“Mashups of the Mona Lisa” created by Dave Winer, via Flickr CC

The predominant ideology in composition today, across all genres, is rooted in pastiche. Most composers in the new music community aren’t consciously thinking about this, but we’re involved all the same. I mean, just look at the names: new complexity, neo-romanticism, post-minimalism—three of the broadest trends in contemporary music, all with echoes of pastiche baked right into their labels. Of course not everyone is writing “in the style of” or explicitly quoting other pieces, but the desire to build perceptible bridges between musical traditions is nearly universal.

And it’s not just in classical composition. Virtually all of the most celebrated new art of our time, across genres and disciplines, whether high art or populist entertainment, relies to some extent on pastiche. You will find a healthy serving of the stuff in everything from the music of Jennifer Higdon to Nico Muhly to Thomas Adès, not to mention Taylor Swift, the Star Wars movies, and the memes in your Facebook feed. Pastiche clearly strikes a chord with the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

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What role should unions play in new music?

Virtually all the new music musicians I know are left-leaning and pro-labor, yet much of the new music field is non-unionized. Why is that? The AFM and other unions play a significant role in the realm of larger, more traditional music making—orchestras, musicals, film recording, opera, et cetera—but they are far less visible when it comes to performances of new music. In the Bay Area, where I live, AFM local 6 lists only one new music presenter with a collective bargaining agreement.

Size is probably part of the equation, since a handful of orchestras is easier to unionize than the ever-shifting ecosystem of small chamber ensembles more typical in new music. But it goes beyond that. The AFM certainly represents chamber musicians, and it has initiatives designed specifically for smaller groups, such as its Fair Trade Music program. Yet most of the new music musicians I interviewed for this piece held a dim view of the musicians’ union, and many had experienced hostility from their AFM locals… Read the rest of this article on NewMusicBox ››

PEP volume 2 CD cover

Check out Andrew Timar’s review of Piano and Erhu Project Volume 2 on WholeNote. The album includes my piece Who Made the Inch of Grass, of which Timar writes: “[It] haunted me the most, prompting repeated pleasurable listening.”

Piano and Erhu Project is a collaboration between two fantastic Vancouver musicians, Corey Hamm and Nicole Li. They commissioned Who Made the Inch of Grass in 2014 and have put on several fantastic performances of the piece since.




Does classical music need fixing?

In this interview with the BBC’s Newshour, I discuss what classical music could do better when it comes to building audiences and attracting new listeners. Moderated by the BBC’s Tim Franks, the segment was inspired by an earlier interview with pianist James Rhodes. I join Graham Vick of the Birmingham Opera Company in an open-ended conversation addressing a number of topics, from exclusivity in classical music to alternative venues to the social context of concert-going.

Listen to the interview on the BBC website.



Are classical recordings underpriced? (photo credit)

Perhaps the classical music world has taken the entirely wrong approach to selling recordings; perhaps the reason they don’t turn a profit is because they’re significantly underpriced. Maybe we should be charging way more—like, three-figure prices per copy. And no, I’m not talking about charging extra for value-added stuff like boxed sets or exclusive tracks, I’m talking about, “Hey, this recording is awesome, so the price is $150.”

Hear me out before you dismiss this as crazy. Inevitably we’ll sell fewer copies if we set a higher price point, but that might not be harmful. In fact it might be a good thing. Read on ››