Monday, April 13, 2009

classical music's brave, hip new world

Greg Sandow has seen the future of classical music, and it's a sophisticated mishmash of "baroque/techno/grime/classical/avant-garde," playing at trendy clubs. He writes about it in a recent Wall Street Journal article:
So there I was not long ago at Le Poisson Rouge, a New York club, for a classical-music show, and the guy in the DJ booth was telling all of us to "talk and clap when you like. And go to the bar if you get bored."
He goes on to describe the audience, the atmosphere, and the music: "everything was strong and savvy, and much of it was purely classical, inhabiting indie pop territory in its DNA without showing any signs of that externally. A lot of it was gently dissonant, and sometimes roughly dissonant, often surprising, always cogent and thoughtful." It seems to have been a brilliant success, marred only by the excessive length, over three hours. If the New York Phil or Carnegie Hall would just loosen up and hold this type of show, Sandow speculates, they "might attract 1,000 newcomers" to a concert of obscure experimental music.

It's an exciting idea, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time that classical music has ridden the coat-tails of a popular music scene to achieve its own goals. At the New World Symphony, I frequently shared a stand (and briefly, an apartment wall) with Matt W., a bass player who was also a club DJ. I would joke that in 20 years, while most of us would be struggling to make ends meet with low-paying orchestra jobs, Matt would be principal DJ with the New York Philharmonic, spinning remixes every night of Mahler symphonies and Debussy tone poems.

For now though, I'm still a bit nonplussed by the trend. This might be because I personally don't go to clubs, and so the etiquette there -- the protocol of what to do and say, how to behave, when to applaud or shout or just chill -- is as mystifying to me as a symphony concert for the uninitiated. Even if I am curious about the music and the performers, I'd rather hear them in a setting where I'm comfortable.

Being told to talk, clap, or grab a drink if it suits my mood, seems like too many choices for me -- I'd rather just enjoy the music, without all the social dimensions. That would seem to be the one choice you're not given at these concerts, since other audience members are sure to char, mill around, or maybe even to "get rowdy" as one performer instructed the crowd.

Or are they? Sandow describes another concert at the same club: "Earlier this year I heard Messiaen's austere Quartet for the End of Time on a bill with two ambient electronic pop acts. The crowd -- many of whom wouldn't even have known who Messiaen was -- sat in rapt silence, and roared their approval at the end." That sounds a lot like the classical music audiences I'm used to at conventional, un-hip classical chamber music concerts: respectful, attentive, but quite enthusiastic. Maybe as performers, we get the audiences we deserve -- and as audiences, we get the musical performance we deserve, no matter how hip the setting and scene.

Read Greg Sandow's article here: "A Young, Hip, Classical Crowd"


Anonymous said...

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Monir Sider said...

Listening to classical music is one of the great pleasures of life, but many people are afraid of him. Mainly because it is not well understood. There is no reason to study music for fun, it's no different from the appreciation of the great art of a master painter, but there are sensible guidelines to follow greater recognition.