Nobody in Winnipeg's classical community was upset last year when the Winnipeg
Symphony Orchestra played a new concerto for turntable and orchestra written by
Nicole Lizée, who plays keyboards for the Montreal band Besnard Lakes. I think
that's because the WSO and Lizée (who studied composition at McGill University)
were seen to be absorbing a dynamic bit of pop culture into the body of
That's not so different from what Bartok did when he
imported elements of Hungarian folk music into his works for classical
performers. In both cases, something was pulled from the margin into the centre,
and the centre became stronger.
It occurred to me that this is actually phrased the wrong way round: it assumes that So-Called-Classical-Music is the mainstream. But surely it's the DJ who's at the centre of contemporary culture, and the orchestra that's at the margins?
Dvořák once thought that Black American music, in the form of spirituals, would be the future of composition. He was right, but not in the way he thought. He assumed that the melodic and harmonic principles of the spiritual would be absorbed into the traditional structures of European art music (the symphony and so on) and renew them. In fact, what happened was that the melodic and harmonic principles of European art music were imported into an entirely new structural aesthetic to create Jazz. I wonder if something similar might be happening here.