Today's Koan: what is the sound just before Beethoven Nine?

That is violinist and concert curator extraordinaire Hugo Ticciati in the photo just sitting. My post about his 'White Light: The Space Between' project with the Swedish O/Modernt Chamber Orchestra generated considerable interest, including this thoughtful comment from a reader:
In addition to the concert hall's rigidity in programming, it has also moved incredibly slowly in timing of concerts - in the UK at least 7.30 remains a norm. OK, so there are some late-night, Sunday morning, and early evening performances, but more imaginative timings, perhaps combined with inter-linked programmes, could prove attractive. After all, since the advent of recorded music we have been able to choose when to listen to music, and not everyone finds the 'main event of the evening' attractive - or even easily digestible - see the 'problem' of providing a suitably complementary first half to Betthoven's 9th, for example.
That comment makes an important but overlooked point. Streaming - music anytime, anyplace - has completely and irreversibly changed the way recorded music is consumed. Yet live classical music has refused to acknowledge this fundamental change. Classical music's reaction to technology-driven seismic shifts in consumer behaviour at the macro level is to tinker with concert presentation at the micro level - informal dress and encouraging applause between movements. Which achieves very little; because whether we like it or not classical music's target market is part of the post-digital cohort. So it is simply unrealistic to expect its audience to regress to a pre-digital mindset when they enter the concert hall.

Concert timing is just one example of how classical music needs to reinvent itself for the post-digital audience. As has been explained here previously, the very sound heard in a concert hall is another example: acoustically perfect concert halls simply conform to a specification defined in the 19th century. Post-digital audiences have a totally different sonic expectation which is defined by headphone listening and cinema surround sound.

Catering for the monkey minds of the post-digital generation - the trigger for my original article about Hugo Ticciati's 'White Light' - is yet another example of how classical music needs to reinvent itself. That reader comment highlights the problem of complementary concert programming - what precedes Beethoven Nine? But does concert programming need to be complementary? Does the hors d'oeuvre really have to offer the same flavours as the main course? Hugo Ticciati offers food for thought - both hors d'oeuvre and main course - on another of his O/Modernt releases. 'From the ground up – The chaconne' pays homage to, among others, Bach, Purcell and Pelligrini and Shakespeare by combining scrupulous musical integrity with remixing - Dido's Lament Remix - and rapping from New York rapper Baba Israel, plus contributions from the respected actor Sam West. Hugo Ticciati's take on the chaconne is Jordi Savall on steroids - video sampler via this link - for the online monkey minds Baba Israel's contribution starts at 1'40".

Inevitably classical industry 'experts' will dismiss any challenge to concert hall macro conventions as being 'uncommercial'. But industry experts have a very strong vested interest in maintaining a status quo which is lucrative for a small group of beneficiaries, but which is rapidly turning concert hall into museums of pre-digital sound. In 2017 a post here quoted respected baritone Stéphane Degout as explaining that "The tastes of audiences are often misjudged: the public are not backward children who only like what they know, and who have no appetite for the new or willingness to adapt... one must first acknowledge the audience's intelligence instead of acceding to the wishes of a programme planner who has a narrow outlook and an inbuilt fear of risk". Two years later Stéphane's words can be paraphrased as 'one must first acknowledge the classical audience's post-digital conditioning instead of acceding to the wishes of a self-interested music establishment with a narrow outlook and an inbuilt fear of risk'.

Credit for photo of Hugo Ticciati to Final Note Magazine. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


tim.brooke said…
Interesting and thought-provoking as always, Bob.
One thought though, does Beethoven 9 even need an accompanying piece? How much more refreshing just to play one big piece on its own with no interval. Sure, the hall would miss out on a few drinks sales, perhaps, but it would focus people on the main (and only) event and be less of a slice out of their precious spare time.

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