Curated programs were a new and determining feature of Tanglewood’s 2017 Festival of Contemporary Music. In three of the five concerts, repertory and performers were chosen by a performer-curator who selected works by composers with whom they had worked extensively. Each of the curators, pianist Jacob Greenberg, cellist Kathryn Bates, and violist Nadia Sirota had been at Tanglewood (as part of the New Fromm players) and had developed a significant career in playing and promoting new compositions. The result was a concentration of works by composers of varied backgrounds who are living and working in the United States, and of an age that can be described as “mid-career.” Each curator got to choose one work to be included on the final TMC Orchestra concert.
Last November Mark Volpe, Managing Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Fogg, Artistic Administrator, and members of the orchestra presented the 75th anniversary season of the festival in a low-key event, which, as relaxed and friendly as it was, brought back memories of old Boston in its restraint. No one attempted to hide his pride in this important anniversary of what is undoubtedly the key music festival in North America, but nobody did anything that would be out of place at the Somerset Club either.
As curated by Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938), this year’s festival featured music that spanned a half-century, weighted toward the recent past, with a significant number of older composers heard from whose names are still relatively unfamiliar. This could be taken as an effort on Wuorinen’s part to offer recompense to some of his (relatively) neglected contemporaries. Of twenty-three composers performed, only four are 40 or younger, constituting the smallest age-demographic group. Composers in their 50’s, 60’s, and over 70’s received stronger representation. This enabled the listener to revisit the second half of the twentieth century while catching up on recent stylistic developments. The emerging picture was surprising—there was no single pattern of historical development to be perceived. The notion that musical style progresses in clear directions received no illustration; neither evolving serialism, electronics or neo-tonality predominated. mixed influences were so frequently demonstrated, including all of the above in a single work, that each composition could be viewed as sui generis, characterized by a predominating uniqueness of voice but nourished by various twentieth century stylistic trends. What Allan Kozinn, in his review of the festival (NY Times, Aug. 9) dubbed “style wars” can be declared over. Whether everyone is a potential victor remains up to the individual listener to decide.
This summer’s Festival of Contemporary Music is so different from its predecessors that it really ought to be given a different title. In fact, “contemporary” music, in the sense of brand new works by up-and-coming young composers, will be conspicuously absent. Perhaps “Retrospective of Seventy Years of ‘New’ Music” would offer a more accurate description. In the past, the Fromm Foundation has offered commissions for new works to be premiered during this week with the composers presiding; this summer, the five-day event will look back on the entire seventy years of Tanglewood rather than the fifty-four years of the Festival of Contemporary Music, as supported by Fromm.