October 10, 2008

Modern Music, Explained ; Six-Part Lecture Series, ‘Beyond the Noise,’ Offers Context

By Emily Van Cleve For the Journal

If modern music seems like a cacophony of sound that makes no sense to the ears, John Kennedy's new lecture series is the perfect antidote.

"Beyond the Noise: Listening to Modern Music" is a six-part course that provides insights into the historical and social contexts of contemporary music with biographical information about many of the key composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Starting on Thursday, it will be presented at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Education Annex by Kennedy, a composer and the artistic director of Santa Fe New Music. Excerpts from various pieces of music by a wide range of composers, including Kennedy, will be played during classes.

The lecture series was inspired by Alex Ross' book "The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century." Ross, who used to write for The New York Times and is the classical music critic for The New Yorker, put together a 700-page book that explains the history of modern music in language that is accessible to nonmusicians.

"I have an interesting connection with Alex Ross," said Kennedy. "He was reviewing an 'Essential Music' concert in New York in 1992, where my piece 'Splendid Noises' was performed. He trashed my piece, saying that (Anton) Webern had already done it 50 years ago. He was referring to Webern's 'Opus 6,' which he talks about in the second chapter of his book as a transitional point in music history."

Kennedy will begin the series by explaining the importance of late Romantic-era composer Richard Strauss. "Strauss represents the culmination of the musical past," said Kennedy. "But he also radicalized opera."

Early classes will discuss the lives and works of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. John Cage is the subject of a session that looks at the liberation of sound and examines Cage's influence on Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Kennedy will explore musical styles that emerged in the '60s and '70s, including freewheeling experimentalism and pulse-driven tonal minimalism, as well as the trends established by John Adams, Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the '90s. The final session will discuss the music of the past decade and composers such as David Lang, Kaija Saariaho and Tan Dun.

"Questions won't be answered in class, but we'll have a blog on the Santa Fe New Music Web site where people can ask questions and post reflections and comments," Kennedy said. "It will be an online dialogue."

Like any college-level class, there will be handouts and a reading list. Kennedy is making sure that copies of Ross' book can easily be purchased in town.

Although classes can be attended individually, Kennedy suggests signing up for the entire series to get the most out of the material. "I have a creative, rather than linear, approach to presenting information," he added.

If you go

WHAT: "Beyond the Noise: Listening to Modern Music," a sixpart lecture series by Santa Fe New Music's artistic director John Kennedy

WHEN: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday and Oct. 30; Nov. 6, 13 and 20; Dec. 4

WHERE: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Education Annex, 123 Grant Ave.

COST: $10 per class; $50 for series. Discount for museum members.

CONTACT: Reservations required: 946-1039

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