Elektra

Elektra

Friday, October 12, 2018

A 70-Year Old, an 80-Year-Old, a Centenarian, and a 142-Year-Old Walk Into a Concert Hall.




And it doesn't matter that two of them are dead: these four are the face of new-ish music at San Francisco Symphony, based on the various documents comprising the 2016-17 season announcement.

It is really a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty season, and I do not say that because of the absence of P***** G**** from the schedule.

Let's start with the depressing half-empty part; a second post will cover the good stuff.
  • No works composed by women are being performed this season.
  • No works by African American composers are being performed this season.
  • Two works by composers of color are being performed; both are from China, one is being played by a visiting orchestra from China.
  • Works by seven (7) living composers are being performed this year. They are John (Coolidge) Adams, Steve Reich, Bright Sheng, Robin Holloway, Andrew Norman, Qigang Chen, and M. Tilson Thomas.
Once again, John Adams, Lou Harrison, and Charles Ives are the American Mavericks, joined this year by Steve Reich, who turns 80. Of the works being performed, the most important two are the local premiere of JCA's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, which sounds like a masterpiece based on the audio I have heard, and the composer's second violin concerto, Scheherazade.2. Looks like only one Reich work has been announced; one program is entirely TBA.

There are three SFS co-commissions, the Overture to the new opera Dream of the Red Chamber, by Bright Sheng (co-commission with SF Opera - I'm totally confused by this); Europa and the Bull, by Robin Holloway; and Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind by M. Tilson Thomas.

The remaining works by living composers are Play, by Andrew Norman; Angegram, by MTT (it's a charming, and slight, curtain raiser);  Enchantments oubliés, by Qigang Chen, played by the China Phil; 

We don't, of course, know what will turn up on the SoundBox schedule, and it's common not to announce the chamber music series until closer to the fall. Only seven living composers are represented of the many whose orchestral works will be performed this season. Of them, Adams and Reich are now in the Grand Old Man category, and one is the music director of the orchestra.

So there you have it: a season almost entirely made up of music by dead white men. People, it is 2015. It is time for this orchestra to do a better job of performing music by women and people of color. It is time to do a better job of performing music by the rarely-heard rather than recycling Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, Mozart, Dvorak, Bach, and the rest of the top twenty-five or fifty composers. See Alex Ross's recent article and blog post on rarely-heard symphonists. Why not, for crying out loud? 

You could consider making an explicit commitment to performing works by women, African Americans, and other composers of color, which would give you the following incomplete list of composers to choose from:
Thea Musgrave, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Johanna Beyer, Kaija Saariaho, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, Nicola LeFanu, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Roxana Panufnik, Amy Beach, Elizabeth Maconchy, Unsuk Chin, Chen Yi, Sheila Silver, Chinnary Ung, Olly Wilson, Florence Price, George Walker, Ulysses Kay, William Grant Still, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Julius Eastman, Pamela Z, Ken Ueno, Lily Boulanger, Ethel Smyth, Cecile Chaminade, Vivian Fine, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Galina Ustvolskaya, Vítězslava Kaprálová, any of the hundreds of composers listed here and the hundreds of composers I've missed.
As usual, Los Angeles beats the heck out of SF in the new music category.

(Drafted the week of the season announcement, but I have had other priorities recently. Glass-half-full post to follow this week.)

No comments: