On Continuity and Innovation in Contemporary Music


















Report on the International Conference "Composing Principles: Continuity and Innovation in Contemporary Music," Vilnius, Lithuania, October 10-12, 2002

by Nico Schüler

The international conference on "Composing Principles: Continuity and Innovation in Contemporary Music" took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, October 10-12, 2002. The conference was already the third of its kind on this specific topic, organized by the Lithuanian Composers' Union, by the Music Academy of Lithuania, and by the Centre of the New Music Communication in Vilnius. To say it right to begin with: The organizer, the composer Antanas Kucinskas, did an excellent job in putting together an interesting program of diverse presentations on the conference topic, in balancing it with high-quality concerts, and in stimulating discussions on various issues of contemporary music.

The three-day conference started with general discussions on the relationship between avant-garde and post-avant-garde aesthetics by Margarita Katunyan (Russia). Katunyan stated that the musical avant-garde carried much more ideas than composers were able to master, even ideas that contradicted its primary impulses. Eventually, these ideas were solved in different ways by post-avant-garde composers. Margarita Katunyan discussed thoughts, philosophies, strategies, ideas, methods, musical materials, organization principles, and performance aspects of both, avant-garde and post-avant-garde music. This paper opened the path for presentations on more specific topics, such as serial principles in the music of younger Lithuanian composers by Antanas Kucinskas (Lithuania), on group improvisation and prose notation in the music of the 1960s by Radosveta Bruzaud (France), and on linear temporal processes in a minimalist work by Hali A. Fieldman (USA).

The following three papers were on Lithuanian composers, specifically on music of Bronius Kutavicius and on the music of the father of Lithuanian Music, M. K. Ciurlionis. While Inga Jasinskaite-Jankauskiene (Lithuania) spoke specifically on the symbiosis of theater, Lithuanian folk art, and improvisational postmodernist music in Kutavicius' piece "Sigute", Darius Kucinskas (Lithuania) lectured on the peculiarities of the musical text of Ciurlionis. Since most international conference participants were not very familiar with the music of Ciurlionis, Kucinskas' presentation provided an excellent summary of various aspects of Ciurlionis' music, for instance the compositional process, the graphical notation, and the methods of textualizing the many drafts and sketches. Then, Rimantas Janeliauskas (Lithuania) spoke about the national characteristics of Ciurlionis' music, specifically about the relationship between his works of visual arts and his music, about the unique contrapuntal techniques, and about ethnointonations that Ciurlionis borrowed from the Lithuanian sutartines.

The highlight of the second day was a paper by Marta Szoka (Poland) on Frank Martin's dispute with the avant-garde of the 1950s. Martin, a professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne in the 1950s, criticized the avant-garde as full of dogmatism, revolutionary spirit, lack of humbleness, etc. Szoka summarized that Martin's main objections to avant-garde were the avant-garde's tendency to dehumanization, the refusal to accept history, the rejection of the idea of beauty and inspiration as the main principle of art, and the lack of responsibility for the audience. On the other hand, Martin perceived the need of avant-garde as a transitional stage in music history. Marta Szoka interpreted Stockhausen's and Cage's latest compositions as attempts to revise their views on avant-garde. Other papers of the second conference day were papers on specific composers, such as the Lithuanian composer Rytis Mazulis (by Grazina Daunoraviciene, Lithuania), the Brazilian composers Tristan Murail and Almeida Prado (by Carole Gubernikoff, Brazil), and the German composer Dietrich Erdmann (Nico Schüler, USA).

The final conference day continued with lectures on specific contemporary composers. Jelena Dubinets (Russia) spoke about the medieval canon in the music of contemporary composers from the former Soviet Union. The musical language of two Lithuanian composers, Onute Narbutaite and Osvaldas Balakauskas, were the topics of papers by Audrone Ziuraityte and Ruta Gaidamaviciute (both Lithuania). Finally, Kevin J. Holm-Hudson (USA) presented a paper on the pitch organization in Robert Ashley's "Van Cao's Meditation", drawing upon Eugene Narmour's theory of melodic structure to focus on pitch permutations.

This conference on continuity and innovation in contemporary music was part of the Twelfth Contemporary Music Festival (October 9-17, 2002) in Vilnius. Thus, conference participants had plenty of opportunities to attend excellent concerts, such as a concert by the Youth Symphony Orchestra (Lithuania), which performed compositions by Nomeda Valanciute, Anatolijus Senderovas, Francoise Choveaux, and Raminta Serksnyte, and a concert by pianist Anthony de Mare (USA), who performed pieces by Cage, Cowell, Nancarrow, Meredith Monk, and other contemporary composers.

All in all, the conferences attendees had many opportunities to discuss newest research in the area of contemporary music. Most interesting for all international guests was probably to learn more about Lithuanian music. The conference proceedings, which will contain all conference papers, are in preparation, and future conferences on similar topics are planned.

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This report was originally published in New Sound.

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last revised: 3-20-2003