In late June 2009, during the week of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, WNYC radio celebrated the legacy of gay and lesbian composers in classical and popular music with four evenings of programming. The broadcasts were thoughtful and wide ranging:
• Nico Muhly and host Nadi Sirota play and discuss music of John Corigliano, Benjamin Britten and Lou Harrison
• Alex Ross (The New Yorker) and Ann Powers (Los Angeles Times) and host Terrance McKnight examine the out artists as well as the secretive/coded histories in 20th century music.
• Pauline Oliveros retraces her life from dance halls in Houston Texas to the experimental scene of California and New York.
• Gretchen Phillips and Kenny Mellman (Kiki and Herb) talk with David Garland and spin a wide range of favorites.
The entire thing is archived and available for listening. Sit back and enjoy.
Here are a few excerpts from the discussions.
I was born in 1981 which for a lot of purposes is after a lot of the really interesting stuff in the history of gay rights happened. the battles of the 60s are sort of over…
As a young gay composer you have a lot of grandfathers and great grandfathers who you can look to. I imagine myself in a kind of constant dialogue with Benjamin Britten for instance because I find the coding of his homosexuality so interesting… I’m such a language nerd that I find myself doing the same things now, even though it’s sort of old fashioned.
– Nico Muhly
There have always been distinct links between classical music and gay culture going back to the days of Oscar Wilde. All the way through the 20th century and even the latter part of the 19th century, classical music has been an oasis, a refgue for gay men and women. Growing up you try to identify with pop music, but it has an explicit heterosexual context – boy meets girl. If you’re listing to something like Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony, It’s all abstract…
Then in the 1930s and 40s, it suddenly seems there’s this great surge of gay male composers in such numbers that they almost become the dominate party. Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, Leonard Bernstein on certain days of the week. Classical music became a beachhead for a more mature gay identity.
– Alex Ross
Thanks to Gay Ears reader Limor Tomer for alerting me to this terrific program.