Horizons '84 - A Broader View

by Barry Drogin

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"Horizons '84: The New Romanticism --- A Broader View," the New York Philhramonic's new music festival (May 30-June 8), concentrated much less on Jacob Druckman's so-called "New Romanticism" thesis and much more on the broader view, even allowing the self-proclaimed "child of the Schoenbergian revolution," Milton Babbitt, to appear as debater and composer. What the "broader view" really meant was that talk would concentrate on sub-topics, namely the role of the computer in music and the emergence of innovative performance techniques.

The computer music "festival within a festival" had a broad view, including everything from compositional programs and spatial experiments to timbral manipulations and interactive machines. Avery Fischer Hall was fitted with a stupendous sound system for use in the computer pieces; unfortunately, this sound system was also used excessively, and often unnecessarily and detrimentally, by soloists in the other concerts (to contrast, remember that last year's David Del Tredici used amplified voice for an intentionally alienating effect).

A little statistics: Whereas last year only one composer under forty got a complete performance of his work, this year twelve under-forty composers were represented, comprising the bulk of the increase from last year's total of 24 composers to this year's total of 40. (It's interesting and I think safe to note that these younger composers fit neatly into Druckman's "New Romanticism" thesis). Contemporary jazz (or International Improvisational Style, if you will) was snuck onto the program in the form of pieces by George Lewis and Anthony Davis (who referred to classical music as "Western music" and "notated music," respectively). There was also a strong non-American showing this year (a few French and British composers, as well as German, Polish, Japanese and --- intriguingly --- Australian). Fourteen of the composers are members of Composers' Forum.

Last year's festival had a coherent focus, panel discussions (with receptions) tied to a common theme, an emphasis on new orchestral music and on musical history. It was also spread out over two weeks. This year's festival, with ten concerts crammed into nine days, touched on at least three themes with no time for depth or contemplation. It was exhausting, if not slightly torturous, to attend all of the events and, as a listener, give each piece the attention it deserved.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007