Composer Anthony Pateras has two new releases for us today. The first is a second volume of his collected works, featuring 5 ½ hours of music produced between 2005 and 2018. The second finds him back with Sean Baxter and David Brown in a trio format. Pateras/Baxter/Brown’s Bern · Melbourne · Milan is a third release from the group.
Episode 48 of The Moderns, airing Apr. 7 on radioregent.com, will feature an extended package that includes an interview Pateras and I had in March. One section of our chat that won’t air began with a question about his classical music training.
You started on the piano. How does your classical training impact what you do now?
That training gets in your bones. Then you spend the rest of your life trying to get it out of your bones, if you want to be a free musical thinker. Up until recently, I was still hung up on certain things. These weird subconscious pressures and urges, rules and things fed to me as a young musician. Don’t do this, do that. Something’s only good if you do this, and so forth. It’s just a weird, unpleasant way to make music.
Last time I was in Toronto for example, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played a piece of mine. It was an amazing privilege. I played a piano solo on the Glenn Gould piano there in the foyer of Roy Thomson Hall. It was extraordinary.
But in the rehearsals, there’s just this thing with symphony orchestras. No matter how cool the players are, it’s unionized to the shit. We had half an hour to do this really difficult piece that I wrote. Everyone’s got their eyes on the clock. Musicians are putting their fingers in their ears because the percussion is too loud. People are complaining about how the music is written. And you’ve got half an hour. I mean, is this really what we all want to be doing with our time? Complaining to each other. Loads of money is being spent to make music this way.
In terms of the classical thing, I just had this moment with myself where I was like, what is this? Why do we have to do this thing this way? I’m certain that other composers in the past have felt the same. It felt like no-one wanted to be there playing this music.
Supposedly progressive orchestras like the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s, playing Cage and Takemitsu, and they’re dragging the composers over the hot coals. Not to mention the insane gender bias in that world. How male and white dominated it is, it’s just insane. In terms of the atmosphere, it’s poisonous air to breathe.
So I’ve tried to create my own world, using those skills. Using the technical skills from that training and from those experiences, and applying them to a whole other thing with musicians who really want to be there. I’m getting way better results.
What you do is far more than a reaction to the kind of environment you’re describing.
Opposition is a really easy position to take. It’s really easy to just stand back and say everything sucks. I’m not doing that at all. I’m talking about finding ways to work. Finding ways to articulate the musical ideas that I want to articulate, in the best way possible. And I’ve just found that the old model of being commissioned for an ensemble that you don’t know – you just turn up, you share no history – is completely outmoded in terms of achieving unique musical outcomes.