The summer of lean forward festivals

If 1967 was the 'The Summer of Love', 2009 is turning into 'The Summer of Lean Forward Festivals'.

The lean forward further Les Orientales in France in June was a hard act to follow. But Contemporary Art Norwich 09 has picked up the theme magnificently with its mixture of visual and performance art. Last night we were at CAN 09's first (and free) UK showing of Argentian-born Mariano Pensotti's La Marea (The Tide) in Norwich, which is where all my photos were taken.

Linking threads through Mariano Pensotti's work are the expressive use of video as a narrative element, juxtaposed with live performances and site specific events. These work as urban interventions where fictional scenes are played in a real context.

La Marea is the ultimate street theatre. It takes place in a shopping street late in the evening. The performance consists of nine scenes, some inside shops and others directly on the street, as above. The scenes are played simultaneously and last ten minutes each, with a two minute pause in between. There is no particular order to watch them, you choose your own path.

Narratives for each scene are provided by text on a video screen. La Marea is a technical as well as creative tour de force, with the nine discrete scenes synchronised centrally. Projected surtitles are visible in most of my photos and can be seen projected onto a storefront in the photo above.

This part of Norwich city centre is normally deserted at 11.00pm on a Saturday night. Look at the crowds in my photo above, look at the faces, and look at the spread of ages. The summer of lean forward festivals is showing there are many different ways to reach new audiences. Read about lean forward music here. Capture the spirit of La Marea, as performed in Buenos Aires, in the video below.

There is one more performance of La Marea tonight (July 26) at 9.00pm in Norwich. Well worth leaning forward to. All photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Good to see the Avignon Festival leaning forward as well -
La Cowntessa said…
I'm really curious as to what you think creates "lean-forward" music in the arena of presenting vocal music, such as art songs, etc. Particularly when you do not have any sort of budget or corporate backing to underwrite costs.

I have my own ideas on the subject, of course, but I would like to know what it is that grabs you, personally...
Pliable said…
Prescient question AS. I had been thinking about exactly the same question myself, and was considering writing a post about it.

Lean forward music has nothing at all to do with budget or corporate backing to underwrite costs. In fact quite the opposite. As budgets and corporate involvement increase, so the lean back factor increases. There is no better exmple of this than today's lean back BBC Proms, as compared with the lean forward era of Boulez and Glock.

I look for one thing above all others in programmes today - surprise. I want a performance to surprise me with a different perspective on familiar works, or with a new discovery, or with an unfamiliar talent, or by imaginative programme planning, etc etc.

It is not novelty for novelty's sake. Wilhelm Furtwängler once spoke about performances being encrusted with 'the hoar frost of routine'.

The hoar frost of routine is increasingly found in the programmes of touring orchestras, in the performances of jet set maestros, in the pot-boiler recordings of the standard repertoire, and in the ratings obsessed schedules of the major broadcasters.

All I want are concerts and recordings where there is no hoar frost of routine. The good news is that, as the blog is confirming, I am finding them.
Pliable said…
This excerpt from the Times review of Prom 15: BBC SO/Belohlávek says it all -

Our final stop was Mother Russia, and the Shrovetide fair of Stravinsky’s Ballets Russes spectacular Petrushka, heard in the tidied up, slightly slimmer revision of 1946. This proved to be another disappointment. Colours were bright; each piece of Stravinsky’s jigsaw slotted into place. But clarity and precision were not enough. Health and Safety inspectors and their clipboards had visited this fair, eliminating infection, danger and a good deal of excitement.
La Cowntessa said…
Here's where I'm going with this, I think. To start with, you should know, I do most of my work in NYC.

Lately I've been going to a lot of experimental or avant-guard theatre in a variety of genres -- straight plays, musical theatre, dance, etc. And each time, I am struck by how absolutely retarded classical music is in its evolution. The most "radical" or "experimental" thing related to classical music or opera that I can think of here in NYC recently was maybe the production of Die Soldaten at the Armory and La Didone by the Wooster Group that I saw some months back.

Part of it is the old guard audience who are constantly reactionary to anything that could even be mildly perceived to be "new." See: the bitter anger and desire to kill Mary Zimmerman over the her Sonnambula at

But, I also think that that sort of conservative, "we must preserve this as a museum piece" attitude in the audience has been (at least in part) fostered and encouraged by the classical music industry, itself.

When media/technology began to change in the 70's, instead of adapting and embracing, the classical music community held on, kicking and screaming, to the "Good Old Days" and tried to sell itself as an elitist, separatist sport. I.E., only SPECIAL, really INTELLIGENT and DISCERNING people go to the opera, or whatever.

Which, of course, is death. The Met/Gelb has understood this, I think, and is trying to move forward without alienating the Old Guard, but even his very conservative movements forward receive such fury!

But what it boils down to is this: this stuffy, we-must-hold-on-to-the-past attitude makes it extremely hard to get an audience for any sort of recital program here (the only exception being if you're a huge name doing it at Carnegie Hall, and then, it's still hard). Recitals are only attended out of a sense of duty, and the impression outsiders get is that it's dull and boring and a relic of the past. There's so many other art forms in NYC that are vibrant and exciting and forward thinking, so why WOULD someone want to come to a boring, snooze-fest of Schubert lieder?

SO, even if you try (and I do!) to make something new and innovative, etc, it's nearly impossible to get an audience.

I was speaking about this with someone the other day -- I never do the "normal" concert or recital format, other than 2 acts and an intermission. I theme the recitals, use a combination of new, old, familiar, unfamiliar music, group them so that the concert has a story, or an arc, or SOMETHING.

And the people who do attend always tell me, oh, it was a great time! that was interesting music! this was fun!

And yet, I can't seem to move this out into the wider community. I don't know how to drag my music kicking and screaming into this century. I don't know how to create something with my art that will grab people, grab an audience, like other experimental theatre does.

I have been thinking about this a lot. I am trying new things each time, learning from the experience, etc, but it's just me. I don't have the resources to make a huge splash or rent out Zankel Hall or whatever, currently.

I do perceive that this is two problems -- one of image and one of content. You can have all the great content in the world, but image is what gets butts in seats.

Sorry to hit you with this Wall of Text, but this is a source of frustration to me and I honestly don't know where to go.
Pliable said…
I think this is worth running as a separate thread.

Maybe I'll do something with it next week.
La Cowntessa said…
I'll be interested to see what comes from it. I want to post some of this to my own journal and see what happens from there, too. Maybe I'm overlooking something obvious!

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