I too find Tan Dun's work empty, but then that's what I think of most
minimalism. And I too have wondered, along with Karl Miller, if the
acceptance of Tan Dun is merely a reaction to the ugly music of the mid-
to late 20th century. It has probably always been true that music
composed at the "wrong time" ends up in the dumpster or at least in
a box in the attic. Fashion is fashion; it has never been based on
"substance" or intrinsic worth. Tan Dun is currently fashionable.
Who knows what will be next?
I don't think Karl is showing his age by thinking "they just don't
make them like they used to." Of course they don't. I used to think
that this represented a significant lowering of the bar, but now I'm
not so sure. It may be that the bar has simply moved someplace else.
I think it has everything to do with what the concert audience is looking
for. Many of us in our younger days were thrilled by the "new" music
of Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostakovitch, Britten and a host of other composers
who offered athletic rhythms, memorable lyric lines presented in exciting
new harmonic garb, clear-cut material developed with a logic we could
follow, and so forth. There are still composers who produce music based
on these principles of what guys my age call "substance," but they are
not the people Alex Ross and Alan Rich write about. In any case, the
qualities I find attractive in music are apparently not the qualities
that younger audiences care about. And so I doubt that in another
generation music lovers will look back with longing to the Tan Dun era.
By that time it will be something else. And by that time, I'll be out
David Lamb in Seattle
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