Classical music video 3.5

Bonus — you get an extra video today!

Part of the problem with trying to define “classical music” is that musical genres are not so easily delineated. These days, musical genres are mostly created by people who want to sell you music: when you listen to a recording that you like, or attend a concert that you like, people want to sell you more recordings and more concert tickets of music that sounds pretty much exactly like what you just heard. So it is we have increasingly narrow genres, within the boundaries of which all the music sounds pretty much exactly alike.

But there are many composers who stretch the boundaries of musical genres. For example, is Anthony Braxton (b. 1945) a jazz musician? Well, he has recorded on jazz labels, played jazz clubs with some of the great jazz musicians, and is typically identified as belonging in the “free jazz” genre. But Braxton acknowledges a debt to “classical” composer John Cage, and you can see a Youtube video of him lecturing on Henri Messaien and Karheinz Stockhausen, and he has premiered his compositions at “new music” (i.e., contemporary classical music) concerts. So maybe he’s a classical composer?

The lines between jazz and new music are blurry at best, and sometimes the only difference between a jazz composer and a classical composer is that the jazz composer is black and the classical composer is white. Composer Anthony Braxton is black, he’s placed into jazz. Composer Terry Riley, who has worked as a jazz musician, is white, he gets put into classical. Duke Ellington is black, he’s a jazz composer; Gunther Schuller is white, he must be a classical composer. We accept these definitions, and even defend them, but at a certain point they don’t make a lot of sense.

I was hoping to present you with a really good video of Braxton’s music. Unfortunately, there just aren’t any good online videos of his music: only the usual crummy handheld video from someone sitting in the audience, or excerpts from one of his recordings with a static visual of the cover of the CD. But to give you a taste of Braxton’s music, I did find one 20 second clip of his mammoth “Composition No. 19 (For 100 Tubas),” written in 1971 and first performed in 2006. That’s Braxton in the foreground, with the drum major’s baton, conducting:

Classical music video no. 3

Today’s classical music video is of the Bang on a Can All-stars rocking out on Steve Reich’s “2×5” (2008). Steve Reich (b. 1936) started out as a jazz drummer, but soon switched to composing lcassical music. He is best known for his early minimalist compositions. Bang on a Can is a group of composers and musicians who have produced some remarkable performances and compositions in the twenty-five years since they were organized. If you have a chance to attend their 12 hour Bang on a Can Marathon, held each summer in North Adams at Mass MOCA, go — it will change your image of “classical” music forever.

Alas, the videography is boring. On the other hand, it’s fun watching the interaction of the musicians without constant intrusions from the videographer.

By the way, this video proves something I had though impossible: you can have a group of four electric guitar players in which not one is an egomaniac. There are four electric guitars, and two bass guitars, in this video, and every guitarist is an extremely disciplined musician showing very little ego in a very tight band.