DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT MUSIC – Double Concerto for Two Horns and Chamber Orchestra (2014)

I’m very pleased to share the premiere performance of my “Double Concerto for Two Horns and Chamber Orchestra”. Many, many, many, MANY thanks to the musicians of the Eastman Musica Nova Ensemble, and especially Jeff Nelsen, Michael Walker, and Brad Lubman for an amazing performance!!

Now, very little contemporary music/art of any quality goes without ruffling some feathers. I don’t ordinarily entertain this sort of unfounded criticism, but I thought that this particular comment contained something that should be addressed.


As an artist/composer, my only goal as far as audience reception is to provide an experience that a participant may then engage with as they see fit (or perhaps feel). As I alluded to in my response to this criticism, I actually find the boiler factory/foundry associations that he made quite insightful (or at least serendipitous). I personally think these types of sounds are very attractive and compelling compositionally, and even beautiful if one is able to come around to that perspective (which takes more time in some cases than in others). However, this is a completely subjective assessment and I acknowledge that! It is how I FEEL as opposed to something that can be measured objectively.

What troubles me is not that this individual had a negative reaction; any reaction is perfectly valid and in fact I find an intense negative reaction to art more desirable than indifference, at least they are experiencing something! However, the comment “IMHO this is not music” is the bit that really gets my knickers in a twist.

If there is one process, ONE, that is absolutely critical to the development of all art forms, now and throughout the history of artistic endeavors, it is to QUESTION EVERYTHING. WHY is this art? WHY is this not art? WHY is it done this way? WHY can it not be done another way? WHAT is music? WHAT is not music? WHY is this good? WHY is this not good? WHAT is it to be “good”? WHAT is it to be “beautiful”? WHAT is it to be “ugly”? (http://videolectures.net/cd07_eco_thu/)

A visceral negative response is valid because it is a state of being that is subject to an individual’s personal experience, upbringing, tastes, etc. However, a statement like the above is not subjective, and therefore must be supported by some sort of rubric with which to make an assessment. If there is, in fact, a rubric of this sort in existence, I ask that Mr. Ilomaki kindly bring it to my attention. Who am I (we) to say that something is NOT a work of art, or not a piece of music? If the object in question came into being through the intention of an artist to produce art, there is without a doubt no means with which to argue otherwise. We may have different names for things, different definitions, different grammar, and that is what makes human beings (and contemporary art) so incredibly interesting; the unique, irreproducible experience!  Yet at the end of the day, statements or generalizations such as these have absolutely no merit whatsoever, as there can be no tangible unit of measurement for ‘art-ness’ nor ‘music-ness’.

**ADDENDUM (11:37pm): Because everyone loves happy endings. And Zappa!




Score: http://www.jasonthorpebuchanan.com/music.php

World Premiere, March 21, 2014
Eastman School of Music, Kilbourn Hall

Double Concerto (2014) for Two Horns and Chamber Orchestra was written between November 2013 and March 2014, premiered by Jeff Nelsen, Michael Walker, and the Eastman Musica Nova Ensemble with conductor Brad Lubman on March 21, 2014.

In 2008, I had written Mike Walker a work for horn and electronics that I now consider a turning point in my creative output, and throughout my undergraduate studies he remained one my closest friends and colleagues. The seed was planted for a horn concerto as far back as March 2011 through correspondence with Mike, and by June we had confirmed our plans to collaborate. The following year Mike suggested that I write a double concerto for himself and Jeff Nelsen, an exciting prospect and opportunity to explore the musical relationship between two hornists. We discussed the use of a “fluid” early valve horn technique that would utilize the natural partials available on each of the instruments, following in the footsteps of Ligeti’s Horn Trio (1982) and Hamburg Concerto (1998-99; 2003), one of his last works. Ligeti writes about his own work on the Hamburg Concerto: “In this piece I experimented with very unusual non-harmonic sound spectra. In the small orchestra there are four natural horns, each of which can produce the 2nd to the 16th overtone. By providing each horn or group of horns with different fundamentals I was able to construct novel sound spectra from the resulting overtones. These harmonies, which had never been used before, sound “weird” in relation to harmonic spectra. I developed both “weird” consonant and dissonant harmonies, with complex beats.”

My own Double Concerto utilizes four valved horns, the two soloists accompanied by two obbligato horns in the ensemble, each freely alternating between valved and natural horn technique. In this work I sought to explore my (complex) relationship as a composer to classical repertoire, and in the same way that Ligeti draws from Brahms, I in turn take a page or two from Ligeti’s book, among others. Throughout my creative life, perhaps no other composer has had such a strong an influence on me; he was the first living composer I became aware of, and I was immediately fascinated by his music. While living in Hamburg from 2010-11 I had the opportunity to study with a number of his former students and close colleagues, including Manfred Stahnke who helped me begin to raise many important questions in regard to my own creative process. I like to think of this work as a return of sorts after several years questioning the relevancy of pitch as a larger artistic dilemma; what is it about pitch that we as composers, performers, and listeners gravitate towards, perhaps above all else? We acknowledge music as organized sound, and thus all intentionally organized sound may be considered music. Yet, I find that the majority of composers, even today, remain fixated on this musical parameter more than any other. In the last three years I have quite intentionally been working to neutralize definite pitch and harmony in my works, favoring the exploration of nearly all other musical parameters and inharmonic spectra. For me, the horn is an instrument that is simultaneously very powerful and yet somehow still extremely fragile and organic in character. In being confronted with a musical situation featuring two horn soloists, I was faced to deal head-on with the issue of pitch within the context of my own musical language.

Many thanks both to Brad Lubman and Jeff Nelsen, without whom this undertaking would not have been possible. This commission was funded in part by the Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Program of the International Horn Society.



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