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The Essay
Show #252
Le jour effrayant de premiere
David Gunn

It's 8pm. The city has abandoned its normal daylight activities and is trying to get its night legs. Outside, the traffic comes to a standstill as a giant emu ice sculpture falls from a rooftop garden and crashes onto two parked cars below, sending dangerously cold shards of radiator housing into the street. From somewhere in the gathering gloaming a winter jackal shrieks for its supper, unclogging most of the eustachian tubes in a four-block radius. An exiled viscount prowling the alleyways for his subjects spontaneously combusts, briefly cauterizing the dingy effluvium that surrounds him. Inside the wizened old municipal office palace, scores of curiosity seekers -- some clad only in tubal ligatures, others in vests of fishhooks 'n mail -- have traded an evening at the silage works for a chance to hear the first public performance of a new piece of music. Yes, it's le jour effrayant de premiere, or "the scary day of premieres" here in northcentral Vermont where not one, not two, but three brand spankin' new tunes are preparing to walk the fine line inherent in any incipient performance of contemporary music between adequate rendering and utter train wreckage. People who go to a premiere liken the event to a bullfight, where the new music is the matador and the band is the bull. And while it's nice when the composition triumphs over el toro, many audients will admit they’re just as happy to see the musicmonger get gored as a result of a musical debacle. New music is by definition underrehearsed -- as corroborated on page 895 of the Algonquin Revised Hermetical Dictionary, "newmusic: noun; an acoustic event that is never rehearsed enough" -- increasing the odds for humiliating first-time failure often to as much as 600. This statistic is borne out by scores of harrowing premieres, beginning with The Rite of Spring fiasco 87 years ago when concertgoers, whipped into a frenzy by that tune's Dance of the Sycophants, attacked the composer, Garry Stinkovis, and so terrorized him that he had himself cosmetically altered and shortened, then rearranged the letters in his name to restart life with a new, fashionably European identity. Other first-time performances have produced equally devastating results. Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Denominator" was so misplayed at its premiere that the composer scrapped the radical mathematical algorithms that defined the tune's parameters and forever forsook his aleatoric pursuits. The psychological drubbing Andrew Lloyd Webber suffered the first time his microtonal "Whale Music in Twenty-Seven/Sixteenths Time" was played and roundly rejected by his conservatory peers permanently shifted his focus to light entertainment.

Certainly, there have been satisfactory premieres, but who remembers them? Successful performances of new music are by definition short-lived, and again we turn to the Algonquin Revised Heretical Dictionary for confirmation.

And that brings us to tonight's eclectic entertainment: three tunes written the old-fashioned way -- without benefit of financial incentive -- whose first-time-in-public mettle will be tested by a baton-wielding goreador intent on drawing blood from somewhere, anywhere. Who will win?

Suffice it to say that your obedient co-hosts of this 252nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar are keen to find out, because they both have a vested interest in shedding as few of their own entrails as possible should pronounced recontextualizations of, in order, "Mountain Dew," "Slurry 'n Slides" and "330 Quadrillion Metric Tons -- or, The Mass of Mercury " come to pass. It might not be pretty, but it sure is Art. Wait. Make that Kalvos.