coffee with samuel vriezen in amsterdam

I first met the composer Samuel Vriezen in NYC several years ago when both of us were having pieces performed as part of the first Sequenza 21 concert. I knew of his music and got more interested in his work after meeting him. Samuel writes music that incorporates chance elements, although in a way that gives the performers more freedom yet still comes out in a fairly controlled fashion (ie, he doesn’t write graphic scores but carefully notated ones). I really like his piece 20 worlds, and Samuel was nice enough to send me the score in hard copy some time ago.

Anyway, I’m in Amsterdam for work and had the opportunity to get together with Samuel yesterday over coffee. Amsterdam has a very good new music scene, with many ensembles that perform lots of music by composers who are still alive and who are not very well known. There are so many new music ensembles there are even rivalries among them.

Contrast that with Philadelphia. I know of only 2-3 new music ensembles in my home town, and while there are some rivalries and politics, the reality is that I probably will never be performed in Philadelphia during my lifetime. Or after. That’s just a fact. Hartford, sure. California, sure. NYC, sure. Europe-probably. But Philadelphia–I’m not losing sleep over it.

Samuel is able to eak out a living as a composer for the most part. That’s not easy anywhere, but especially difficult in the US. We don’t encourage new music performance or composition. Even our dead composers don’t fare well. Sure, some people have managed to enter the mainstream (Glass, Adams, Reich). But that was in part luck and in part because they were part of a convenient narrative about minimalism as a movement, now long dead. La Monte Young, who pretty convincingly started minimalism, will never be part of this mainstream. Some of that is his own choice. But it’s also reality. Same with Charlemagne Palestine, Terry Riley (apart from In C and some of his string quartet music, most of his music remains out of the mainstream), Eliane Radigue, Mary Jane Leach, Phill Niblock and countless others. We don’t really support our new music composers or performers in the states. I’m not saying it’s perfect here in Amsterdam. But it’s exponentially better. Just this week there are several new music concerts here in Amsterdam by composers who are not mainstream (Samuel mentioned Aldo Clementi for one of them). This is just standard operating procedure here.

So I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon.