Living Music Festival 2008: Concluding Comments
One thing I read before the Festival was a review of that Remembering Ligeti thing I talked about a while ago. This was of course in the super soaraway Journal of Music in Ireland. The reviewer (one Barra Ó Séaghdha) did the usual thing of going on about how great Ligetti was and how much fun it was to hear his music in Dublin, but he then launched into a bit of a screed against the then forthcoming Living Music festival. Basically, he reckoned that it has gone soft, and that by basic itself around nicey composers like Pärt it was trying to court a boring mainstream classical audience. As members of Frank's APA may recall from a zine by my beloved, a mere four years ago the festival was focussed on electro-acoustic weirdo music, attracting virtually no audience from outside the world of serious musicologists. The writer reckoned that following festivals based around Steve Reich and John Adams with Arvo Pärt, the festival has lost whatever edge it has; he predicts that the next ones will star the likes of Phillip Glass or (shudder) Michael Nyman.
Before going to the festival, I was thinking that Ó Séaghdha was maybe overstating things a bit. However, I became more sympathetic to his position afterwards, or could at least see what he was getting at. The age profile of attendees seemed much higher at this year's festival. I suspect this is because Pärt's music, whatever its other features, is something you can listen to without having a degree in musicology or being a hipster elitist. Put more straightforwardly, it is the kind of thing your mother would not mind listening to. That is not to knock it, as it is at least theoretically possible that there could be music that is both objectively good and accessible to a mass audience. It does make me wonder, though, whether the purpose of contemporary music festivals should maybe be to introduce people to music they may initially be uncomfortable with. Or maybe there is now a need for a Continuity Living Music Festival that will leave the nicey modernist music to RTÉ and focus itself on weird and uncomfortable new sounds.
This should not be taken as a criticism of Pärt's music, however. Fundamentally it should be possible to make music that is both challenging and appealing to the ear, and I think that he manages it. Oddly for one so associated with choral pieces, I found this to be more the case with the pieces that eschewed the use of human voice, but to each their own.
It was also maybe interesting that they kicked jazz out of the festival, after just introducing it last year. This is a bit of a shame, as the Big Satan gig was on of the highlights of the 2006 Living Music Festival. But maybe in the end the appetite for new music is rather pigeonholed with the jazzers not really wanting to engage with the contemporary classical and vice versa. This is surely unfortunate, and implies that the supposedly forward-thinking aficionados of new music are not actually that open-minded.