Any opening sentence with the name “Trump” is bound to capture attention these days, and Rebecca Lentjes’ piece (2016) is no exception. To her credit, Lentjes renders her voice largely invisible and offers a distanced, mostly third-person narrative of the timely Concert for Peace. By steering clear of political attacks – speaking of no more than “unbearable melancholy” – attention can be rightly focused on the issue of racial discrimination.
Following a faintly optimistic introduction, Lentjes diligently details the sequence of seven compositions by people of color. Apart from citing each of the composers’ works, hyperlinks to the composers’ websites are included, allowing initiated readers to situate the works in biographical context if they wished. This appears an acceptable solution to digital demands for brevity.
Much effort is made to capture highlights of the aural experience, relating to instruments (“meandering piano lines, lumbering horn lines, and a pinging vibraphone”) and style (“pizzicato passages”). Such vivid vocabulary challenges readers to engage in sensory imagination, without alienating them with technical jargon. This aligns with the stated goal of I Care If You Listen: to discuss Contemporary Classical Music in lay terms, and also meets Albert Murray’s first function of criticism: “to mediate between the work of art and the uninitiated” (Zemler 2013).
Nonetheless, the political undertones ring loudest, through the conscientious curation of political context. For instance, Lentjes explains that Jasper Drag is an allusion to the drag to death of a black man in Jasper, Texas, by white men. The final paragraph is reserved for the “letters from black America”, interjections which can be construed as the keynote of this concert. Such contextual explications help us tie our responses more tightly with the composers’ instrumental intentions.
Indeed, in emphasizing what the concert means “within its particular cultural moment, and how it interacts with both the present and the past” (Petrusich 2016) – instead of deeper stylistic evaluation – Lentjes appears to speak wholly for the concert rather than herself. She thus makes us close witnesses to the moral conviction of these performances, so that we don’t just hear, but listen.
Lentjes, Rebecca. “Ensemble Pi Presents Moving Black Lives Matter Concert.” I Care If You Listen, December 8, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2017, https://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2016/12/ensemble-pi-presents-moving-black-lives-matter-concert/.
Petrusich, Amanda. “The Music Critic In The Age of the Insta-Release.” The New Yorker, March 9, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-music-critic-in-the-age-of-the-insta-release.
Zemler, Emily. “Are Music Critics Pointless?” The Hollywood Reporter, March 29, 2013. Accessed March 1, 2017, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/earshot/are-music-critics-pointless-opinion-431879.