Monday, May 15, 2017

Is your music too difficult to play?

For several years now I’ve discovered that much of the music I compose is difficult to perform… least that’s what I’m told. I didn’t think this would be the case as it’s not especially difficult on a reading level; however, having the luxury of working with some of the top instrumentalists in New York City, I realize from their feedback that the execution of my music is not always easy….in fact it’s hard. This brings up a valid concern…if the music you compose is too challenging, will it limit performance opportunities? It's very possible; however, a good piece will eventually find its way to the concert stage and capable musicians will take on the challenge. While I am currently trying to strike a balance in my own music moving forward, I don't feel the need to modify difficult pieces as long as I’m genuine about what I wish to express. I can remember being told by past teachers that every note, chord and phrase must be written with intention……and THAT is what should serve as the criteria for what you keep and what you throw out! That said, I have never approached a composition with the sole intention of challenging a player. When it happens, it’s always a pure byproduct of an intentional idea. Music should come from your inner voice ….even if the result pushes the performance envelope.
           This brings me to a more supportive point on this subject, which is best expressed by the premiere of Stravinsky’s Right of Spring in Paris on May 20th, 1913 - a performance which apparently upset many audience members with its strangled bassoon melody and outrageous choreography. Writing for the bassoon so high in the register, as Stravinsky did, was simply unheard of….it was not idiomatic for the bassoon. Of course, this piece is now part of the standard orchestral repertoire and considered mild in the context of 21st century works. While I wouldn’t suggest pondering the fate of your composition (wasted energy), I do recommend spending time and attention pursuing those difficult ideas as long as they are genuine and physically possible to play. Although some will wrestle with your music (in both performance and listening), a really great piece may become part of the standard repertoire as did the Rite of Spring. The level of playing will continue to develop and evolve over time. So don’t worry if your music is ahead of the curve……….eventually the playing level will catch up or even surpass your difficult creative ideas! 😀

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