When Does "New Music" Stop Being New?

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This past weekend, I performed a wonderful 19-year-old piece: Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine, by Aaron Jay Kernis, on a program that also included "Four Seasons" compositions by Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the Kernis, and love it, but it was clearly not as immediately accessible as the Piazzolla to audience members hearing them both for the first time (never mind the Vivaldi for the 1,000th). A recent Zankel Hall concert celebrating Yale University’s Oral History of American Music included a piece by Charles Ives that was over 100 years old, but sounded like it was written yesterday. The sleeper hit on that program was Third Construction by John Cage--a swinging number for four percussionists that delighted and amazed anyone who was expecting the musical equivalent of cod liver oil.  

So many works that are now in the standard repertoire were once considered so “out there” that musicians refused to play them and audiences refused to listen. How ready, willing and able are you to accept music you’ve never heard before? What pleasant musical surprises have you had in the concert hall--or on the radio?  

-- from "Modern Music," by William Billings (1746-1800):

We are met for a Concert of modern Invention;
To tickle the Ear is our present Intention.
The Audience are seated
Expecting to be treated
With a piece of the Best,
And now we address you as Friends to the Cause;
Performers are modest and write their own Laws.
Altho’ we are sanguine and clap at the Bars,
’Tis the part of the Hearers to clap their Applause,
With a piece of the Best.