Friday, February 03, 2006

youth will be served

As an orchestra of young musicians, the New World Symphony probably suffers from some of the problems of youth: we want to be fun, innovative, even a little wacky, but we also want to be taken seriously and respected artistically. An article in this week's Miami New Times, "Beach Blanket Beethoven" by Emily Witt, reviews one recent attempt.

Witt's piece is more society column than music review, beginning with a summary of what everyone was wearing:
Stacey Glassman, blond and enthusiastic, teetered on a stage by the pool of the Raleigh Hotel in a cotton-candy pink, Marilyn Monroe-inspired halter-dress and heels. Behind her, nine New World Symphony musicians sat or stood according to the demands of their instruments. Most were in their midtwenties and looked their recital best — apparently happy to be out of the traditional black-and-white penguin suits for once.
Actually, we almost never wear those traditional penguin suits for NWS concerts, preferring to go with all-black suits for a hipper (if somewhat mafioso) vibe. At these kinds of events the slick packaging and catch-phrases can often outweigh the musical content, as much as we would all like to move past pretenses. Witt seems to share this goal, but her comments and interviews with performers and audience members only seem to devolve into more pithy phrases: "too short" or "it's different".

Witt's concluding lines seem to underline the cheapening effect, making the whole thing sound contrived and hollow:
Marian Morgan, another attendee, who gave her age as "old enough" but guaranteed she would always consider herself "both young and professional," confessed disappointment: "As an older young person, I don't think they're giving the audience a chance to relax in to the music," she explained. "It sort of cheapens it into another South Beach thing."

"We wanted to keep the energy up," [musical arranger Dustin] Budish responded.

By 7:30 p.m. the guests began to depart, passing by a sign that read "Friends of New World Symphony, Private Event" and picking up complimentary gift bags on the way. Inside? Plum-color nail polish by Goldie cosmetics, Smashbox lip gloss, Frizz-Ease hair products, and a subscription card for Friends of New World Symphony.

I suppose I share some of Ms. Witt's frustrations with these sorts of gatherings. Too often we try to please new audiences by presenting things that are either poorly prepared, lacking in substance, or which bore us to tears, with inevitably disappointing results. I can't speak about this specific event though, since I wasn't there - I went to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play at the Broward Center instead. That program included a celebrated warhorse (the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto), a seldom-heard symphony (Elgar's First), and a sensationally virtuosic overture ('Scapino' by William Walton). In other words, the most traditional kind of program - and yet the result was fantastically moving and inspiring, since it was performed with such conviction.

I suppose the lesson is that getting the audience in the seats, or on the patio, means little if we don't give them something singular and meaningful to listen to. It's all just so much cosmetics and packaging, until we let the music provide the gloss and the polish.

Tonight and Saturday evening we are playing two "Community Concerts" at the Lincoln Theatre, with a program of familiar showpieces: Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Ravel's Bolero. Both performances will be preceded by cocktail receptions sponsored by Bacardi, and the intent is to draw that elusive young professional audience. Hopefully they will go home excited about what we are playing, and not just what we were wearing!

1 comment:

mkh said...

I'm looking forward to attending the Saturday night performance.