Pure Instinct

Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas talks Mahler, Stravinsky and the future of contemporary music — in real space and in cyberspace.


By Ben Finane

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Illustration by Riccardo Vecchio

And that’s a little bit the same situation with a writer like Joyce, for example. It’s tough to read Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake. You have to read it and read it over and over and perhaps imagine it being read aloud and gradually make your way through to the meaning of it. And there are some people who absolutely delight in that experience, and others for whom it is impenetrable and that Joyce is asking them to be too much involved in trying to get what his inner world is. And I think the same thing is true of music.

I’d say Finnegan’s Wake is damn near impossible in any case.

[Laughs.] Well, there you go. For you. But for John Cage and Merce Cunningham, it was something they wanted to read all the time.

That’s right, certainly Roaratorio is a brilliant illumination. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the premiere of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, are there any ‘next steps’ that have presented themselves?

Oh yes, well I’m thinking about that quite a lot. That whole experience was, shall we say, most thought-provoking. It was an exciting project to take on and to put together the team that made that happen, and very suggestive of the kind of work that I want to do in the New World Symphony’s new ‘music meeting house,’ under construction right now. It’s a building designed by Frank Gehry, to address the exploration of new ideas in musical performance, both in real time, real space — and in cyberspace. This YouTube project was a wonderful way of kick-starting my thoughts towards that end.