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1994 ISCM World Music Days in Stockholm - Kyle Hoepner



A Report on the 1994 ISCM World Music Days in Stockholm Kyle Hoepner, Boston (USA) Section

Being a new member of the ISCM and a first-time participant in a World Music Days festival, I welcome the chance to record a few thoughts on the Stockholm experience. You, of course, therefore have the option of lending me extra credence (as a relatively objective observer) or completely discounting anything I might say (as the meanderings of a clueless neophyte). Perhaps a middle course would be the most prudent, as well as fitting in best with the Swedish setting.

First, plaudits to the Swedish section and Svenska Rikskonserter for their organizational skills. Logistically, the week in Stockholm was the most professional, smoothly run, and generally pleasant festival I have ever experienced. The city itself, of course, is very beautiful; concerts and talks were well done and well attended; transportation arrangements, even, appeared to work almost flawlessly. Especially impressive was the quality of the receptions: the Swedes seem to have grasped the fundamental principle that speechifying is merely a very brief and pro forma prelude to the real business of food, drink, and conversation. I'm sure they earned all our gratitude on that score. (I can't help but shudder mentally at the contrast between the welcome given us by the Stockholm city council and what would transpire at a similar civic event in Boston, undoubtedly featuring such delights as endless, semi-literate posturing, weak coffee, and stale sandwiches delightfully decked out in plastic wrap.)

In its programs, I'm afraid, the festival didn't seem to attain the same level of excellence. The overall impression (and here is where I may begin to seem the foolish idealist) was one of grayish-brown, academic ugliness. There were happily a few standouts from the muted background - I might mention, among others, striking contributions by Jeff Pressing (His Master's Voice), Nomeda Valanciute (The Rain on Thin Glass Legs), and Theo Loevendie (Lerchen Trio). Then again, the festival featured not just one but two of the most unbelievably awful pieces I have ever encountered - which shall for obvious reasons remain unnamed. The inter- larding of pieces from older ISCM festivals was a wonderful idea, and, in context, works by the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern, Edgard Var`.se, Fartein Valen, and Carl Ruggles were both delightful as musical experiences and chastening as reminders that almost no one else in the festival managed to achieve a similar degree of integration and individuality.

The actual sessions of the General Assembly were very much of a piece with business meetings anywhere. While a good amount of useful work can often be handled with dispatch, a great deal of time and energy can also be spent on relatively trivial procedural points, while larger, important issues can be (as needed) obfuscated, avoided entirely, or repeatedly inserted into unrelated discussions. On the whole, fascinating. During the sessions in Stockholm it became increasingly clear that, although a trial solution has been put in place for the next few years, the problem of festival programming has not really been resolved to much of anyone's satisfaction. Probably the most interesting session, for me, was the informal discussion held on Friday after the official close of the General Assembly. Quite a few national representatives and Jeney Zoltan (in the guise of a former jury member) took part in a fairly free-ranging discussion centering, unsurprisingly, on representation and the jury selection and programming process.

In closing, I would like to take the opportunity to repeat in print a few oberservations and a proposal I made during the course of the Friday discussion. Clearly one of the most intractable problems facing the ISCM in programming festivals is how to reconcile the conflicting demands of artistic merit (which is inherently elitist and theoretically admits of no outside concerns) and representation (which is to some extent anti-meritocratic in that it gives precedence to criteria other than "pure" artistic worth, whatever that may be). The current system, to my mind, performs poorly on both counts. The ideal of artistic merit cannot really be served by a selection process that is not blind, no matter how well-intentioned the jury members. The ideal of representation is not well served as long as it is defined on a purely geographical basis.

The result of a process set up in the current way can too easily be what we all experienced last October in Stockholm: a succession of stylistically monochrome concerts featuring pieces by composers from various parts of the world, most or all of whom were musically indistinguishable. The fundamental problem of representation is not principally one of geography, but rather one of style and tradition--Max Stern touched on this point in his report from Mexico, and it remains an important observation. Speaking only of the United States, there are a large number of coexisting and often conflicting musical styles in various parts of the country, most of which simply do not exist if one judges by ISCM programming. I'm sure the same is true of many other countries around the world.

As a practical matter, it seems to me that the selection process is being tinkered with at the wrong points. What really needs to change is the selection of the jury itself. If sufficient diversity can be built into the judges, the results of their judgment will reflect that. So, a few proposals.

1. The international jury should be composed of representatives chosen by active ISCM sections on a rotating basis. Each member of a particular year's jury would be chosen by a different section. The section could select anyone suitable - he or she need not be affiliated with the section itself or even with the country the section represents. Assuming a five person jury, each of the 45 or so sections could be represented on the jury in any nine-year period. Increasing the jury to six (which seems conceivable) would obviously shorten the interval correspondingly.

2. All scores should be judged anonymously. Even if all jury members were willing to set aside their personal and ideological interests (which we all know is an impossible fantasy), people cannot help but be biased by their prior knowledge and experience. Anonymous submission cannot entirely eliminate this bias, but at least makes an attempt to ameliorate the problem.

3. Provisions for "wild card" selections should be made by the jury. For example, while the majority of jury selections would be made by vote or consensus, each juror could be allowed to select one piece for inclusion in the festival irrespective of the opinions of the other jurors.

Adoption of these or similar reforms could, I think, allow the various sections to feel that they have a significant voice in creating the yearly festivals, while safeguarding the integrity of the selection process. I very much hope discussion will continue on the matter.