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A Catastrophic Purity
The neoliberal turn in American classical music
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When I was twenty, I wrote my autobiography. Short, laudatory, and in the third person, it told the story of my birth as a composer. I let my audience (who I hadn’t found yet) know what to listen for in my music (which I hadn’t written yet) so they could appreciate my artistic voice (which I didn’t have yet). Weaving together glowing superlatives, a tasteful catalogue of artistic influences, and the most stirring backstory I could extract from my middle-class upbringing, I announced the arrival of a major talent, just waiting to make its mark. Around me in the classroom, thirty young musicians were doing the same. Having completed our artists’ biographies, we handed them over to the greying, implacable functionary who ran our career skills seminar. She returned them the following week, with detailed critiques.

I thought the assignment was a joke at the time; in some ways I still do. But this episode captures, more succinctly than any I can think of, what it means to be a classical composer today. Most of us belong to three worlds, each with its roots in a different era. The pose of artistic brilliance that I tried to strike in my biography came from the classical music world, which largely took shape in the nineteenth century. The academic program I was enrolled in had its roots in the Cold War university. And the assignment itself was practice for entering the twenty-first-century marketplace. These spheres of activity correspond to the primary social roles that composers since Beethoven have filled: the genius, the technocrat, and the entrepreneur. Composers now are an amalgam of all three, nested inside each other like cartoon fish. The technocrat, who swallowed the genius in the fifties, has been engulfed in recent decades by the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur swims contentedly, predecessors in its belly, disturbed only by occasional bouts of indigestion.

Many composers retrace this historical arc in the span of their lives. As children they idolize some Great Musician. This passion leads them willy-nilly into a degree program, where they pick up theoretical rigor and technical skills. Then they’re sent out into the market to fend for themselves. At least that’s how it was for me. At five or six, I would lie on the living room sofa in my pajamas, orchestral music blasting from the stereo, my arms flailing in disorderly imitation of the conductor’s beat. While other boys my age played at being Batman or Spider-Man, I dreamed of Beethoven.

It’s been claimed that this is a lot like other superhero fantasies: grandiose, macho, maybe a little fascist. At times it has been. Many fin-de-siècle thinkers maintained that genius was male; that it was German; and that it was the only thing worth having. In 1903, the gay Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger carried this line of thought to its logical conclusion and shot himself in the house where Beethoven had died. But if Beethoven is the archetype of the musical genius, then the role has also meant something different. To his contemporaries, he embodied a faith in the power to shape one’s own destiny; his music made them feel as if they stood at the decisive juncture of history, with utopia spread out before them. You can still hear a glimmer of that conviction today, at a particularly great performance. But outside the concert hall it’s all but irretrievable.

The composition world hasn’t stopped anointing geniuses. But the role no longer means what it did: living composers are at the margin, not the center, of the concert experience, and even the most successful among us will probably be forgotten when we die. This is one reason the genius faded from view during the twentieth century, to be superseded by the technocrat, as composers retreated from the bourgeois audience into large state-funded institutions. Both in American universities and at electronic music laboratories like IRCAM in Paris, postwar modernists came to see their work as a form of research, objective and exhaustively theorized. Pitch, rhythm, and other musical “parameters” were quantified, redescribed in purportedly scientific terms, and woven into works of increasingly arcane complexity. Leading composers like Pierre Boulez or Milton Babbitt had a small audience but an outsized public profile. Others settled for tenure. This arrangement worked while tenure was the kind of thing you settled for. With the defunding and marketization of the university, the technocracy gradually lost its institutional basis. Since then, slowly and incompletely, it has given way to an entrepreneurial regime. Most composers today are suspended in between.

They’re also suspended between two sets of institutions—the old ones by which they were formed and failed, and new ones they’ve helped to build. On one side are the orchestras, opera houses, and universities; on the other, the constellation of smaller ensembles, venues, and nonprofits that form what is called the “new music world.” Their relationship, as critics like Alex Ross and Allan Kozinn have described it, resembles a Gladwellian retelling of David and Goliath: young go-getters build agile startups, bringing innovation to a hidebound industry. Classical music is a museum culture, static and unchanging. New music is its dynamic opposite.

In reality, as my own education illustrates, the classical music world has long been preparing composers for the entrepreneurial role they perform today; and those who excel in it are often funneled back there through fellowships, orchestral residencies, and academic posts. Their relationship is less a David-and-Goliath battle than a dance of codependency. The steps go like this: the composer, who has accrued reputational capital on the open market, exchanges some of it for an ever-dwindling share of institutional security. The institution in exchange acquires not so much her music or her services as a teacher—though these come in the bargain—as a stake in her brand. Its intentions may be cynical (investing in its reputation) or idealistic (investing in the future). But it’s making an investment either way. The composer is thus conceived by others, and increasingly conceives herself, as a form of human capital—the “entrepreneur of the self,” who is salesman and product in one.

Composers, like many people, perform this role in their lives. Unlike most people, we also perform it in our music. New music reflects the forces that have come to shape and constrain us with the rise of neoliberalism; tracing its history can help to make those forces audible.

For Whom the Can Tolls

One way to understand this history is by imagining two concerts. In the first, a tweed-clad string quartet is playing something dissonant, abstract, and ferociously complex in a university auditorium. The event might or might not be subsidized by the CIA. In the second, a mixed ensemble, including percussion and probably an electric guitar, is playing something rhythmic and easy to listen to, in a Brooklyn club founded by an investment banker. The first event is a paradigmatic new music concert around midcentury; the second is a comparable show from fifty or sixty years later. Between them lies a fundamental shift in the music’s conditions of patronage and its dominant aesthetics.

Many fin-de-siècle thinkers maintained that genius was male; that it was German; and that it was the only thing worth having.

In Industry: Bang on a Can and New Music in the Marketplace, the musicologist and Times contributor William Robin charts the transition between these two regimes. His dissertation, A Scene Without a Name, was a study of the Brooklyn “indie classical” movement, coupling a sympathetic ethnography of the scene with a cold-eyed dissection of its self-image. Industry, a kind of prequel, traces the roots of today’s new music world to the Reagan-era defunding of the arts, exploring how composers and institutions remade themselves in response.

At the heart of Robin’s account is Bang on a Can, a collective founded in 1987 by the composers Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang. Their story has the aspect of a picaresque novel. Three young upstarts are cast into the fast-shifting composition world of the eighties, where artistic fortunes are being lost and made. From a hardscrabble beginning putting on marathon concerts in downtown galleries, they rise inexorably, marrying into the bourgeoisie (NYU) and the old aristocracy (Yale, Lincoln Center). They march off to war and come home bearing the spoils (two Pulitzers, an Oscar nomination, a grant from Philip Morris). They even climb the ranks in a borrowed uniform: fresh out of an orchestral fellowship, Lang sheds his suit and tie for a backward baseball cap and starts styling himself as Scourge of the Establishment. There’s a hint of Steve Jobs in the gesture.

For that matter, Bang on a Can’s early promotional materials recall the Apple 1984 ad: same disruptive pose, grungy industrial aesthetic, and imagery of people smashing things with hammers. On the poster for the group’s 1987 marathon concert, somebody swings one toward a can, across whose base is written a grateful list of funders, including American Savings Bank, Chemical Bank, and New York Telephone.

The three composers’ music from this period expresses the same spirit of pseudo-rebellion. Industry takes its title from a 1992 piece by Gordon, in which an innocuous cello line is passed through progressive layers of distortion, until it takes on the belligerent swagger of a hair metal solo. Wolfe’s Lick (1994) begins with a series of thwacking chords on electric guitar, which give way to propulsive, drum-heavy motor rhythms, sometimes proceeding at multiple speeds at once. These pieces combined the thrill of transgression with the comfort of familiarity. Wolfe, Lang, and Gordon had set out to win over a particular kind of audience—arty and upwardly mobile, proud of its anti-establishment credentials but more comfortable in post-Reagan America than it cared to admit. They succeeded, in part, by reflecting this audience’s self-image back at it.

Today they are elder statesmen, pillars of the new music establishment and generous mentors to the musicians who’ve come after them. But before aging into this role, they transformed our idea of what it means for composers to be young. Most successful new music organizations since have followed Bang on a Can’s playbook, combining disruptive rhetoric with slick advertising, and assiduously cultivating nonprofits and wealthy donors. There’s nothing new about artists espousing progress while courting power; what is new is that it no longer registers as hypocrisy. Since the eighties, embracing the market has come to seem the genuinely progressive stance. This can partly be put down to new music’s particular history—to the traditionalism of the classical establishment or the decay of modernism. But ultimately, it’s an expression of our era’s heroic ideal, the capitalist revolutionary, whose artistic corollary, in new music of the past few decades, has been the avant-garde entrepreneur.

This role entails a particular aesthetic posture, expressed chiefly in an attitude toward style. Recent composers and critics have thought of style and genre mostly in negative terms, as things to be hybridized or transcended. This attitude—what the British critic Simon Reynolds calls “impurism”—provides the framework through which they understand new music’s radicalism. The indie classical label New Amsterdam Records, for instance, claims to promote “music without walls.” Venues like the New York Times and The New Yorker label so many composers “uncategorizable” that it’s become a category of its own. New music is always transcending old divisions, whether between modern and postmodern, concert hall and dance club, or elite and popular. (You start to wonder how it keeps finding so many walls to knock down.) While this idea of transgression seems like common sense today, it’s another product of Bang on a Can’s historical moment.

Not I, Robot

Any new avant-garde has to confront the old ones, in spirit if not directly. The musical landscape that Bang on a Can set out to conquer was dominated by two, their opposition projected onto the geography of Manhattan. “Uptown” music was associated with the old Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center on 125th Street and the formidably complex international style known as serialism; its senior figure was Milton Babbitt, a brilliant composer and theorist who secured composition’s place in the postwar academy. Serialism had its roots in the twelve-tone method of Arnold Schoenberg, a way of arranging pitches into unique orderings (or “series”) from which entire pieces of music would be derived. Postwar modernists like Babbitt and Boulez, or Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany, extended this into a comprehensive system for organizing pitch, rhythm, and even timbre. In its hierarchical complexity, high modernism appeared to be the musical embodiment of the technocratic order that supported it.

Bang on a Can’s early promotional materials recall the Apple 1984 ad: same disruptive pose, grungy industrial aesthetic, and imagery of people smashing things with hammers.

“Downtown” was the music of the bohemian counterculture. Taking its name from the Soho lofts frequented by John Cage’s artistic descendants, it began as a musical Salon des Refusés, antagonistic to both the classical and academic establishments; it grew to encompass everything from minimalism to free improvisation and performance art. Downtown was epitomized, early on, by the puckish aggression of La Monte Young, whose 1960 Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 instructs the performer to feed a piano a bale of hay. By the eighties, it had become respectable, or at least bankable, producing crossover celebrities like Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and Laurie Anderson. A host of moralized dichotomies—freedom and order, individuality and conformity, heart and head—were projected onto the rivalry between the two musical camps. (Attempts were also made to conjure up a “Midtown” school, after the neoromantic composers featured at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Like most real estate portmanteaus, the term never caught on.)

That rivalry lay in the background of one of Bang on a Can’s early concerts, which featured works by both Babbitt and Reich on a single program. Lang, Wolfe, and Gordon attached great significance to the event, and it serves as an origin myth of sorts for their group. But in William Robin’s keen reading, the concert was not quite the conciliatory gesture it appeared to be. Both Babbitt and Reich were represented by early, abrasive pieces, very different from the kind of music they were then writing. The programming emphasized their common ground as erstwhile avant-gardists, while implicitly rebuking their later work as compromised. The effect was to remake both composers in Lang’s self-image.

This set the terms on which Bang on a Can’s own music was received. Critics came to see Lang, Wolfe, and Gordon as transcending uptown and downtown styles—and implicitly, the conflicting cultures for which they stood—in a higher, more genuinely avant-garde synthesis. But this was a PR coup more than anything else. The three composers were essentially downtowners dissatisfied with their milieu; they’d never owed much to uptown, and as its importance faded, they lost interest in claiming its inheritance. In any case, style isn’t something you transcend. It’s the audible side of a musical tradition—a shifting set of shared conventions that binds artists to their audience and expresses the values of a particular community or class. To say that new music transcends style is to say that its values are universal. But they have their history, like anything else.

The confrontation between uptown and downtown is a crucial chapter in music history. But this is less because of what set them apart than what they had in common. Their adherents shared a class and educational background; they claimed much of the same musical inheritance. More to the point, downtown’s branch of the counterculture was hardly opposed to the technocracy. Cage and his cohort drew artistic inspiration from theorists like Norbert Wiener and R. Buckminster Fuller, adopting the cybernetic outlook taken up by military-industrial researchers a generation before. Marrying proto–New Age and systems thinking, they anticipated the techno-utopianism of Silicon Valley. Already by midcentury, as the historian Fred Turner has noted, Cage was conceiving of the artwork as a “[system] of pattern and randomness, and thus . . . of information”—a kind of algorithm.

Seen from this perspective, the two avant-gardes converged, through very different routes, on a common goal: an aesthetics of radical depersonalization. It could be reached through subjecting musical materials to totalizing systematic control (as in Boulez’s Structures) or randomizing them by consulting the I Ching (as in Cage’s Music of Changes). Both methods purged music of traditional markers of subjectivity, the expressive devices and melodic tropes of what Boulez called “the most ostentatious and obsolete romanticism.” The high modernists believed they had turned music into a scientific discipline; Cage that he’d set it free in a Zen-like negation of the ego. But their objective was the same. The self was to be stripped from music, leaving in its place a catastrophic purity.

No composers better demonstrated this convergence than Babbitt and Reich. This is particularly clear if we look at their central works of the sixties, rather than the eccentric ones that were performed at the Bang on a Can concert. In Babbitt’s Philomel (1964), for soprano and tape, a young woman flees her rapist, the king of Thrace, through a dark forest. As she runs, the boundary between her self and her natural surroundings is blurred, until at last she is transformed into a nightingale. The archaic myth is retold through hypermodern means: no sooner does the soprano sing a syllable than it is snatched from her mouth by the tape—recorded, warped, and transformed, then echoed back to her as uncanny birdsong. In the final moments of the piece, the singer ascends to a sustained high note. Then this operatic cry abruptly cuts off, merging into its birdlike echo. As Philomel vanishes into the nightingale, the singer’s voice vanishes into the tape.

In Reich’s Come Out (1966), we hear a male voice, not singing but speaking. This is a recording of Daniel Hamm, one of the Harlem Six, describing the aftermath of his beating by the police: “I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” Then a fragment of this sentence, the last five words, begins to repeat over and over. It soon becomes evident that we’re hearing not one voice, but two: the looped fragment is being played back on separate tapes, moving at infinitesimally different speeds. As the piece continues, they move ever farther apart, separating into further channels, words sliding out of intelligibility until all that remains is a fluctuating mesh of abstract sound. In his manifesto “Music as a Gradual Process,” Reich compares this technique to “placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching . . . the waves gradually bury them.”

For all their stylistic differences, these pieces express a common vision of transcendence through mechanization—a kind of cybernetic sublime. New Left activists of the period spoke with alarm of “the machine”: their symbol for the instrumental reasoning of corporations and the state, which threatened to reduce human beings to anonymous punch cards. Here, their technological nightmare appears as the fulfillment of an old Romantic dream. Beginning in scenes of political violence, both pieces proceed through abstraction to mysticism, as the victims are erased by impersonal forces. This fascination with anonymity, as characteristic of the period as its supposed individualism, is a keynote of both composers’ work at the time. If Babbitt, born in 1916, captured what the machine then signified, then Reich, twenty years his junior, anticipated what it has come to mean for us.

Minimal Moralia

This comparison would have surprised as well as offended them. Minimalism is usually seen as an oedipal rebellion against high modernism: smooth where it was discordant; repetitive where it was unpredictable. But they began in the same ascetic spirit. The music Reich and Glass wrote in the late sixties and early seventies was a kind of austere negation, sweeping away old colors, forms, and gestures, like a wrecking ball clearing the ground for future construction. In this, they were following the lead of the postwar European modernists, for whom the old tradition seemed a bourgeois relic at best, and at worst, actively implicated in the rise of fascism. For music to regain its purity, the modernists thought, it had to be rebuilt aus Null—“from nothing.” And so it was, if not in the way they expected.

If the confrontation between uptown and downtown is a crucial chapter in music history, this is less because of what set them apart than what they had in common.

At the heart of the classical tradition are two particular qualities, which can be heard most clearly in the work of Beethoven and his successors. First, their music feels, somehow, deep: layers of melody and texture are built up, superimposed, and woven into elaborate contrapuntal combinations. Second, it seems to be moving somewhere, often with indecent haste. Harmonic tension is accumulated and released over long stretches of time; melodic ideas collide with each other, break down, and are transformed, often arriving at some long-prepared transformation of minor to major, dissonance to consonance, darkness to light. Together these two qualities—depth and teleology—captured the emerging subjectivity of nineteenth-century Europeans, their experience of themselves as individuals with a complex interiority and a sense of personal agency.

In early minimalism, these qualities are systematically exorcised. Reich’s Come Out and Drumming, or Glass’s Music in Twelve Parts, give the impression of unfolding on a single plane: many layers are pared down to one; contrasts of texture, timbre, and volume are stripped away. All that remains is the mesmeric surface, flat and impenetrable as a Warhol icon. Large-scale teleology is also eliminated. Harmonic tension is minimized, local melodic contrast disposed of, and dramatic conflict replaced by a seemingly deterministic process. Reich’s music in particular conveys the illusion of arising spontaneously: new ideas emerge seamlessly from the flow; the forms rise steadily into the stratosphere (Drumming) or looping back on themselves in a circle (Music for Eighteen Musicians).

What unfolds inside that circle, Reich wrote in “Music as a Gradual Process,” is “a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outward toward it.” It’s easy to see what made the ritual impersonal: you and I have goals; it does not. But what made it seem liberating? If music captures our sense of ourselves, then it also bears the imprint of the powers that have formed us. The forward drive of Beethoven or Wagner could evoke individual agency as well as its seeming opposite—a sense of being caught up in the tide of history. It makes sense, then, that minimalism arose when history was in decline, and triumphed when it was declared dead.

Minimalism’s enemies and its friends have recognized its affinity with the forms of capitalist culture. Early opponents compared it to midcentury advertising in its repetition. Minimalism’s most perceptive scholar, Robert Fink, presented it as an immanent critique of advertising’s logic, inoculating us through overexposure. But the analogy with advertising doesn’t quite capture the music’s unsettling elegance. An avant-garde looks toward the future, not the present. Maybe, then, minimalism was concerned with something still elusive, an ideal not fully formed, which would become for us the hungry god that history had been for Beethoven.

One of the most striking things about this music, when looked back on from the future it anticipated, is how it combines the machinelike and the sacred. Reich’s forms are metaphors of mystic timelessness: God’s eternal present; the undying cycle of nature. But they are enacted through mechanistic means, tape loops meshing and interlocking like the gears of a giant clock. The human voice disappears into those gears at the end of Come Out, subsumed by a faceless, spontaneous order—transformed from a he or a she or a you or a me to an it.

Here the peculiar sublimity of Reich’s machine comes into focus. For a long time, the artists of the avant-garde had watched it growing on the horizon: an impersonal system of information, a smooth and rational process, dissolving all values, rendering all things fungible, transforming all people into means to an end. Then it drew closer, filling the whole sky, and they saw that it was the market.

Musical Memorabilia

We still live in the world the avant-garde predicted. Most of the composers who’ve been held up as classical music’s future, from Bang on a Can to the indie classical set, are minimalism’s heirs in one way or another. They don’t reflect the whole field, but they seem to represent the zeitgeist to critics, who have an ear for these things. Something like minimalism’s flattened sensibility can be heard not only in genres it directly influenced, like electronica and film music, but in certain strands of European modernism and even mainstream orchestral music. A once-oppositional aesthetic has become common sense.

One of the most striking things about new music is how it combines the machinelike and the sacred.

Its meaning has changed in the process. The best minimalist music had a critical edge; it laid the machine bare. That edge persisted fitfully in works of the eighties, like Reich’s Different Trains or Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi. Since then, composers have decked the machine in all the trappings of individuality, overlaying flat stasis with driving rhythmic energy, melancholy lyricism, and gestures of stylistic transgression. You can hear a version of this sensibility on the aptly named Beautiful Mechanical, a 2011 album featuring works by several indie classical composers. The title track, by Son Lux, sets a series of bouncy interlocking rhythms spinning in place, framed by mechanized birdcalls. Many of the other tracks follow the same pattern, assembling sonic images around a clockwork core.

This shift in attitude is already evident in David Lang’s 1993 self-portrait, Cheating, Lying, Stealing, the work that maybe best translates Bang on a Can’s brand identity into sound. Lang wrote that he wanted the piece to be “about something disreputable.” Most composers, he said, “are trying to tell you something that they are proud of. Here’s this big gushing melody, see how emotional I am. Or, here’s this abstract hard-to-figure-out piece, see how complicated I am, see my really big brain . . . What would it be like if composers based pieces on what they thought was wrong with them?” The ensemble—a cello and piano, coupled with raucous bass clarinet and rock-inflected percussion—opens the piece with a striking motif, played first quietly then loudly, its statements separated by silence. On repetition, it solidifies into a gritty bass clarinet riff, which ricochets between percussive low notes and piercing high ones, fusing with the industrial clang of a brake drum into a propulsive figure. This is then hammered out again and again, later intensified by the entry of a drum set and high, wailing cello.

The piece has a ruthless avant-garde simplicity, its palette pared down to stark primary colors. Hesitation or ambiguity, anything that might qualify the impression, is excluded. The effect is to transform Lang’s transgressive pose into a vivid sonic image—driven home by emphatic repetition, varied enough to hold your attention, until it’s stamped indelibly in your memory, like a brand. The price of this memorability is the incapacity for change. The performance of restless dynamism masks a lethal rigidity. These are the two faces of the entrepreneur of the self: the energetic salesman and the dead product he brings to market.

In its own way, the piece captures the defining predicament of composers today. A recent New York Times profile of the Black composer Tyshawn Sorey described a concert “for a group of Columbia donors in East Harlem, where one guest told Sorey he liked his Afro and suggested that he would look even better if he wore a dashiki or kente cloth and did the ‘Black thing’ onstage.” The new music world greeted this with indignation, failing to recognize its own reflection. The donor asked Sorey to perform his identity, or rather a caricature of it, onstage. We ask composers to perform their identity in their music—so why not treat race as one more personal quality to be packaged and sold?

Maybe it’s been sold already, and by the wrong people. In recent years, the post-stylistic aesthetic has come to be viewed less as progressive than predatory, with composers like Caroline Shaw and Ted Hearne charged with cultural appropriation. In a much-publicized 2019 Twitter thread, the Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq excoriated Shaw for “siphoning [Inuit music] into white throats and profiteering” in her a cappella composition Partita for 8 Voices, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2013. A common defense is that culture isn’t a finite resource, that it wants to be free. But anyone who’s had a favorite song ruined by an advertisement or played to death on the radio knows this isn’t exactly true. The same thing can happen with a style. The evocation of New Orleans Jazz in Hearne’s Katrina Ballads relies, for its effect, on a tacit understanding between the composer and his liberal audience: both associate the tradition with a community to which they don’t belong. Its sound can be powerfully evocative, but for them it has become a symbol, incapable of change—which means, as a tradition, dead. Critics of appropriation might reject this aesthetic. But they seem to accept its underlying logic, which is that style is a resource to be monetized.

If that remains the case, a turnover in who makes new music may do little to change its underlying character. But aesthetically, at least, some cracks are visible in the facade. Some of the most striking European works since the turn of the millennium begin in a kind of Reichean stasis, which they then attempt to escape. Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee (2008) moves backward through thickets of increasing dissonance into a childlike innocence, suggesting the gradual return of memory. Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin and Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain, both from 2000, struggle toward moments of tragic release or final synthesis. Maybe these attempts fail: in the end, both in vain and L’Amour de loin collapse back into their openings, like a nightmare of eternal recurrence. Yet they represent efforts to move beyond the prevailing inertia.

None of these composers are going to save us. Not because they’re all nearing seventy, and not because new music’s face is changing, but because more saviors are not what we need. Like the classical music world that formed us, we composers are held motionless: classical music by its nostalgic fantasies, and we by our amnesia. To break free, we will need to recover a living past and imagine a common future. This is unlikely to happen soon. But even a remote destination can show you which way to move. Without that, new music will stay trapped where it is—glittering and immobile, frozen by the Midas touch.