Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Listening to performances of music by Elliot Carter, Brian Fennelly, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, and Robert Dick last night convinced me that a lot of contemporary music seeks to return us to that pre-tonal mode of responding to sound.

Such music is called post-tonal by theorists, but I think they have it backwards. Only people who were devoted to the strictest tonal orthodoxy as setting the standard for what is meaningful would concoct such a notion. In fact, as has been pointed out by psychologists for decades, there are millions of tones; it is entirely arbitrary that seven or nine or twelve have been isolated for us to consider legitimate.

Now here comes a music that can be listened to without a textbook. The Boulez sonatas for piano are like precursors of Schumann's wildest pianistic fantasies. Robert Dick's Heat History is primordial singing and jazz all mixed with the flute's highly recognizable points of tonal reference but skateboarding rings around us all the time.

Such revelations are to be heard at the Institute and Festival for Contemporary Performance June 15-23 at Mannes and at Le Poisson Rouge. Check it out.