October 26, 2009
It's a curious and not always desirable thing when an artist becomes so closely identified with one canonical work that the rest of their work gets ignored.
On Friday, I had the honor of spending a little while in the company of composer Terry Riley up at his home on the Nevada border. (I didn't file a blog entry on Friday because I was traveling all day; sorry, dear readers, usually I'm much better at letting you know in advance that I'll be out of town.)
During the course of conversation over herbal tea on the soft-spoken composer's rustic wooden wraparound porch, Riley talked about his seminal minimalism movement-inspiring ensemble work, In C. He touched upon everything from how the work came to be and what the legendary opening night performance at San Francisco's Tape Music Center in 1964 was like, to his feelings about different performances and recordings over the years and the work's reaction against the overly-intellectual serialist fashions of the mid-20th century.
With regards to a question about the potential future of In C, Riley, who has this Buddha-like presence about him, became slightly piqued for the one and only time in our interview. When I asked the composer: "what are your wishes for the future of In C?" he responded that he hoped people would start paying attention to some of his other music for a change.
As beloved as the work is -- and as much as it has helped to pay the bills -- I can imagine how frustrating it must be for the composer to mostly only ever get to talk about and hear this one work. There are dozens of recordings of In C on Amazon.com, (four pages worth!) but relatively few of Riley's other works. Rainbow in Curved Air comes in second with two pages of CDs.
I imagine F Scott Fitzgerald had a similar problem with The Great Gatsby and George Lucas, similarly, with the original Star Wars trilogy.
I guess that's where critics can make a difference. In cases where an artist deserves to be known for more than one project (which isn't always the case, though it is when it comes to Riley) let's try to expose our audiences to a broader variety of an artist's output so that his or her legacy isn't forever associated with just one canonical work.