September 9, 2023: Impure Music at the Modern

Robert Motherwell greatly appreciated music, and had close friendships with composers including John Cage and Arthur Krieger. Motherwell, Cage, Stefan Wolpe, Morton Feldman and others met regularly at The Club in New York City, and later worked together at Black Mountain College. Motherwell wrote:

Music and painting are structures, that is, relations among elements. It is structure that provides meaning, whether it is in music or painting or poetry. In this sense, the arts are analogous.

Music is for me a positive and direct reaffirmation of the human spirit, that it exists indestructible and real, despite the horrors of history, of historical institutions, whether clumsy or malign. Words denote things and pictures present images; music is not burdened by such external references: instead, hurt by them.

Music is the human soul without excess baggage.

“Pure music,” also called “absolute music,” is (supposedly) devoid of outside influences. Motherwell’s challenge that music is hurt by external references was too good to resist: all of the works on today’s program are, in one way or another, Impure Music.

We are delighted to welcome composer-in-residence Erik Ulman, whose new work The Golden Fleece will be premiered today (see program note below). Ulman is an Advanced Lecturer in Music at Stanford University.  He studied composition at UCSD with Brian Ferneyhough, and with Helmut Lachenmann at the Stuttgart Musikhochschule; he has taught at UCSD and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Among his distinctions are a commission from the Fromm Foundation at Harvard, a Hewlett Fellowship at the Djerassi Program, and a portrait concert at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City in conjunction with its Cy Twombly retrospective (over several years of friendship with Twombly, who was a student of Robert Motherwell, Ulman has composed a number of works inspired by Twombly’s paintings); and he was the featured composer in the 2016-17 wasteLAnd concert series in Los Angeles. Ulman is also an experienced violinist, notably as a member of the sfSoundGroup, and co-organizer of fourteen interdisciplinary Poto Festivals (, a forum for artists in diverse media.

The event starts at 2:00 pm CST on Saturday, September 9, 2023 in the auditorium of the Modern, 3200 Darnell Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107. Works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Dorothy Hindman, Joseph Klein, Andrew May, Dieter Schnebel, and Stefan Wolpe will be performed by violinists Kathleen Crabtree and Mia Detwiler, violist Mike Capone, cellist Kourtney Newton, pianist Jeff Lankov, flutist and Sounds Modern director Elizabeth McNutt, clarinetist Alex Ravitz, and percussionist Christopher Teal; Sounds Modern assistant director Andrew May will conduct the Ulman premiere.

Admission is free and open to the public. The concert will also be live streamed at The Modern’s YouTube channel, where you can also find other recent performances. You can read detailed program information here.