NEW YORK, NEW YORK-Chamber Music America has flirted with jazz and folk music in the past, but its national conference in New York in January finally brought the courtship right out into the open. Consciously picking up on a theme from a 1998 CMA panel, where New York Times critic Edward Rothstein sounded a crisis of the Western tradition while Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed simultaneously reveled in exciting new musical hybrids, this at these recent developments.
Right from the first session, conference speaker Frank Oteri took CMA's own definition of chamber music ("music played without a conductor, one musician to a part") in some definite ethnomusicological directions. Oteri, a composer who edits the American Music Center's Web site, wore his own biases with such grace that even some skeptical audience members admitted that Japanesse court music, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Grateful Dead all, in some way, fit the bill, with some presenters even admitting that they would consider such musical styles on their own series under the right circumstances, such as booking a bluegrass group on a program with composers who, like Edgar Meyer for example, have been heavily influenced by the style.
That same spirit prevailed at CMA's commissioning showcase, where pieces funded by the organization got a fine hearing from the groups who commissioned them. Aaron Jay Kernis' Pulitzer Prizewinning second string quartet, musica instrumentalis (performed by the Lark Quartet), fell squarely within the Western tradition. Beijing-born composer ZhOU Long drew heavily on his native musical sound world in Spirit of Chimes (performed by the Peabody Trio), and composer Dave Douglass' own background as a jazz player infused his piece for the String 'Trio of New York, entitled In So Many Words. …