Jacob Druckman's Horizons

By: 
David Lang
Saturday, January 1, 2000
Jacob Druckman's Horizons
an article for an unpublished Druckman memorial edition of Contemporary Music Review, (2000), Harold Meltzer, editor.
 
"What we are celebrating with this festival is all the new music."
 
So wrote Jacob Druckman in the program booklet for "Horizons '84, The New Romanticism - A Broader View," the second festival of three that Druckman curated for the New York Philharmonic in 1983, 1984 and 1986.  The statement is not totally true - the Horizons Festivals were never supposed to be about all the new music.  They were originally intended to be about one particular kind of music, or, rather, one new way of thinking about music for the orchestra.  Jacob called this new way of thinking "The New Romanticism."
 
The Horizons Festivals were an outgrowth of the participation of the New York Philharmonic in Meet the Composer's revolutionary Orchestra Residencies Program.  Founded by John Duffy in 1982, with considerable assistance from Howard Klein of the Rockefeller Foundation, Len Fleischer at Exxon and Ezra Laderman at the National Endowment for the Arts, the Orchestra Residencies Program was created to change the way the major orchestras confronted the music of our time. 
 
Druckman's long-standing relationship with the New York Philharmonic made them natural residency partners.  Both Druckman and the Philharmonic had enough stature individually to guarantee that whatever programs or projects they undertook would stir debate around the world.  Jacob's creation of the Horizons Festival, with the powerful support of Albert Webster, the Philharmonic's Managing Director, was an attempt to capitalize on that stature and change the perception of composers among audiences, orchestras, critics and themselves.
 
In his note in the program for the first festival - "Horizons '83, Music Since 1968: A New Romanticism?" - Druckman posited that in the mid-1960s a new "Dionysian" attitude emerged among composers, in contrast to the "Apollonian" attitude of the post-Webern composers of the 50s. 
 
"During the mid-1960s the tide began to change.  Even though new works and new ideas continue to pour out at a break-neck speed, we can sense a gradual change of focus, of spirituality and of goals.
 
"No matter how varied the surface of these musics are, one can discern a steady re-emergence of those Dionysian qualities: sensuality, mystery, nostalgia, ecstasy, transcendency.  Whether this new music will be called "Neo-Romanticism" or some other term is yet to be seen, but whatever its name, it is this new music which is the subject of our festival."
 
The "New Romanticism" represented to Druckman not so much any particular sound or style but a general attitude, a "Dionysian" way of re-imagining how composers could approach their listeners and their performers.
 
In fact, the change from the Apollonian 1950s to the Dionysian 1960s was a transformation that had occurred within Druckman himself, and within many of his colleagues.  Many composers who had been raised on the ascetic rigors of European modernism were by the mid-60s beginning to see the limitations of their asceticism.  Their faith in European modernism had separated them from traditional orchestras and audiences alike;  most shocking was the suspicion that by accepting the aesthetics of post-war modernism they had possibly become distanced from the emotive power of classical music.  Since the history of Western music can be interpreted as a history of emotive intentions these composers began to suspect that they might become distanced from nothing less than the history of classical music itself.
 
It was an intention of many post-war post-Webern composers to sever their ties to music's emotive powers, replacing them with something deliberately less subjective and more scientific.  "Every composer outside the serial experiments has been useless" writes Boulez in his famous essay "Schoenberg is Dead."  It was exciting to be a young composer in the 1950s.  It was a time for brashness, for new scientific thought unfettered by tradition, for severing all ties to the music and musicians of the past.  Most of all, creating something new out of the ashes of World War II was a job only for the young:  if most of music's past is useless there is no benefit to being old.
 
The problem for the music world with this thinking was that it seemed to make inevitable a collision between composers and the institutions that perform the music of the past, especially orchestras.  Young European modernists still wrote music for orchestra in the fifties, often with impressive results.  Even such fifties masterworks as Stockhausen's Gruppen and Xenakis' Metastaseis; however, were at odds with the practical and rehearsal needs of the orchestras and the emotional needs of the general orchestral listener and performer.  New specialized institutions, such as the Darmstadt and Donaueschingen Festivals, were created for the benefit of the new music, but it is not surprising that some less ideological young composers would begin to develop musically in ways that would look back at the institutions of the musical mainstream.
 
Jacob Druckman was one such composer.  He was immersed equally in the discipline and thinking of modernism, the sensual orchestral pleasures of Ravel and the elemental carnality of the Italian Baroque.  These competing impulses made him an uneasy fit into the mold of the international avant-garde.  The 1960s for Druckman became a period of experimental combination; in the mid-1960s, for example, in such works as the first Animus pieces, he was already combining modernist instrumental techniques with theatricality, with movement, with quotations from the past and with noise. 
 
The composition from the sixties that affected him most deeply, however, was by another accidental modernist.  In 1968 Luciano Berio wrote Sinfonia, demonstrating to the world how the language of modernism could be adapted for the larger orchestral public.Sinfonia had been commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, and its presence as the centerpiece of the first Horizons Festival demonstrates the impact Jacob felt this work had on the musical thinking of its time.  It is no coincidence that Jacob identified 1968 as the opening date for a new way of thinking about the orchestra. 
 
Jacob Druckman and Luciano Berio are only two of many composers of their generation who were struggling with the idea of how to move their music back to the orchestral mainstream.  One thing that is interesting about the line-up for Horizons 83 is to see just how many composers of roughly the same age are represented, each in his or her own way trying to bridge the same gap between composer and audience.  There are the composers adapting modernism to the needs of the orchestra, such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Toru Takemitsu, Barbara Kolb and Bernard Rands.  There are the composers quoting older musics, such as David Del Tredici, George Rochberg, Lukas Foss, and to some extent John Adams.  These and many of the other represented composers were all basically of the same generation (except for Adams), with similar backgrounds, asking similar questions, coming up with similar answers.
 
As much as the title of the festival it was the similarity of the composers that helped to give Horizons ‘83 the feel of a manifesto.  It was almost as if these composers were being identified as a "silent majority," a counter-revolution, a backlash against the international avant-garde.  Putting these composers together on one festival seemed confrontational and it made Horizons ‘83 one of the most debated and thought-provoking musical events in recent New York history. 
 
Horizons ‘83 will also, of course, be remembered for a piece that wasn't even really performed.  Jacob, as a dedicated teacher at Yale and elsewhere, wanted very much to include young composers in this festival and he invited two young composers to participate in an open rehearsal with the Philharmonic.  The sight of the diminutive future Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Kernis speaking the truth quietly but firmly to Zubin Mehta captivated the audience and became the story of the festival in the national and international press.
 
The manifesto quality of the first festival invited criticism from some sectors of the music world.  As happens in the programming of any concert or series, the composers not included made their unhappinesses known.  Jacob became aware of two general criticisms.  First, composers from the branch of contemporary music "New Romanticism" was a backlash against complained to Jacob that they felt unfairly excluded.  Second, composers who were sympathetic to new musical directions but whose music was not aimed at the orchestra also felt excluded.  In an indirect way one can see from these complaints the place in the musical imagination occupied by the first Horizons Festival - composers opposed to "New Romanticism" clamored for participation on a festival dedicated to it, while composers who didn't write for orchestra hoped for sponsorship from the New York Philharmonic.
 
With the second festival Jacob tried to answer these concerns, while building on the success of the first.  "Horizons '84, The New Romanticism - A Broader View" included two mini-festivals, one dedicated to composer/performers entitled "The New Virtuosity" and one dedicated to new music for and with computers, curated by Roger Reynolds and Charles Wuorinen.  Although the presence of these festivals-within-the-festival did present "A Broader View" of new music they also did tend to dilute that part of the Horizons Festival that seemed to represent Druckman's own personal compositional tastes.  Regardless of the second festival's many musical virtues it is much more difficult to look at the programming and discern a powerful point of view, which was undoubtedly Druckman's idea.  It is a program that shows more of Druckman's imaginative and wide-ranging generosity than of his own compositional opinions, and it is perhaps significant that Druckman's own music was not programmed on the second festival.
 
There was still in the second Horizons Festival a large body of work that continued the polemic of the first.  "New Romanticism" was represented by major orchestral works of Henze, Penderecki, Crumb, Knussen and others.  Certain aspects of "New Romanticism" also did manage to inform several of the works on the mini-festivals, such as the dramatic vocal works of Diamanda Galas and Joan La Barbara, and, most notably, in the poetic computer music of Michael McNabb and John Chowning.  The festival was still very successful and kept the issue of "New Romanticism" before the musical and compositional public.
 
I have an intimate, if anecdotal, view of the entire series of Horizons Festivals.  I am one of many people who saw every concert of all three festivals.  I went to many rehearsals and attended almost every panel.  I was a student of Jacob's during his planning for Horizons '83.  I turned pages for Emanuel Ax in Horizons '84.  The festival with which I had the most intimate knowledge, however, was the third.  I was the Revson Fellow at the New York Philharmonic for the season 1985-6, which meant I was Jacob's assistant at the Philharmonic for the year.  Knowing that there would be a Horizons Festival in the summer of 1986 the Revson committee -  Druckman, Albert Webster and John Duffy - gave me the job, (I think), because of my experience producing concerts in college, graduate school and in the real world.  Most of my job was dedicated to working out all sorts of basic details for the festival: contacting composers and publishers, answering mail, scouring union rules, reviewing scores.  (Scott Lindroth had been the first Revson Fellow in 1984-5, but there was no festival that season.) 
 
After the tremendous rhetorical success of the first two festivals, (and after taking the year off), Jacob was ready to broaden the discussion from "The New Romanticism" to composers who were expanding music in other ways.  Perhaps due to his initial thinking about an opera based on Medea he had the idea of calling a festival "Music as Theater."  His idea was to make a festival dedicated to composers who recognize that live performance is essentially a theatrical experience.  This festival would encompass all aspects of musical theatricality, from fully staged musical works to concert operas to works with unusual or dramatic physical set-ups to works with some sort of visually inspired program.  Like the first two Horizons Festivals it was a series organized around a concept that sorted music not ideologically but by its intention to communicate with a larger audience.
 
Transforming Avery Fisher Hall into a theater, the festival presented fully staged theatrical works by Paul Dresher and Mauricio Kagel, concert works with a heavy theatrical component by Stockhausen and Takemitsu, a staged version of concert music by Ligeti.  It presented concert works with strong visual-related imagination by Bernard Rands, Poul Ruders and Morton Feldman, whose Coptic Light was commissioned specifically for the festival.  Druckman's own piece Lamia was an important stop on his journey toward thinking about opera.  Music with dance, music with movement, the suite from John Corigliano's soundtrack to the movie Altered States - these pieces taken together represent once again Jacob's dedication to music that reaches out, that tempers abstraction with a concern for the emotional needs of the general listener and performer. 
 
In its purest form, programming concerts can be seen as an effort by a composer to create the world he or she would like to live in.  It is a utopian action, creating contexts and communities, raising intellectual issues, phrasing debates.  Programming is a very personal, very intimate activity; sometimes letting people know what music you like is more powerful than letting people hear the music you write yourself.  I have always thought the Horizons Festival represented Druckman's purest idea of just where in the compositional world he felt he belonged.  The vision of these festivals - their ideas, their openness and scope, their personality - says as much about the man as any music he wrote.