Monday, August 3, 2009


I had a dream about Hilary Hahn the other night. In my dream I was reading an article in a scholarly journal, collected in a library binding, which cited a conversation that she had had with Anne-Sophie Mutter, but there was no transcript of this conversation beyond the excerpts printed in the footnote of this article, and so I went to Hilary Hahn's apartment to talk to her about it. There was another girl there who was just a dumb fan, and was NOT there out of serious musicological interest, like me, but Hilary Hahn was very polite to both of us, and played a little for us on the violin, and then showed us a bizarre string instrument I'd never seen before, sort of a cross between a ten-course lute and a viola da gamba. What does this dream tell us? First of all, it tells us that I have THE MOST BORING FUCKING DREAMS OF ALL TIME. Seriously, if I dream about a famous concert violinist again, she'd better KILL AND EAT SOMEONE in that dream. "Scholarly journal," jesus. But it also tells us something about the power of good marketing. I don't own any Hilary Hahn CDs. There are a great many musicians whose actual work is far more present in my life than Hilary Hahn's. There are CERTAINLY more musicians who are marketed more aggressively, and whose personalities are more present in the culture. But Hilary Hahn is the one whose image appeared in my weird dream. Why is that? I think it's because Hilary Hahn has been successfully marketed to me. Hilary Hahn is probably the sort of thing I like, and so Hilary Hahn turns up wherever I look when I go to look for things I like. She is all up in my imagination. If I haven't yet decided I need (e.g.) her Schoenberg concerto in my life, well, it's probably just a matter of time. In other words, I blame Amanda Ameer. She's Hilary Hahn's promoter, and is therefore the one person—other than (obvs) hardworking, talented, lovely Hilary Hahn—most responsible for the fact that Hilary Hahn has seeped into my subconscious. I really hope that all you artists and promoters out there are reading her blog as faithfully as I am, but just in case you aren't, check out her recent blog-dialogue (DIABLOGUE?) with Nico Muhly on the subject of The New-Music Scene. Her thing is here; his thing is here with a follow-up here. Read all the comments, it gets pretty heated. DRAMA. What's funny is that, presenting each other with a really open-ended question, both AA and NM came up with VERY SIMILAR answers. (Were they reading off each other's test papers??) They both said, "Scene? NEW AMSTERDAM RECORDS." Also they said, "Who is this Darcy James Argue??" It sounds as if somebody has got to THEIR subconsciouses, too! New Amsterdam is EVERYWHERE. There are a handful of very influential music critics who love and love to support New Amsterdam and New Amsterdam knows how to reach them. New Amsterdam knows how to reach US. Okay now, did you read those comments? New Amsterdam cofounder Judd Greenstein and publicist Steven Swartz, who both deserve a lot of credit for the marvelous ubiquity of their label, both wrote in to defend themselves—which makes sense, since AA & NM were both fairly critical of various aspects of the scene that JG & SS have worked to build. But maybe they should be congratulating themselves instead: is this some kind of (friendly, admiring) "backlash"? Is this the consequence of going from "something spontaneous," as Nico says ominously of Bang on a Can, to "an institution"? Because if so, that sounds like—well— It sounds like success! New Amsterdam is a brand. It has a strong reputation, and a readily identifiable sensibility. It is AGGRESSIVE about supporting members of its community of artists. Have its responsibilities shifted, now that it's an institution too? Probably. New Amsterdam has to be as true as ever to its sensibilities that define it, and not only maintain but probably raise the standards that have given rise to its burly rep. But the greater responsibility lies with the dissidents that New Amsterdam will, inevitably, earn itself. If you don't like this scene, if you don't fit into this scene, you need to start your own! MUSIC ITSELF needs you to start your own. You have friends, right? Put out your own damn records! Support the composers who slip through the cracks! Do your own thing—but collaborate, cooperate, compete! (This advice does not necessarily apply to Nico Muhly personally, who already does in fact put out his own damn records, in a matter of speaking.) The tools you need are all around you, and journalists and bloggers are all looking for something new and great. I know I am. New Amsterdam is a scene, an institution, and also a model—they did it; they've succeeded; so can you. P.S. Darcy James Argue is a JAZZ COMPOSER, people, go to his BLOG, it's really good, and there are free mp3s RIGHT THERE. You can find out for yourself whether you like it. (I think you will like some of it.) P.P.S. This YouTube of NewAm artist Caleb Burhans playing 1st violin in Nico Muhly's arrangement for that Grizzly Bear song cracked me up so hard:Ha ha ha whoever posted this video hates him SO MUCH. As I write this, it is the only video uploaded to this account, which means they started their YouTube account JUST to hate on Caleb Burhans (as, in the future, there will be a YouTube account dedicated to hating on each and every one of us, I suppose). Said the aforementioned DJA, "Someone needs to write a concerto for Caleb called "h8 u pluck bro." AGREED.

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Blogger Unknown said...

"Pluck Bro."

August 3, 2009 at 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Armchair Music Expert. said...

What a coincidence, I too have had dreams about Hilary Hahn - and none of them where ever boring! Of course it would be grossly inappropriate to recount them here. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning for your dreams here then just marketing. Perhaps...well...nevermind.

August 3, 2009 at 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

I'm not sure how it will hold up against the feline interpretations posted above, but obviously everyone needs HH's Schoenberg concerto in his or her life. I'll mail you a copy if you like, because That's What Publicists Do. Armchair Music Expert, you don't get one; no more Hilary for you!

August 5, 2009 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Armchair Music Expert said...


I apologize for my remarks. In retrospect it was in poor taste, although it was meant to poke a little fun at Mr. Johnson. Ms Hahn is a tremendous artist who deserves our attention and respect. I've admired her career for many years and cherish her musical documents, including her Schoenberg/Sibelius album. No need to send a copy however, I already purchased it on it's release date and continue to recommend it to anyone curious about Hahn's playing or good music.

@Mr Johnson, my apologize for the poorly chosen attempt at jest.

August 7, 2009 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

Hee, don't worry, A.M.E., that is definitely not the most stalkery thing that has appeared in the comments here. Or in the posts for that matter.

August 7, 2009 at 7:03 PM  

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