Judd Greenstein is one of the most exciting figures in contemporary music. As a composer, he works to invent the music that will fill tomorrow’s concert halls. But he is equally influential in his administrative and business ventures, ensuring that tomorrow’s concert halls will give life to that music well beyond the premiere performance. Also the co-founder of New Amsterdam Records, NOW Ensemble and the Ecstatic Music Festival, Greenstein has helped shape the infrastructure around contemporary music as well as the music itself.
In our May issue, we featured Greenstein’s TALK21, given at the inaugural 21CMposium. Here, we offer a bonus interview, in which Greenstein expands upon some of his ideas: how we are to understand terms like “post-genre,” how we can navigate a society that does not exactly encourage creativity and what makes for successful collaborations.
The thing to understand about the terms “post-genre” or “post-history,” or anything that’s trying to suggest the end of something, is that of course we can’t end these things. … But it is important to not be overly guided by these concepts. We’re talking about music that isn’t indebted to genre, in the sense that we’re not thinking first about how our music is a continuation of a certain genre or historical trend when we’re making it.
It’s trying to end this noxious trend that allows the concept of genre and history to overtake our creative processes and become more influential on them than the real things we need to include, which are our communities, our sensibilities as artists and our emotions. That’s what we need to be focused on as creative artists and as an infrastructure that supports them.
On making space for creativity…
We live in a society that doesn’t seem to advocate for any type of space in our lives. We talk about this a lot in terms of the overload of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. You’re constantly plugged into something that’s coming at you from the outside.
It feels like it’s trying to remove the dangerous possibility that we could actually exist as creative, flexible, independent-minded individuals. That’s how actual change happens – when we’re able to not be merely receptors of information, but when we have the time to think and discuss and build new ideas. Of course, people do find time to be creative, but you have to really work for it, and you have to reject what mainstream society is trying to tell you [about] how you should be spending your time.
All collaborations have to start from the participants wanting to be there. … It’s that passion, that feeling of not just wanting to be in that room, but needing to be in that room [that] makes it work.
That’s why all of the business decisions I’ve made in my career, in terms of starting my own ensembles and organizations with other friends and colleagues, have been decisions that serve my own interests. It’s not just because I’m this crazy narcissist that only cares about myself – though obviously, as artists, we have to admit that we have those trends. … It’s also that in order to serve an artistic community, I can make those decisions is by asking myself what I need. So at every turn, you’re asking yourself, “What do I passionately need? What would support me?” And then you talk to other people and say, “Am I right about this? Is this something that feels like it could support you as well?” And the answer has always been yes.
The above excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.