Friday, November 30, 2007
Making music accessible desirable and different
'Orchestral concerts must become like football games, accessible, desirable and different' suggests the principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Curtis Price. His advice comes in a Guardian Comment feature by Simon Jenkins who has caught the Gustavo Dudamel and Hugh Masekela bug. Jenkins goes on to explain that in the coming 'revolution in appeal' classical music must include 'added value in congregation'.
Simon Jenkins is better known as a writer on church architecture than classical music. So we can forgive him for not knowing that there has been 'added value in congregation' (which when translated from Gordon Brown speak means, I think, audience participation) in classical music for a long time. From the chorales in Bach's Passions, through the Radetzky March at the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day concerts, to the congregation hymns in Britten's St. Nicholas.
But why does every performance today have to include audience participation? Why do the BBC Proms audience have to be part of the action by contributing meaningless dribbles of applause between movements? Why do our future performers need to be selected on TV reality shows? Why do we need to condense Benjamin Britten's holy triangle of composer, performer and listener down to a single point where the listener is king? Why do we need, to quote Simon Jenkins, to make concerts 'a shared experience of laughing and dancing'?
Why don't we study that football analogy more closely? In football the laughing and dancing often ruins the performance. The major teams are controlled by power brokers with connections to the oil industry. Our much-hyped national team failed even to qualify at an international level. Ever younger stars are heaped with cash and adulation, and fail to deliver. And the media's darling, who was proclaimed as the saviour of the sport, has fled to Los Angeles with a lucrative contract in his pocket.
The revolution isn't about making concerts like football matches. The revolution is about finding shared musical languages and shared media that together reinforce, not undermine, Britten's holy triangle. The revolution is already happening, with many of the new composers and performing groups featured on this, and many other blogs, creating desirable and different music. The revolution is already happening by making their music more accessible through MP3 downloads, internet radio, a few old-fashioned CDs, and innovative live performances.
I don't pretend to have any influence over the future of classical music. But I was in the Future Radio studios the other day checking levels on Alvin Curran's Inner Cities for our forthcoming 'all-night vigil' webcast. A young DJ came off-air after presenting her hip hop show, and caught a few measures of Inner Cities. 'Wow, she exclaimed 'what is that? It is really cool.' That is the future of classical music, not conga lines.
Now playing - Techno Parade by Guillaume Connesson shown in my header image. Music from a leading French contemporary composer that is accessible, desirable and different, and not a football game in sight. Take your choice from the tracks, Disco-toccata, Jurassic Trip, and more. It even uses shared media; the eye-catching double disc pack (priced as a single) contains an audio CD and video DVD. That is the future of classical music.
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