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A case for playing `disappointing' new music

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A mug I use is covered with quotations about music, one of which reads: ``The public today must pay its debt to the great composers of the past by supporting the living creators of the present.'' I don't know who said it, but it's the most succinct statement possible about why new music should -- and must -- be played, and with regularity.

It is hard to get audiences to listen to the new. It is often hard to get conductors to devote much time to the new. Generally, audiences would rather hear another hackneyed warhorse than something challengingly new. And surely, recording companies are still more apt to opt for yet another Tchaikovsky symphony, not a new work by, say, Jacob Druckman.

But this does not mean that the cause of new music is utterly lost. Some conductors try to keep the issue alive, if not with the very newest, then at least with something current. Riccardo Muti, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, commissioned a new work from Raymond Premru, an American-born composer/ bass-trombonist who lives in London. He plays in London's Philharmonia, which Mr. Muti once headed.

As it turns out, ``Music for Three Trombones, Tuba, and Orchestra,'' heard in Carnegie Hall last week, is a not-very-interesting sort of quadruple concerto. It passes along in a dour mood, with asides to Hindemith, Copland, and the like, but the somber tone rarely lifts, and the melodic content of this surprisingly traditional-sounding work is not of sufficient distinctiveness to hold the listener.

Yes, it is unfortunate that new pieces so often disappoint, but ever has it been thus. And there is always the chance that something brilliant will emerge. We need to commission and to demand the new, or else we will have no musical heritage to pass on to future generations.


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