The eye of the $100k-beholder

Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press has a great write-up of the innaugural M-Prize, a chamber music competition hosted at the University of Michigan. I love that chamber music is getting such a high-dollar award – $100,000 grand prize and $200,000 total.[1] However, Stryker had some strong words on the judges selection. The winning group was a string quartet (sigh), playing Debussy (sigh), Haydn (sigh), Mendelssohn (sigh), and a token two minutes of Webern. Another finalist, the adventurous piano-percussion quartet Yarn/Wire, played two new commissions.[2] Living in Florida, I didn’t get to hear the finals. But, I’ve heard Yarn/Wire before, and so I’m certain Stryker does not exaggerate when he writes:

[Yarn/Wire] played with a cohesiveness that at least equaled the Calidore quartet and a depth of expression and distinctive interpretive identity that surpassed the winner.

But more disappointing than that was this exchange between Stryker and a member of the winning Calidore quartet:

It’s troubling that the Calidore’s programming was so relentlessly conservative. The most recently composed music the group played was the two-minute first movement from Anton Webern’s Five Movements, Op. 5, written in 1909. After the semifinals Thursday morning, I asked Calidore violinist Ryan Meehan if his group plays any contemporary music. “Yes,” he said. “We played Webern this morning.”

The whole article is definitely worth your time. Stryker is one of the tiny handful of music critics that is willing to express an opinion.

  1. Arguably, chamber music might be better supported by giving $20,000 to each of five chamber groups, or some other division, but that’s another issue.  ↩
  2. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other of the three finalists was a saxophone quartet.  ↩
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