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Vail Daily

McDermott: All Music was once new

June 3, 2023

The popular National Public Radio (NPR) podcast, “Composers Datebook,” concludes each segment with a reminder I especially love: “All music was once new.” I think about this often when listening to and programming works that are so well-loved and familiar to us today but were shocking or misunderstood when first heard.

The wonderful book, “The Lexicon of Musical Invective” by Nicolas Slonimksy is a treasure trove of bad reviews, such as the description of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as a “hoax,” or his Ninth as “dull and ugly.” Clearly, tastes change, and time is very much on our side in the world of music. It is hard to imagine what it was like to hear those masterworks for the very first time, but even harder to imagine our musical lives without them.

This is why it is so thrilling for us at Bravo! Vail Music Festival to actively commission and premiere works by today’s composers through our Symphonic Commissioning Project, launched last year. Not only can we hear newly composed music for the very first time, but we can also meet these composers on the stage of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater through post-concert discussions. It may be too late to ask Beethoven what he was thinking when he wrote his symphonies, but this summer we can ask our three Symphonic Commissioning Project composers — Angélica Negrón, Anna Clyne, and Nina Shekhar — what inspired their new compositions after our resident orchestras premiere them.

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