Hooray for the 21st Century!
Contemporary music got a nice, well-publicized boost yesterday with the announcement of the 2012 MacArthur Fellows. For among the newly-christened "geniuses" in the fields of literature, journalism, science, medicine and even violin making, a pair of instrumentalists were honored "for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future." And all they did to earn such an accolade is play the flute and the mandolin? Pretty cool! (Yes, I know they were honored for much more than that, but that's what they're best known for.) Congratulations to flutist Claire Chase and mandolinist Chris Thile, each a very model of a modern 21st-Century Musician.
OK, you may ask, what's a 21st-Century Musician? I'll tell you. 21st-Century Musicians are those who move comfortably among musical genres, not as a "crossover," but as a natural expression of their background and interests. Who have the chops for Lincoln Center, but are also at home in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Nashville, New Orleans or wherever the down-home cats hang out — and not just as a slumming musical tourist, either. Who can knock the spots off a printed score — and also improvise!!! Who honor tradition, but focus on the present. Who wouldn't for a nanosecond let anyone else define them, confine them or consign them, but who remain 100% themselves at all times. Who in no way diminish or displace the great musicians who specialize in their specific, very demanding genres, not least classical, but who in the next few decades will play an increasingly prominent role in keeping these genres fresh, vital and relevant, especially classical.
I will admit that I'm just getting to know Claire Chase and Chris Thile better. But I already love what I see and hear, and can't wait to find out more, and to share it with you. Isn't that what's supposed to happen when you encounter something new and exciting? Here's to the 21st Century, and its amazing musicians!