This afternoon, I received a most unexpected phone call from a friendly representative of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), who called to tell me that I'd won this year's Deems Taylor Internet Award for my nocturnal ruminations here at Night After Night.
According to the organization's website, "The ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award program recognizes books, articles, liner notes, broadcasts and websites on the subject of music selected for their excellence. The Awards were established in 1967 to honor the memory of composer/critic/commentator Deems Taylor who died in 1966 after a distinguished career that included six years as President of ASCAP." As winner of the Internet Award, I'm in some seriously heavy company: last year's winner was the invaluable Sequenza 21, and previous honorees include Kyle Gann's PostClassic Radio, the All Music Guide, MusicalAmerica.com, Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar, William Duckworth's Cathedral Project and the very first winner in this particular caption, NewMusicBox.
To say that I was surprised is something of a gi-normous understatement. As I stated in my very first post not quite a full year ago, I launched Night After Night as a means of reporting on the countless artists who enrich my life on a daily basis, and in so doing to repay a debt for their efforts. Criticism unquestionably comes into it, but always with a mind to provide an accurate account of honest work played out on the public stage -- a daunting prospect on that end, and thereby on this end as well.
While obviously I have a deep commitment to the traditional print media -- not least the two major outlets for which I write regularly -- I've also found it liberating to easily slip from one musical genre to another in virtual print here, the way I've always done on my home stereo and portable devices. I've always taken that flexibility for granted since it's just who and what I am, and I never really stopped much to ponder the implications.
But just recently, I happened upon a blog entry of which I was the subject in part, and it gave me pause. To start with, for me to be half this blogger's age would now require him to be 80 years old, which I don't believe to be the case. And clearly Mr. Portico is mistaken to claim that my listening consists entirely of the new. One look at tonight's playlist or several other recent entries -- all composed under the influence of my current reading, J.B. Steane's Voices, Singers and Critics -- puts paid to that notion. But there was a line in the post that gave me serious pause, mainly because it gave voice to one of my major insecurities: "It's a much bolder taste, but it's also, I think, somewhat less reflective."
During the years that I've been active in classical music journalism and especially criticism, I've often been stricken with an envy of peers whose grasp of the canon is deeper than mine. Many are the times that I've felt an encyclopedic grasp of all things King Crimson, a nearly complete collection of Art Ensemble of Chicago recordings and a working knowledge of the differences between Swedish death metal and Norwegian black metal might not be traits as desirable as a comprehensive familiarity with the complete Bach cantatas, Haydn string quartets or Donizetti operas in my line of work. What gives me the courage to continue raising my voice in public is the conviction that I'm capable, given proper preparation, of perceiving what there is to be perceived and feeling what there is to be felt in any music out there -- and so is anyone else who cares to invest in that same preparation.
What compels me to do so is the notion that the classical canon is not, and never has been, finite and limitable. As Steve Reich reminded me in a recent interview, numerous composers felt the urge to adapt the simple Renaissance song "L'homme armé" -- and continue to do so, though now mostly to anachronistic effect, as in the cases of both Peter Maxwell Davies and Karl Jenkins. George Gershwin dealt with the influence of jazz; so, in their own ways, did Ernst Krenek and Ervin Schulhoff, and so do Dave Heath and Mark-Anthony Turnage now. When Christopher Rouse pays homage to John Bonham, it's as genuine a response as when Johannes Brahms tackled Hungarian folk music: where Béla Bartók's more explicit efforts attempted to catalog and analyze a popular idiom, Brahms and Rouse, one could argue, were simply reacting to what was useful, or what they simply liked.
Classical music doesn't exist in a vacuum today, and never has. Therefore, discussing the music that is being composed now also means dealing with what today's composers grew up with, as well as what they are currently consuming and transfiguring. Genuinely considering John Zorn requires an awareness of Carl Stalling, Ornette Coleman and Napalm Death, not to mention a boatload of extramusical influences. Writing about Corey Dargel means knowing something of Franz Schubert, David Garland and Morrissey, at the very least.
Therefore: If I appear to be implausibly broad in my interests and tastes, it's less because I consider myself fashionably eclectic than that much of the music that interests me most also compels that kind of lateral engagement. And truthfully, it works both ways: Knowing Mozart's music doesn't require me to know Schnittke's, but knowing Schnittke's music enriches my engagement with Mozart's.
Well, holy moley, this didn't turn out to be the simple thank-you note to ASCAP that I'd planned -- and I promise it won't be my podium script on awards day, either. But after spending literally weeks grappling internally with Mr. Portico's charges, today's award call seems to have pushed me to consider and define what I'm actually about, here on this blog and elsewhere.
That readers have found Night After Night enlightening and entertaining is hugely gratifying, as are the feedback and interaction the blog has occasioned. But in all honesty, I never imagined any kind of official recognition for what I'm doing here -- and certainly not an honor of this magnitude. I'm more than grateful; I'm genuinely humbled.
A full report on Mikel Rouse's dazzling yet perplexing The End of Cinematics, viewed tonight and playing at BAM through October 7, is coming tomorrow. But for right now, I'm going to just sit here and enjoy my daze.
Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 6; Piano Quartet* - Philadelphia Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach; David Kim, Choong-Jin Chang, Efe Baltacigil, Christoph Eschenbach* (Ondine)
John Corigliano - Chaconne from The Red Violin; George Enescu/Franz Waxman - Romanian Rhapsody No. 1; Franz Waxman - Tristan und Isolde Fantasia*; John Adams - Violin Concerto - Chloë Hanslip, Charles Owen*, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (Naxos)
Elisabeth Rethberg - Prima Voce (Nimbus)
Rosa Ponselle - Prima Voce (Nimbus)