Over at Usage and Continuation, composer Liam Flenady has been reflecting with his usual incisiveness upon his sojourn at Darmstadt, where a spate of works under the “New Conceptualist” moniker were garnering general disapproval. In Flenady’s words:
This movement seems to think music can be rescued by spectacle (going by the name, here, of ‘concept’ or even ‘Gehalt’). In general I found these pieces devoid of much musical interest or political worth. Where ‘politics’ has entered it has been negative and simplistic and centred on what could be called ‘middle class alienation’ (usually via technology). seeking to repoliticise music through spectacle sound decidedly worthless.
I can’t comment on the works myself, having not been there, but how much these works depart from previous outbursts of situationism, “stage-action,” or a good deal of the music theatre in Europe over the past forty years remains to be seen. I understand the movement received an implicit critique from Lachenmann during his lecture as a regression to musical “idiocy.” A discussion panel “New Conceptualism: A Dead End or a Way Out?” from 4 August can be streamed here. Flenady’s response sums up my own doubts:
Firstly, while I agree with Small that the essence of music is performance (and therefore participation), and that music needs to go beyond its alienated concert-hall-existence to deal with politics and to set bodies in motion, the essence of modern art music as alienated cannot be wished away. Moreover, Adorno was quite right, music must subtract itself as far as possible to gain some degree of truth. Attempts to go beyond art music’s abstraction in the modern context will more often than not lapse into semblance and spectacle – all the more insidious in that it feigns to be reappropriating its outside.
So I’m further convinced of the necessity of abstract chamber music.