New Music Merits Respect, Not Attack

I wish to respond to Clare Rydell's Counterpunch article, "Composers Milk a Dead-End Aesthetic" (Calendar, May 2). I am president of the Independent Composers Assn., a nonprofit alliance with an open membership that has supported local composers by producing concerts of their music for the past 17 years.

Rydell takes exception to a mildly favorable review in The Times of our April 6 concert with a wide-ranging diatribe. She attacks the concert and its producers, the Times critic, the "unholy alliance" of all critics with all composers (who she amusingly claims "have almost complete say" in what the public hears of new music), Schoenberg, "the musical explorations of our century," the universities and "democracy itself, (the notion) that somehow we are all equal . . . and anybody who can play the piano can sign up and receive a crown conferring the title 'composer.' "

The Times was remiss in failing to identify Rydell as the wife of a well-known professor and composer at UCLA, Paul Reale, whose music was not represented on our concert. Because my music was on the concert, it would be unfair to your readers if I wrote for The Times about the concert without revealing who I am. Since Reale is a competitor to other composers in finding an outlet for his work, your readers might see Rydell's article in a different light if her relationship had been disclosed.

For example, in wondering why modern music, and our concert, sounded so bad to her, Rydell blames the university system "for awarding meaningless degrees to individuals with little technique and less artistic skill." And when Rydell complains that our concert makes her feel as if she's stepped into a "time warp from 20 years ago," it would have helped your readers to know that the opinions about the evils of 20th-Century music in Rydell's article are quite familiar to those of us who, like Rydell and myself, heard Reale's lectures at UCLA in the '70s. In fact, two of the composers on the concert, myself one of them, were awarded degrees under Reale.


Because Rydell is married to a composer, she should know better than to write: "Why is it the case that people with such vested interest, the composers, have almost complete say over what the audience is going to hear?" This reminds me of "Amadeus," when Mozart's patron, the Count, complains: "Too many notes!"

Rydell is unclear whether she is complaining that composers have the right to write what notes they wish or whether she believes that composers typically control what gets played in new music concerts. In any event, most musicians know that composers do not have "almost complete control" over what pieces are programmed; this is almost always a political decision between the performing group and the venue manager.

Rydell proposes a solution to the "total waste of everyone's time" she deems musical explorations of our century to be: "Maybe it is time to bring back the patronage system in which works were created for people who expected to like the work they'd paid for, not to be assaulted by it."

The cover of the program notes for our concert says "ICA Presents Newly Commissioned Works Sponsored by the S. Mark Taper Foundation" in large type. Our patron did like the works it paid for, and as a result, some of our works are scheduled for performance in Europe this fall. The patronage of new music is alive today. The "assault" seems to have been provided by Clare Rydell Reale.

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