I had looked forward to this evening for a long time. Rufus Wainwright was going to join me for dinner and an LA Philharmonic new music concert. On the bill was John Adams “Short Ride in a Fast Train,” Igor Stravinsky’s “Requiem Canticles,” and Lou Harrison’s “Symphony on G.” I had never met Rufus, but he agreed to join me on a free night. He was to arrive by train, so I made reservations at Traxx at Union Station for 6 pm.
Just when you think Take A Friend To Orchestra (TAFTO) creativity has reached terminal velocity, a contributor comes along to remind us otherwise. Case in point, Soho The Dog’s Matthew Guerrieri whose contribution reminds us what makes classical music so valuable in the first place. What’s more, he sums up what would normally take hours to discuss in merely 28 cartoon panels (that’s right, it’s one of Matt’s legendary cartoons!) All of the sudden, the economic downturn doesn’t seem so daunting. ~ Drew McManus
One of the most exciting orchestra concerts I’ve ever attended was the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on Boston Common in September of 1998. The police estimated that the crowd was 80,000 people strong, and as I recall most of them stood packed, shoulder-to-shoulder over an area the size of a football field in front of the stage. Seiji Ozawa, whose 50th anniversary as music director was being celebrated, was ill, and Assistant Conductor Federico Cortese conducted the first movements, but it was announced that Ozawa would take the podium for the final movement, the Ode to Joy. But after only two movements, Cortese left the stage. Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer described Ozawa’s surprise early arrival: “There was some applause as the soloists entered and took their positions, but the real thrill came on the giant video screen, where the audience could see Ozawa standing in the wings, speaking quietly to Cortese. A few seconds later, Ozawa took a deep breath and walked on, as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the audience leapt up, and even the orchestra applauded.” I remember extended cheering and raucous applause. Where, we might ask, did these 80,000 people come from, and where did they go after it was all over? Many of the standard explanations for the difficulties that orchestras have in appealing to the popular audience seem flimsy in the face of this overwhelming if short-lived response. Perhaps a good place to start would be to understand the differences between the popular music culture and the orchestra culture to see how they are difficult to integrate. I have been developing a conceptual model for analyzing the structure of the popular music culture and comparing it with the classical music culture which turns out to be quite revealing.
Those of us constantly drenched in the wonders of Really Big Sound From A Large Group Of Humans are so used to this great spectacle that we rarely consider what it must be like for the ears of those new to such drama. But sometimes we go too far in the other direction, and are guilty of thinking that this experience is something for which a person must be dutifully prepared.
My wife and I never had children of our own but we were lucky to have a nephew–my wife’s sister’s son–that we could “borrow” for a week or so during summer vacations. He started coming to New York to see us every year when he was nine-years-old, arriving at LaGuardia the first time wearing a name tag and carrying a small bag with his clothes and a slightly bigger bag which contained his Goofy doll.
The orchestra has become an institution where the rituals of attending a concert have replaced a transcendent musical experience. Unfortunately, with the limited rehearsal time and a long season of uninspired programming it’s easy for a musician to feel that he is not any more special than a plumber. When going to a concert, being a savvy shopper can do you some good. If you look at your concert schedule you have many types of concerts to attend; First Nights, Thursday Masterworks, Featured Soloists, and my current Los Angeles favorite, Casual Fridays. This entertainment oriented marketing approach is akin to putting “old wine in new bottles”.