'There are many dangers which hedge round the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks; critics who are already trying to document today for tomorrow, to be the first to find the correct pigeon-hole definition. These people are dangerous - not because they are necessarily of any importance in themselves, but because they may make the composer, above all the young composer, self-conscious, and instead of writing his own music, music which springs naturally from his gift and personality, he may be frightened into writing pretentious nonsense or deliberate obscurity. He may find himself writing more and more for machines, in conditions dictated by machines, and not by humanity: or of course he may end by creating grandiose clap-trap when his real talent is for dance tunes or children's piano pieces.' From Benjamin Britten's 1964 acceptance speech for the first Aspen Award.
You are not going to believe this but the photo really is of Maestro Krio, a Sony robot who conducted a Japanese student orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in 2004. I understand the critics found his rhythms rather mechanical. So he didn't get a Baltimore booking, but a Naxos contract is rumoured. Follow this link for the story in Italian (see first comment below for a rough machine translation). Photo credit Rai.it
Now playing: György Kurtág's Musik für Streichinstrumente performed by the Keller Quartet on ECM. Both Officium breve and the Twelve Microludes extend the concept of the quartet beyond Britten's three masterpieces for the genre. This is music which springs naturally from Kurtág's own gift and personality. The only machines involved are the recording equipment, and these works are about as far from grandiose clap-trap as you can get. (Shame though about ECM's design, or should that be non-design? for the CD inlay. It looks like a black and white blur in the image above because it is a black and white blur. I am sure Britten would have had some thoughts on it.)
Britten's On Receiving the First Aspen Award speech was published by Faber, ISBN 071100236.
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Baltimore Symphony chief quits and Music will rise from the wreckage.