The dichotomies in music

I plan to write a series of posts talking about dichotomies as a mean to express my ideas about contemporary classical music and its future. A dichotomy, which is the division of a subject into two opposites, allows us to better understand a subject and coupled with a scale between the two extremes, it gives us a more accurate idea of where the subject currently stands. Some of the dichotomies I plan to use are: Beauty-Ugliness, New-Old, Interesting-Boring. And when I say contemporary classical music, I mean the music that is being composed in the present day.

On the need for ideas

We live in a time of great change in classical music. It is a fragmented time that doesn’t have one dominant philosophy or movement pushing forward in the development of new music. I have been hearing Spotify, the New Classical station and the Indie Classical station.  In the Indie Classical, I have found a lot of  music that strives to be different but that it strikes me mostly as different and ugly, without much form or with a form I cannot detect. In the New Classical, you hear new recordings of the old repertorie, of the baroque, classical, and romantic music as well as new recordings of 20th century masters, like Ligeti and Copland. In here I have found music that is fresh without having to go into great dissonance or plain chaos to create an effect. I have also heard, in other places, uber-minimalistic music, music which can go on for 30minutes, orchestrated with great skill but without much else happening,  making pieces that use to bore me when I was younger absorbingly interesting.

Anyway,  it seems to me that an exchange of ideas and the clear exposition of new concepts it highly desirable at this point in time so that we can start making, as a group, interesting music that would be fresh and different but accessible to people that are currently classical music fans but are not trained musicians. And through my blog, I am going to present some of my own personal ideas, the concepts I use to write my music in the hope of making my music more understandable to listeners and also hoping to find other like minded composers for dialogue and an exchange of ideas. I will explain my ideas in short blog posts using dichotomies, two opposite poles that can help us understand all the levels in between, using a logic that contains many shades of gray as opposed to a black and white pattern. I will see you soon.



The Modern Classical Composer

This is my first blog entry. It coincides with the first of the year, so happy 2015!

I have been meaning to write this blog entry for a while.  It deals with the situation of the contemporary classical music composer. There are several elements involved in the writing of music. You have the composer and what he wants to say,  you have the musicians that are going to play the works, and you have the public that is going to enjoy the works.

There has never been a time in the history of music in which the new works that are heard in the concert hall are so divorced from the music that the great majority of the people like. Many pieces that Mozart wrote were based on dances of his time. Chopin wrote a series of waltzes and polkas, which were the kind of music that people danced to, both in the high society and the middle and lower classes.

Right now, many people would not even recognize as music some works that are performed in concert. Besides the fact that music appreciation is seldom taught in schools anymore and many people have not even heard a Beethoven symphony from beginning to end, the new works many times don’t have any relation to Beethoven or Mozart anymore either. I have quite a few friends that go to symphonic concerts often and they endure through the new works in order to be able to listen to Beethoven and Dvorak.

So the public, even the concert-goer public, has soundly rejected a very large percentage of the music written in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.  However, when a new composer wants to write music that would appeal to that public, he finds himself with reluctance from the musicians  to actually play it  as well as with a very cold  reception from the press.  I am told by a friend that in Vienna, if you present a new piece that is not atonal the critics will shred it to pieces. Daniel Barenboim has berated the public in Chicago because they didn’t want to hear new music.

So instead of new classical music being able to spread out and grow through all the new media, it has become the province of academics, critics and a small public composed of musicians, music students and devoted music aficionados that have been willing to immerse themselves in study and familiarization with new ideas and new languages.

Meanwhile, orchestras are disappearing. I hear that it is becoming more and more difficult to keep orchestras going. But what can one expect?  There is no excitement to new music in the classical world. If you see pop music, people are always looking for new acts, new songs. And with the amount of  media we have in our lives, word can spread in hours, even minutes, about something worth listening to.

But in classical music, you have to chose sides. If you chose to write music that is more accessible to the public, that is based in the traditions of Beethoven and Chopin and Liszt, even though it might have some twists to it,  you will have a harder time getting it in front of the public because many musicians won’t touch it.

However, if you choose to write music that is atonal or written with an obscure system that only a few people understand, your music will be played in some small venues and be, thereafter, probably condemned to oblivion. A composer friend of mine says that un live in an era of premieres, because few pieces get played  a second time. I wanted to reply (although I was too polite to do so) that we live in an era of failed pieces,  the only problem is that musicians  and critics both haven’t realized it yet.

A composer has to serve his public and we have to figure out a way to serve the concert-going public in such a way that excitement is created, that our music draws more people in and generates enthusiasm instead of alienating listeners and creating boredom with and sometime abhorrence of music. Of course, any composer has something  to say and he probably wants to say it in a different way than his predecessors, but the composers of the past had to appeal to a public and that  was always a factor in their careers.

So i am throwing my hat with the public and trying to write music in the classical tradition that I hope will appeal to people that frequent concerts, even though it might not be embraced by my more revolutionary colleagues. So I will thrive to compose new music that is fresh but accessible, music with personality that de-emphasizes the originality. I am not trying to reinvent music. I am just trying to communicate to the broader possible  public  with the type of music that I love the most.

All the best,


Sergio Barer.