Wally Wood, Creeping Meatballism, Detail, Mad Magazine, March-April 1957 Volume 1, Number 32.

Fragments of a Festival, a Festival of Fragments: Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood, August 3—7, 2011

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.

Preview of the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music

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.

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