Monday, November 08, 2010
Classical music tries Californian envangelism
Aldeburgh has a long association with both contemporary and electronic music and my header photo was taken at Aldeburgh Music's 2007 Faster then sound festival. On November 6th Aldeburgh explored a new path with a one day TEDx conference featuring a slew of speakers and musicians from that crucially important area where classical meets contemporary meets electronic meets rock music.
TED stands for 'Technology Electronics & Design' and is the brand of the privately owned not-for-profit Sapling Foundation. Its main activities are networking conferences dedicated to "ideas worth spreading". The TED movement originated in Silicon Valley, California and its events have been held in Monterey, Long Beach, Palm Springs and international locations. Central to the conference format is a strictly enforced 18 minute duration for presentations and speakers have included Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Despite its strapline of 'ideas worth spreading' TED has not been above criticism. Charges of elitism were sparked by the 2006 conference for which the invitation only tickets cost $4,400. The Lebanese economist and authority on the uncertainty principle Nassim Taleb has criticised TED for intellectual superficiality and in a recent attack described the organisation as a “monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers.”
To offset criticism TED membership was changed in 2007 to an annual fee of $6,000, which includes attendance of the conference and other benefits. Since 2006 the 18 minute TED talks have been offered for free viewing online through TED.com and have reached a wide international audience. A more flexible TEDx sub-brand has been created for smaller events. These are clearly identified as independently organised events but contain some mandatory TED generated video content. Aldeburgh Music's event was held under the TEDx franchise with tickets priced at a reasonable £20 for the full day conference.
To give the flavour of TED events three videos shown at the Aldeburgh event are embedded below. I have written previously about the need for classical music animateurs and there is no doubt that these are very professional talks. But, for me, classical music, motivational speak and Silicon Valley evangelising sit together uncomfortably and I am left agreeing with Nassim Taleb's analogy of "circus performers". But judge for yourself, the videos are long but worth watching.
* Israeli conductor Itay Talgam on how to lead like a conductor, complete with interesting footage of various maestros.
* David Byrne on how architecture helped music evolve, complete with a mention of Alex Ross.
* Benjamin Zander on music, passion and Chopin
For me the highlights of a fascinating day at TEDx Aldeburgh were not the recorded talks, or even the live talks by 1990s rock stars who have found a lucrative second wind combining technically dazzling light shows with mind numbingly banal muzak. No, the real stars were the presenters who made live music. This post is already starting to run slowly due to its video payload so I will add links rather than embed more videos. Sarah Nicolls played her extraordinary 'inside-out piano' and programmer Tim Exile contributed an improvised live set, see them both here. Peter Gregson astounded with his electric cello and Imogen Heap's final set made the timing overrun worthwhile.
But the real star was 14 year old percussionist Matthew Farthing. Another presenter made sure we knew he had flown in from Los Angeles. By contrast Matthew, who is a beneficiary of the admirable Aldeburgh young musician scheme and has just been selected for the National Youth Orchestra, came up the road from Ipswich to modestly show us how classical music transcends Californian-style evangelism.
TEDx Aldeburgh was definitely a worthwhile experiment and we will be there again for Peter Gregson's ambisonic set with Tod Machover on Friday evening (Nov 12). But in the end, the event showed that Aldeburgh does live music better than California does live speakers. Perhaps Aldeburgh ought to be spreading its ideas around the West Coast rather than vice versa?
Also on Facebook and Twitter. I paid for my £20 TEDx ticket. Header photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk