September 22, 2018


The Modern Composer Who Turned Against the Avant-Garde (Joseph Pearce, June 2017, Imaginative Conservative)

As editor for the past sixteen years of the St. Austin Review, a journal of Catholic culture, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of all that's good, true, and beautiful in contemporary art, music, and literature. For the most part, the pulse is strong and beats from a heart that seems healthier than it has been for decades. We seem to be at the dawn of a Christian cultural revival, awash with new novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, architects, and composers, which would have been difficult to predict at the turn of this century. Even as the secular culture decays into a decomposing, deconstructing mess, or what might be called nihilism's self-annihilation, new Christian culture seems to have been resurrected. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pioneering courage and conviction of Michael Kurek, whose latest album, The Sea Knows, all that is so vibrant and exciting in the Traditionalist avant-garde.

Before delving into the music on the new album, let's learn a little about Mr. Kurek himself. One of the most respected classical composers alive today, his works have been performed by symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles on five continents (excluding only Antarctica and Africa). His numerous prizes for composition include the prestigious Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Academy's highest annual "lifetime achievement" award in music. He serves on several professional boards and committees, including the Classical Grammy Awards Nominations Committee in Los Angeles. His music has been performed on radio or TV throughout the world, in France, England, Germany, Japan, Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Russia, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Sweden and, of course, the United States.

What makes Mr. Kurek so exciting is the manner in which he is a traditionalist rebel in the midst of the barren and inspirationally bereft musical establishment, his music serving as an oasis of edifying beauty in the midst of the atonal desert. "Traditional classical music by people like Brahms (and, I hope, me) has a narrative quality, a musical storyline," he writes, "like a river with a forward-moving current that pulls you along through time until you feel transported to some transcendent perception by the climax or by the end. Another metaphor is that a piece of narrative music makes a dramatic argument, in which its themes are like the characters in a play who discuss and undergo character development, so that by the end you see (hear) them in a different way."

Mr. Kurek laments that "the craft of narrative composing has been lost," something that he blames squarely on the nihilistic pretensions of the modern music academy. Trained in this academy, he began to feel that the "dissonant," "atonal," and "discordant" methods of composition which he'd been taught were fundamentally flawed. "As a young convert to Christianity, I was slow to discern the philosophical underpinnings of the techniques I was being taught. My present philosophy of pursuing truth, virtue, and beauty based upon the principles of both natural law and Christianity only gradually emerged as something I could articulate."

As Mr. Kurek's own musical imagination, and the music he was writing, began to be transformed, he encountered opposition from within the music academy's ivory tower, even as his compositions began to gain popularity among concert goers. "I see now it was because I was writing not within the kind of post-modern accessibility that was now acceptable in academe but in a fundamentally traditional style."

Posted by at September 22, 2018 7:19 AM