Classical Music is Dead*

NCPerformers Music Recs

Posted in music, our shallow deep thoughts, random, we like by Yoobin Whang on 05/14/2011

Whether it’s music we listen to while waiting for the subway or reading at home, here’s what NCP musicians are currently listening to. Add these to your iPod now!

This is the first in our ‘LISTEN!’ series, music recommendations by our friends.

To be honest… I’m listening to ‘yacht rock’ style music at the moment.”
Whenever I Call You Friend by Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nick

Nabucco by Verdi

-Amanda Hick

“Can’t get enough of Fela Kuti’s V.I.P. live in Berlin. The longest afrobeat song I’ve heard so far at about 40 minutes straight. Ridiculous.”
V.I.P. (Vegabounds In Power) by Fela Kuti Jacob Ter Veldhuis

– Domenica Fossati

“I got to listen to him go WRYYYYYYYY for a couple hours but i’m getting faster at these papers :)”
In Front by Keith Jarrett

 – Patti Kilroy

“Most soulful thing you’ll ever hear.”
Giving Up by Donny Hathaway from his self-titled 1971 album

– Mariel Roberts

“His music is always badass and groovy.”
Ohko by Xenakis

L’Ascension by Messiaen

3rd movement of Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto

“Simple and sunny.”
Just You and Me by Zee Avi

Mercy by Duffy

– Isabel Kim

“He expresses so much with minimal lyrics and I love how he’s somehow meshed the sounds of R&B I used to hear when I was a kid with modern, electronic techniques. And his voice has got so much soul. I was right in front of the stage at his LPR concert this past Thursday!”
James Blake (album) by James Blake

– Sugar Vendil


MATA Post #2

Posted in our shallow deep thoughts by Sugar Vendil on 03/04/2011

via MATA’s blog


Friday, March 4th, 2011 – 1:55 pm

“Dressing well is kind of good manners, if you ask me. When you’re standing in a room, your effect is the same as a chair’s effect, or a sculpture’s. You’re part of someone’s view, you’re part of that world, and so you should dress well. I find it’s a show of respect to try to put on your best face and look as good as you can.”

-Tom Ford

I remember being at NYU and wearing to my performance of Schumann Piano Quintet an outfit that would be considered a regular, stylish outfit by most people. And if not stylish, not a big deal at least. It wasn’t ‘slutty’ or revealing, but it was thoughtful. I was really excited about performing one of my favorite pieces and I wanted to ‘put on [my] best face.’

And therein lies the problem (to use a phrase I’ve read in many a scholarly paper).  I don’t think that it was the non-saturation of black that led two professors to say to me, ‘Is this [gesturing to my clothes] appropriate?’ AND compel one of them to pull me aside the next day to talk to me about getting taken seriously, never mind that I practiced 8 hours a day. It was the fact that what I wore was remotely noticeable, making me more noticeable. And not noticeable like, ‘Oh, what a nice appropriate red gown that one can also wear to a party at the Russian Tea Room,’ but more like, ‘WHY is she dressed like a young hip person in her age and demographic group?!’ I was simply not generic enough.

I give this idea the proverbial finger, the idea that a concert is all about the sound rather than the complete experience, which performers just happen to be a part of. Just as I shun (see Dwight Schrute with chopping hand gesture) the idea that nail polish is distracting–you must have some heightened level of OCD to get distracted by something that occupies maybe 2% of our entire bodies–and the idea of wearing plain black to hide oneself, I do not condone the mentality that the musician should be the least noticeable thing in a performance. After spending numerous hours on one hour of music, I think it should be okay to wear whatever the hell you want besides attire that looks like you’re either a stagehand or, in my case, simply not myself. Also, I just want to note that I love black, the fashion world loves black, and classical music has somehow managed to ruin this sleek, beautiful color for people.

The reason I bring this up is to segue into the question of ‘Why fashion?’ The best answer I can think of is, ‘Why not?’ For me, fashion is a form of expression, and additionally, an effective form. Here in New York, it’s a dynamic and prevalent form of expression. We’ve all heard this, to excuse our inclination to want to date people we find attractive: ‘You can’t see someone’s personality.’ So think about all those posters outside Carnegie Hall and think about how any young person who doesn’t attend music school will be interested. Look at the Met Opera posters, and hell yes! They’ve got it down. Also, the art and popular music world seem to be at home with fashion, why not the classical music world?

I think The Nouveau Classical Project is my answer to that question. Not really a solution, but more like a ‘Here ya go.’ For Amped/Electrified, Jonathan Cohen is the perfect fit. ‘His woman is bold, elegant, and equally rebellious,’ just like the music on our program.

For the most the part, the music on Amped/Electrified stems from a tradition. The music demonstrates adeptness in structure and skill but asserts a desire to deviate from ‘schooling’ and in many cases, a desire to be modern. It seems to me that today we are at crossroads where classical music is really meeting face to face with contemporary music—a lot of us love musicians like Kanye West, Arcade Fire, whomever—and a lot of us are grappling with the idea of wanting to be present in, well, the present, and displaying the classical tradition from which we stem. I know we can’t stop talking about it, but Jay Wadley’s Things My Father Never Told Me was derived from this idea, in addition to the unexpected struggles both artistically and professionally.

I hope that this may have clarified any questions as to the ‘why’ of the Nouveau Classical Project. As with most things in life, when you whittle things down, the answers are so much simpler than you thought. Fashion was the simple answer, for me, to bringing a shred personality to classical music. Yes, a lot of us see this personality because we studied it in school. But I mean something, a little thing, that would show people we aren’t just geeks, we’re hot geeks. Think whatever you will of that statement. I don’t think fashion is the end all be all answer to getting more listeners for classical music (news: there is none!) but it’s what I’m interested in and it’s what our fans are interested in, and to put it simply, I just want to be creative and have fun (gasp!). That’s right. The reason for the Nouveau Classical Project’s existence is fun.


Posted in music, our shallow deep thoughts by Sugar Vendil on 01/23/2011

My curiosity was sparked…no, ignited! after reading Classical Resolutions: Missy Mazzoli Defies Dogma, Demands Diversity on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog regarding ‘acceptance within the increasingly isolated, grumpy and dogmatic world of “classical music.”‘ Mazzoli writes about the struggle of composers to be taken seriously as classical musicians, including her own:

Some critics have claimed my recent album Cathedral City is not classical music, even though it is fully notated, uses several instruments straight out of the orchestra, harmonies straight out of Stravinsky and was written by a composer straight out of music school. Huh?

What’s interesting about this is that even after the final product, which is the sound, the fact that it is ‘fully notated,’ the fact that there are sophisticated elements involved, and that the composer came ‘straight out of music school’ are what is supposed to imply serious classical music. The album received a positive review from Pitchfork, yet the ‘classical’ label is desired. About Monk and Britelle’s albums, listed under the world and pop genres on iTunes, respectively, she asks:

Why is the classical music world not clambering to claim this excellent music for its own? Because its creators use repetition as a compositional tool? Because they write triads? Is it the electric guitars? The drums? Is it that the composers don’t look or act like the “composers” we read about in music history class? Let it go!

First off, I always thought Britelle listed his albums under pop because they would reach bigger audiences that way, and perhaps Monk’s label could have been thinking the same thing. Anyway, this is intriguing because 1) we would think one would find it liberating to not be considered ‘classical’; 2) it seems important for one to be considered ‘classical,’ or one step above pop music (totally understandable, considering the exorbitant amount of money we’ve spent on music lessons our whole lives); 3) this post is about not worrying that one’s music is smart enough, yet a concern is expressed about being considered classical enough.

I can completely understand this contradiction. For example, I’ve never gone to conservatory and sometimes I want to audition for something academic or ‘respectable,’ (such as Ensemble ACJW or BANFF)  or apply for a doctorate (even though I don’t want to be a professor) while we are overloaded with work at NCP, which is one of my life’s passions. The classical world is a world I’m a part of and of course how I’m perceived as a musician matters to me. Sometimes, however, I sit back and think, ‘Whatever. I do what I want!’ and try not to care about how good I seem to others. Because everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves, right?

I empathize with the desire to be taken seriously. But I really want to know–composers! Thoughts? So I’ve emailed a couple of composers and hopefully they’ll send me their input. This post will be updated as I receive responses, which will appear below. And I want to hear yours too…hello, comments section!

Composer Feedback

Ryan Manchester:

I agree with the idea of composers writing the music they truly want to hear regardless of who accepts it. The problem now is, and has always been, authenticity. In the academy, that is more apparent because how can one be truly authentic when writing such esoteric music? Today, many genres are mixed together in a single piece and creates many layers that can serve as distractions from a personal voice. Not to pick on New Amsterdam Records because I like the idea of mixing many different influences, but some of the albums still need work. The compositional technique is there and strong, but the feeling is lost and many times feels and sounds stale.  Conversely, Matt Marks’s The Little Death Vol. 1 is music for crazy people, but each track is successful in revealing the composer’s intent.  It is a very fine, subjective line when innovations in new music start to catch on because the composers are still experimenting with ways to successfully write.  It will be exciting to see the developments in successful genre blending. Regardless of opinion, successfully challenging the notion of style such as New Amsterdam has done, should be encouraging for all composers no matter what style.

Izzi Ramkissoon:

The fear of traditions falling have prevalent since the times of Copernicus who discovered the earth is not the center of the universe and then he was persecuted for being thoughtful, deeply interested or serious about astronomy.

Who cares about being a labeled as a classical composer or being intelligent?  The term classical composer is a conservative old fashioned point of view and in a subtle way an oppressive term, used to control and alienate people from elitist circles.  If any music is to survive it is necessary not to alienate people with the smug attitude of fear but to communicate relevant ideas to both large and small communities.  The implications of being a classical composer has severe limitations that relate to a different generation and attitude of musicians.  Is classical music still for the aristocracy? or is it for a wider audience.  Things change.  Things change like slavery in the United States, women’s rights, systems for social organization etc.. if things never changed we all might still be slaves and peasants with dukes and arch bishops.

An intelligent composition is that one that requires the capacity to use abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, learning from past experiences and problem solving, that’s just the Wiki of intelligence.  So, using that as a reference point an intelligent composition is any piece of music created utilizing these abilities.  I would also add creativity, individuality, expression, since intelligence does not always communicate musical emotion and the performance art aspect of music.  Some individuals think the only way to produce an intelligent composition is through classical methods, but there are other ways to make something sound intelligent other than notation.  For example Miles Davis, a jazz artist, sounds intelligent with his music and so does electronic artist Squarepusher in his approach to editing.  Are they any less intelligent in their composition techniques than Philip Glass?

In regards to the term serious: I do believe everyone would like to be taken seriously in their life, so would composers.  That shows respect for the amount of time, effort, thought and work put into any given piece of music.  The time and effort spent on creating an electro-acoustic multimedia composition is very different than the time spent on a classical piece of music.  A different set of skills for a different era of music.  Music must be relevant to the time in which it was created.  I would say classical performers are allowed preserve the tradition of music because we love to hear them, but composers of today write music that is relevant, thoughtful, and imaginative and captures the feeling of today.  Also, if a performer chooses to be a part of history, rather than play it, and play new works, be aware of modern musical practices. This has also been an obstacle for modern composers.  They deal with the same persecution Copernicus dealt with.

I wrote a lot more about this subject.  But, I’m really just ranting about newly graduated young musicians who only know Bach, Beethoven, or Bartok.  Nothing wrong with that I learned about them too, but learn about Earl Brown, John Cage, Alvin Lucier, Jimi Hendrix, Aphex Twin, Morton Subotnick, etc.. and have an open mind.  There’s so much more to music as an art form.  Music is a performance art.  Love classical, love hip-hop, love russian folk song, love music, stop the discrimination.

Brooks Frederickson:

The difference between a “serious” composer and a “not-serious” composer is the same difference as calling something a “song” or a “piece of music” – nothing more than just a way for people to categorize music.

A New Type of -ism

Posted in our shallow deep thoughts, random by Sugar Vendil on 07/23/2010

Cul·tur·ism   [kuhl-cher-iz-uhm]
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various types of music determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own music is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination. AKA conservatory (joking!)
3. syndrome developed when pop music engages more people than your music and is more commercially viable


Posted in our shallow deep thoughts, we like by Sugar Vendil on 12/11/2009

I found The Transitionists, Theme Magazine’s current issue, particularly inspiring.  According to editors Jiae and John, ‘Transitionists travel in between design and art, creating a dialog between their commercial and personal work, playing off the constraints and perks of each discipline.  The end result is better work.‘  I find this idea of Transitionists relevant not just to the designers and artists on whom the magazine focuses, but to any musician/entrepreneur and others who are also pursuing multiple endeavors in the classical music world.

I read the magazine cover to cover.  This issue really hit home: as many artists/designers are averse to being categorized as one or the other, or both (although they are clearly doing both), artists in other disciplines may have similar concerns about how they are perceived.  Definitely understandable; for example, tell people you teach the piano and you’re a ‘piano teacher’ (image: old lady in the suburbs who missed her chance after getting married and having kids).  You want people to think of you as what you want to be.  A single label eventually seems to have some sort of power over who we are or what we will become.

I’ve struggled with the idea of being a pianist, a business person, and a teacher.  (Mainly the former two).  As a musician, I feel like I don’t do enough, although I do as much as I possibly can.  There is this guilt that many of us encounter when we’re not spending every waking moment with the instrument, practicing into oblivion, because that is what a musician is supposed to do.  (There are also unwritten rules about what we’re supposed to wear to be taken ‘seriously…’ more on that later.)  I’m sure I’m not the first to grapple with the question of what they are supposed to be doing to deserve, it seems, the privilege to be called a musician (especially when not following a typical path).

Now we can be happy to know there’s another option besides adhering to a super sticky label: we too can be Transitionists, using different talents to enrich one another.  For instance, teaching allows a musician to learn more about the craft by having to demonstrate and talk about it, starting a concert series creates an opportunity to turn those isolated hours in the practice room into something meaningful.  Multiple undertakings are normally viewed as constraints by uncreative minds.  These alleged constraints could instead be used to guide one another.

I could write an entire thesis about the Transitionist movement and classical music here, but I will spare you.  Luckily, Theme has an issue full of inspiring interviews and visuals.   If you were unable to pick up a copy of Theme at our soiree, you can get it at any proper bookstore or subscribe here (which I would recommend, as this magazine kicks ass and it took me years to find a true favorite!  Added bonus: it smells good).