Crosscurrents at Harvard

by admin on November 3, 2008

I spent the weekend in Cambridge at the Crosscurrents conference co-sponsored by Harvard University and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

Its aim was to enrich a developing discourse of transatlantic music exchange (and foster a little of its own) by bringing together scholars from different disciplines, persuasions and nationalities, first in Boston (focusing on the years 1900-1950) and later this academic year for part II in Munich (1951-2000).  Excepting what I perceived to be a slight overemphasis on composers, the conference succeeded admirably.

Michael Denning’s keynote speech set the tone by focusing on the role of recordings in de-colonizing the ear in the former Western colonies.  This project struck some as too ambitious; for others it fulfilled the primary function of a keynote address, which is to cast a broad enough net to interest everybody.  Unfortunately Denning broke the Adorno seal, an unwritten taboo at music-oriented conferences like these, provoking heated reactions from anyone with an opinion on Adorno, which was–everybody.

There were several standouts among the presenters. Brigid Cohen used the case of Stephan Wolpe to describe a cosmopolitan (nationless) musicality. This bold step involved a virtuosic fusing of historical data with music- and social-theoretical insight.  The world needs to watch out for Cohen; she just began her professional career at Chapel Hill but is poised to make big contributions to transatlantic music scholarship.

Celia Appelgate, on the other hand, is a senior scholar and a well-regarded authority on German musical nationalism.  At the conference she staked out new territory in her paper on the presence (or non-presence) of Europeans at turn-of the century American expos.  Among other things her research shed light on the fascinating history of “big organs” at these events.  And yes, she was all over the double entendre.  I look forward to following the progress of her work.

If you happen to be in Munich this May I would highly recommend checking out the second half of the conference.

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