Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, made an interesting statement about the development of musical language in his review (Deep Song, September 1) of Osvaldo Golijov's new opera Ainadamar, premiered at Tanglewood this summer. In the last paragraph of the article, he wrote about the contrasting receptions the audience gave to Golijov's work and to Robert Zuidam's Rage d'Amours, which relied on "hoary devices of twentieth-century technique":
The trouble with having two premieres side by side is that the evening inevitably became something of a popularity contest. Zuidam received respectful applause; Golijov won a shouting, stomping ovation. No doubt a few old-school Tanglewood cerebralists went away complaining that Golijov had pandered to the audience. If so, they were pandering to their teaching assistants. The composer is triumphing not because he uses an accessible language—anyone can string together superficially pleasing chords—but because he speaks it with dire conviction. His sincerity is avant-garde.This is nothing new, of course. Charges of pandering to the audience have been directed against many composers who returned to some form of more traditional musical language, often coupled with accusations of commercialism. As if how much money Philip Glass makes has anything to do with whether his music is interesting. However, to say that Golijov's "accessible language" has nothing to do with his success is also not sincere. I have been teaching atonal music to students for several years, and no matter how much I force them to learn about how and why some composers created the sounds they did, some students (and their parents) are just never going to like them. This also has something to do with the number of performances received by works of John Corigliano versus those of Andrew Lloyd Webber. If music history (and Nicolas Slonimsky, in particular) has taught us anything it is that popular acclaim and historical relevance certainly do not always coincide.