Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s 1949 essay “The Main Stream of Music” posited an end to the history of music. “At the present day,” Tovey lamented, “all musicians feel more or less at sea,” foreshadowing theorist Leonard Meyer’s 1967 notion of “fluctuating stasis,” an absence of stable canon that Tovey, at least, evidently hoped would be a temporary condition. However, by 2004, experimentalist Alvin Curran’s buoyant 1994 prediction of a New Common Practice “freed of all rules, stylistic conventions, codes, and even ethics” appeared to musicologist Benjamin Piekut in 2004 to amount to no common practice whatsoever--and this is to say nothing of the vast changes in both musical practices and audiences occasioned by immigration, the World Wide Web, and globalization. Now that we’ve been in the new century for a while, we can see that Sir Donald’s eschatological interregnum has been actually rather welcome to many--though by no means all. But will the metaphor of limbo suffice, or have some more purposive tropes or features appeared that already mark the musical condition of the new century’s musical experimentalism?
This lecture is presented by the Columbia Institute of Ideas and Imagination
George Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, Area Chair in Composition, and member of the faculty in Historical Musicology, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and an Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society. Lewis’s other honors include a MacArthur Fellowship (2002), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015). A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 150 recordings. His work has been presented by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Talea Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Musikfabrik, Mivos Quartet, London Sinfonietta, Spektral Quartet, and others; his opera Afterword (2015) has been performed in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic. He is the author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press 2008), and co-editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016). Lewis holds honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh, New College of Florida, and Harvard University.