new release. As I’m sure you know, with many listeners, contemporary music is often not given that chance.
First, I would propose that, while any listener with an open mind and open ears will inevitably encounter works that he or she personally finds “unlistenable,” I hope you will agree that it is ultimately unfair to equate their unlistenability with the era in which they were composed. To conclude by the same rationale that the music of the Classical period is invariably uplifting and sublime would be to overlook the, frankly, pedestrian works of Ignatz von Beecke, Josef Myslivecek, and other lesser contemporaries of Mozart. History has crowned Mozart the supreme composer of his day and left most of his peers in relative obscurity, sparing us the task of evaluating their music. The conclusion that many listeners draw is that all of the music of that period was heavenly (and all of the music of our own period excruciatingly dissonant).
The flaw in directly correlating artistic quality with historical context is especially salient to the music of our time, given the incredibly rich spectrum of music being composed today. Your saying that you find contemporary music “unlistenable” actually leaves me quite in the dark about specifically what music does not appeal to you: the atonal complexity of Babbitt and Carter, or the neo-Romanticism of John Corigliano? the Latin folk-infused music of Osvaldo Golijov? the minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass? That these composers (and innumerable others) are contemporaries is almost a fluke of history; so profoundly different are their modes of expression. And still, the music of Bruce Adolphe, Lera Auerbach, Pierre Jalbert, and George Tsontakis cannot be equated with any of them.
We are fortunate to have inherited Mozart as the chief ambassador of the Classical period. The music of our time relies on today’s artists and listeners for its fair shake. ArtistLed’s new disc represents our latest contribution to this process. You’ve asked me to comment on the repertoire on our new release: the only fair comment I can make is to say that the disc features four living composers personally selected by David and Wu Han for this project on the basis of their (David and Wu Han’s) intense personal response to their music. Such a deep, emotional response can only occur if the music is allowed to speak for itself, without preconceptions (whether those preconceptions result from one’s general feelings about contemporary music or from whatever adjectives I might choose to describe these new pieces).
In conjunction with this new release, we have designed a microsite devoted to the four new works: www.fordavidandwuhan.com. This site includes video conversations with David, Wu Han, each of the four composers on the disc, and others, as well as a small taste of the music. I invite you to visit and explore this website, and hope it provides an approachable point of entry to learn more about the music on this disc. We have also produced an AudioNotes segment on the Auerbach Sonata, which features further commentary from the composer with more extensive musical examples; you can download this AudioNotes feature for free by visiting www.davidfinckelandwuhan.com and typing AuerbachAN into the download code box in the bottom right of the page.
We cannot promise that you will be as seduced by these four new works as we are. We can only assure you that our new release is exclusively the result of David and Wu Han’s fervent artistic commitment to them.
My apologies for this lengthy reply. I felt that the candor of your inquiry deserved an equally thoughtful response. Thank you again for your email; please feel free to contact me if I may be of any further assistance.