Q: How long have you been involved with AFCM?
Joseph Tolliver: I started attending concerts in 1987. I was a visitor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona while on leave from the University of Maryland. The department aesthetician, Henning Jenson, was on the AFCM board and encouraged me and my wife to attend. I had been a chamber music fan for some time and was glad of the chance to hear some of my favorite ensembles and some that I had not heard of then. I joined the U of A the following year and joined the lengthy waiting list for AFCM subscription seats. We languished on that list for three years.
Around the same time, Henning resigned from the board. As Jean-Paul Bierny tells it, Henning suggested that there should always be a philosopher on the board of AFCM, and that I was a good candidate. Jean-Paul and I had a conversation, and he painted his picture of a working board of passionate chamber music lovers dedicated to bringing the best that the chamber music world had to offer to Tucson. I drank the Kool-Aid. In 1994 I joined the board. I have not regretted that decision …very often.
Q: What is your current role?
JT: I fill one role that has two aspects: I am the Program Director, and in that capacity, I am also Chair of the Artistic Committee. My principle duty is to manage the Evening Series and oversee the other artistic offerings. I scout ensembles for possible engagement, negotiate performance contracts with artist’s agents, secure hall arrangements, and coordinate with hall management to oversee operations on the day of the concerts. Like other series directors, I am usually working at least a year ahead of the season that we are presenting. My role has changed over the years. I have managed the Youth Concert event during our Festival, and I’ve served as a member of the Commissioning Committee.
Q: What role does music play in your life?
JT: I am not a musician. I am a life-long lover of music of all kinds. Well, not all kinds. I have yet to learn how to enjoy very much Country/Western music or any Chinese opera. I have a lifelong habit of listening to music every chance I get. Technology has made that easier over the course of my life, but time to sit and just listen to music has dwindled as the demands on my time have increased. This has been one of life’s disappointments. I expected as I passed middle age my responsibilities would gradually decrease. Just the opposite has happened. I wish that someone had let me know this.
Q: Did you play an instrument or perform as a child?
JT: I played clarinet has a child
Q: How did you first become interested in the chamber music form?
JT: My interest began when I was a freshman at The Ohio State University. A student living on the same floor in my dormitory was the son of a member of the Physics Department. His father had an amazing stereo setup built on Macintosh tube electronics and Klipschorn speakers and his son invited me to their house. This led to his father arranging for tickets to a Columbus chamber music series, the Prestige Series. These were my first chamber music concerts. They were great. I could not afford to continue attending, but I continued to listen to chamber music.
Q: What other kinds of music do you enjoy?
JT: Plenty: pop, rock, progressive rock, hip hop, soul, rhythm and blues, jazz, world music, bluegrass, electronic, ambient music, early music, opera (on a limited basis), art song, etc.
Q: What’s your day job—what do you do when you’re not working on AFCM?
JT: I am a member of the Department of Philosophy of the U of A. My principle research interests are metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and aesthetics. In aesthetics I have special interests in the philosophy of music and the philosophy of film.
Q: Say a little bit about your interests outside of chamber music.
JT: My love of tennis consumes as much of my leisure time as it can (and my aging body will allow).
Q: What is the best part of an AFCM concert?
JT: The best thing about our concerts is, of course, the world’s greatest music put before an audience by the world’s most skilled and committed performers who have worked together for years. Part of what makes this all so wonderful is experiencing it with others who share your passion for chamber music. There is added pleasure in enjoying the music while knowing that the wonderful display that you are enjoying is also being enjoying by those around you. We are social creatures. We always enjoy the perception of a shared pleasure. It is why we still have public theaters in an age of home theaters and streaming services to mobile devices. It is why there will be a limit to the appeal of virtual reality experiences of plays, music, dance, and film.
Q: Music has been likened to literature—the great pieces flow and transport you to another plane. Do you identify fiction with chamber music?
JT: There are important similarities of form and modes of existence between literary and musical works. Both are temporally extended art forms, in that the whole of the work cannot be simultaneously before its audience. Also, works in these forms are endlessly reproducible. There are potentially endless copies of any literary work each of which is the work whole and entire. Likewise for musical works. Works in each form are notable, the text of a literary work and the score of a musical work. In each case the notation supplies a criterion for when someone has experienced the work, reading or listening to the text of the literary work, reading or listening to a performance of the score of the musical work. Each can be seen as requiring a standard of perfect compliance with the notated work as a condition of experiencing the work so notated. Miscopying the text of a literary work or misspeaking the text during a public reading disqualifies the copy or the speaking as a presentation of the work. Likewise, misprinting the score of a work or playing wrong notes in an attempted performance of a work disqualifies reading the score or listening to an incorrect playing of an authentic score as means for encountering a musical work.
There are, of course, important differences. Literary works are, usually, well-formed expressions in some language and, as such have semantic features: reference, denotation, connotation, meaning, etc. It is by no means obvious that musical works have anything corresponding to the semanticity of literature. A literary work presents a world: the way this world is, the way this world could be, the way this world should be, etc. I don’t think that the content of music is best thought of as a possible world. Music presents something more like a space, a space of complex and evolving dimensionality and occupants. We can associate our apprehension of the contents of the space with aspects of ourselves or others, with objects, events, and states of affairs of unlimited sort, but these associations are relatively free and often only loosely constrained by the music itself. The recognition of this freedom is part of the pleasure of the experience of music.