Arts & Culture | Cross-Currents | Contemporary | Classical
Though art music since the war tended more often to define itself in opposition to rock and commercial pop music, signs of mutual regard were already emerging in the 1960s. While it is Stockhausen’s face that stands out from the crowd on the front cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it was Berio who returned the compliment that same year on behalf of the avant-garde, with his arrangements of the Lennon-McCartney songs ‘Michelle’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. In American music especially, quotations from rock and pop have crept often surreptitiously into quite alien styles and genres – from James Tenney’s (1934–2006) musique concrète manipulation of Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ in the undemonstratively titled Collage No. 1 (1961) to the music of Michael Torke (b. 1961), whose chamber work The Yellow Pages (1987) develops its ironically disjointed minimalist process from the bass line of a Chaka Khan song.
If some art music composers’ attempts at stylistic imitation have been less than convincing – as with the rap of the character Donny in New Year (1986–88), the last opera of Michael Tippett (1905–98) – concert works by composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948, Requiem, 1985) and Paul McCartney (b. 1942, Liverpool Oratorio, 1991) have, despite initial commercial success, tended to be routine in their handling of traditional choral and orchestral forces. Contemporary art music has periodically captured the imagination of rock music audiences, from the cult success of the 1968 recording of Tavener’s The Whale to the punchy, aggressive post-minimalism of Steve Martland (1959–2013) in England and the composers – David Lang (b. 1957), Julia Wolfe (b. 1958) and Michael Gordon (b. 1956) – associated with the downtown New York Bang-on-a-Can Festival. But what generally remains a clearly demarcated institutional separation between the two kinds of music makes most of these cross-currents ‘strange meetings’ rather than lasting rapprochements. Some have built bridges in other ways: one of the more surprising developments of the 1990s was the emergence of the Rex Foundation, set up to sponsor performances and recordings of complex contemporary scores (of Birtwistle, Carter, Ferneyhough and others) by members of the rock band The Grateful Dead.
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