June 16, 2007
Past and presentby Robert Levine
To Robert Levine (hi, Robert): I think, if you were plunked down in Mozart's time, yes, you'd find other violists playing music you know, but I don't think you'd entirely recognize the musical world you'd suddenly be in. ...
So -- Mozart's time. The first thing we'd find surprising (to put it mildly) would be the behavior of the audience. They wouldn't be quiet. They'd talk while the music was playing, and applaud the moment they heard something they liked, right in the middle of the performance... What it adds up to is a much more populist, much less canonic, much less "artistic," much more populist musical world than we have now, at least in classical music. It was noisier, more audience-based. Much more, in fact, like the pop world is today.
Opera is still a bit like that, of course. I've always wondered about the talking that apparently went on at concerts (and it is well-documented). Especially given the reduced volume of the older instruments, I'm surprised anyone heard much of anything. That's one difference from today's pop world. Say what one wants about the amplification levels at pop concerts; it's always possible to hear the performers.
...Secondly, performances would be, by our standards, pretty disorganized. There wasn't much rehearsal.
You'd be surprised at how used to that most orchestra musicians today are.
And third, the orchestras improvised. This was a shock for me when I read it. ..Me too. It still happens on occasion, but it's not supposed to. I suspect that, once the age of the "composer as genius" dawned, with Beethoven leading the way, that kind of fun was stamped out. I doubt that Wagner or Mendelssohn (to say nothing of Mahler, that gonzo control freak) tolerated much in the way of artistic freedom on anyone else's part.
And about classical downloads: Yes, it's well known that younger people are downloading classical music, ... It doesn't mean that kids are listening to entire symphonies, and especially it doesn't mean that they're going to classical concerts, or that they'd want to. Who doesn't like the sound of classical music? Its appeal, simply as something you'd listen to, isn't in question.I misunderstood some of your earlier remarks about canonical music. I'm glad we agree that the music per se doesn't need protection. How people hear the canon in 50 or 100 years is far less predictable than that people will hear it, one way or another.
Venues and the audience experienceby Robert Levine
Greg Sandow quoted Eric Lin writing:
Now, lest anyone accuse me of only likely contemporary music since I'm a composer, I'll admit that I love many works in the Canon. I recently went to hear the Emerson String Quartet play some of the late Beethoven quartets at Carnegie with a friend and I was expecting to really enjoy the concert. It was one of the most horrendous concert experiences I've ever endured, and I'm pretty sure my friend didn't enjoy the night out much either....From a musical level, I though the Emerson Quartet's performance was superb. But the disconnect between the energy level on stage and the lack thereof in the audience was rather painful. Honestly, I thought a lot of people looked rather bored; it's a subjective observation, yes, but it's my honest opinion.
There's a reason that "chamber music" is called "chamber music." It's intended to be performed in intimate settings. Hearing the Beethoven quartets in Carnegie is liking seeing Hamlet (without TV screens or amplification) at the Rose Bowl.
I think that orchestras have a similar problem. Look at the venues that Mozart and Beethoven and Bruckner wrote for; halls like the Musikverein and the old Leipzig Gewandhaus (destroyed during WW II). Compare those to the barns we play in today. No, I don't think that the solution to our problems is simply to build new halls (although I'd sure appreciate the kind of government support for halls that I see all around us for ball parks and football stadia). But, when we do build new halls, let's build them so that they provide an experience that's better than the iPod and not worse. That means, in particular, that they should be small.
We spend way too much money as an industry trying to fill halls with too many seats. Smaller halls mean not only fewer seats to sell, and therefore lower marketing costs, but far more energy and intimacy in the hall. Audiences want a connection with the performers? Don't put the audiences in the next county.
The most memorable concerts I've ever attended have been, without exception, when I was either right on top of the orchestra (in the chorus risers in Berlin or in the very front row at the Salzburg Festival, courtesy of Alberto Vilar) or in a really intimate space. When I was growing up, the San Francisco Symphony used to do its mid-Peninsula runouts at a wooden gym at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, which seated about 2000 people packed together on wooden risers. I still remember details from those concerts; it was like sitting in the orchestra. And the concerts were always packed.
A populist momentby Greg Sandow
At a performance of Beethoven's Ninth by the Milwaukee Symphony, the bass soloist switched from German into English to acknowledge something in the outside world. At the end of his recitative in the last movement, he sang:
...sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freuden -- HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
The audience burst out in what sounded (I heard this on a recording) like wildly happy applause. What do we think of this?
I have to admit I thought it was cheesy. But it did break down the walls that separate most orchestra concerts from the rest of the walls -- something that wouldn't be worth noting, if it didn't so rarely happen.
A voice we should hearby Greg Sandow
[These are comments posted in response to a discussion on my own blog. They come from Eric Lin, a college student, whom I don't know. The first part is what he originally posted. He offered the second part as an expansion and clarification. I think what Eric writes is especially relevant to what we're saying here. Lynne, I think you'll really like this!]
I'm still in college studying music (among other things) if that helps: The only 'classical' concerts I regularly go to these days are those with new groups like Alarm Will Sound (or other Miller Theatre concerts which George Steel dreams up). Zankel Hall concerts in New York aren't bad for the most part. The BoaC Marathon this year was fun too--and far from being a traditional concert.
Now, lest anyone accuse me of only likely contemporary music since I'm a composer, I'll admit that I love many works in the Canon. I recently went to hear the Emerson String Quartet play some of the late Beethoven quartets at Carnegie with a friend and I was expecting to really enjoy the concert. It was one of the most horrendous concert experiences I've ever endured, and I'm pretty sure my friend didn't enjoy the night out much either.
We found ourselves surrounded by an audience whose average age is anywhere from 40 to 50 years older than my friend or myself. I'm not in anyway being age discriminatory, but the discomfort was real. I love the late quartets and I was certainly excited to here Rihm's 'contemporary' quartet, yet when the old lady next to me started dozing off, I found myself getting sleepy too. I never would've imagined that I would start falling asleep during a Beethoven quartet.
Sadly, the most energetic period during the whole concert was the standing ovation given to the quartet at the end of the concert. (Some fearless soul gave a timid-yet provocative-clap between the first few movements of the Op. 132...only to give up after he/she was greeted with awkward silence and a few odd gazes. I should've started clapping too.)
I don't think I'm going back to another purely "Classical" performance anytime soon. It's expensive and suffocating. And I like Classical music. My poor friend.
From a musical level, I though the Emerson Quartet's performance was superb. But the disconnect between the energy level on stage and the lack thereof in the audience was rather painful. Honestly, I thought a lot of people looked rather bored; it's a subjective observation, yes, but it's my honest opinion.
I certainly don't attend concerts to nitpick and 'find' what's wrong with them. The cheapest ticket for the concert was 35 bucks, they didn't offer student tickets and I'm a poor college student. I certainly do not have that sort of money or time to do so. I went hoping for an enjoyable night of music.
I've been to concerts where the audience members (both young and old) walked out ACTIVELY talking about how exciting the music was. I remember overhearing some kid my age at a performance of Music for 18 Musicians talking to his kid brother about all the other Reich pieces he's heard and how cool they were AND how the music works (i.e. how phasing works, what minimalism is etc !!!!). There were also older audience members (some of whom were probably the same age as Reich himself and they seemed equally excited).
The whole place was buzzing. As a result, the standing ovation given to So Percussion at the end of the concert felt genuine and I eagerly joined.
Perhaps it's not so much my discomfort with the age of the audience as with the feeling that for a good portion of the audience, going to hear the Emerson Quartet was something routine rather than special. Nobody seemed excited, or perhaps I missed something and they all felt the Beethoven quartets were such introspective music that it should only be received with drooping heads, yawns or a hand on the face, supporting their head.
Perhaps my problem isn't with the presentation but with the audience itself. I'm sure they love Beethoven, but some certainly didn't show it.
So not only do the performers not react to the audience, the audience didn't seem to react much either--until the standing ovation at the end of the concert of course, which ironically also marked the moment when a good portion of the audience started exiting the hall in a rush.
If you know the end of the first movement of Op. 132, it ends with a brief majestic forte coda. Someone started to clap--it was a natural reaction. Yet, the person stopped when nobody else did, because the oppressive cultural police tells us that clapping between movements is improper.
There's a story about Beethoven reportedly calling the audience "Cattle! Asses!" when they requested encores and cheered after the inner movements of op. 130 but not the Grosse Fuge which originally ended the piece. (Ironically, this little anecdote was printed in the even more oppressive program notes.)
I'm not asking for much (I'm really not even complaining about the concert format...); I just wish the audience can and would react more naturally to what is really great and visceral music.
Was the past really like the present?by Greg Sandow
This is fun.
Some brief responses. (Well, not so brief. I don't seem to have "brief" in my repertoire, for which I apologize.)
To Robert Levine (hi, Robert): I think, if you were plunked down in Mozart's time, yes, you'd find other violists playing music you know, but I don't think you'd entirely recognize the musical world you'd suddenly be in. Parenthetically, I'll note that the classical music world seems to have forgotten some of its history, especially the parts that suggest that classical music practice has changed rather drastically over the centuries, so that the classical music world we now have isn't much like the classical music world of the past. It's really bracing to dig into the real history -- which, Robert, neither you nor I were taught anything about in music school, so it's not our fault if we don't know it now. The current generation of music historians, though -- or at least some of them -- are all over it.
So -- Mozart's time. The first thing we'd find surprising (to put it mildly) would be the behavior of the audience. They wouldn't be quiet. They'd talk while the music was playing, and applaud the moment they heard something they liked, right in the middle of the performance.
Secondly, performances would be, by our standards, pretty disorganized. There wasn't much rehearsal. (Robert, you'd be way ahead of the game. You'd already have played the Magic Flute viola part, while your colleagues in the viola section would be hacking their way through more or less at sight.)
And third, the orchestras improvised. This was a shock for me when I read it. One authority on this is Neal Zaslaw, the leading musicological authority on the Mozart symphonies. He's written an eye-popping paper on improvisation by 18th century German orchestras. Sometimes the entire first violin section would all improvise at once, each player making up his own version of the music. (They all would have been male back then.) All of them, that is, making up independent versions of what they saw written in their parts, no matter how discordant the result would have been. (Berlioz complained of this when he visited Italy in his own time, a couple of generations after Mozart. The violinists at Italy's leading opera house, La Scala, did what 18th century German orchestras did, and Berlioz hated it.)
There would be other differences, too. What it adds up to is a much more populist, much less canonic, much less "artistic," much more populist musical world than we have now, at least in classical music. It was noisier, more audience-based. Much more, in fact, like the pop world is today. One painting form the time, by Canaletto (this is discussed in Christopher Small's book Musicking) shows an 18th century performance that in some ways looks very much like what goes on in a rock club now. There's an orchestra on stage, and in the rest of the building, people are talking, walking around, and eating. Right in front of the stage is a knot of people listening intently. This is the world you'd be in, Robert, if you were transported back into the 18th century. If you happened to be in Prague, and played viola in the world premiere of Don Giovanni, you would have heard the singers playing Don Giovanni and Leporello improvise parts of the second act finale. (This is documented, very tastily, in Thomas Forrest Kelly's book First Nights at the Opera.)
(The Zaslaw citation: John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw, "Improvised Ornamentation in Eighteenth-Century Orchestras," Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 524-577. I don't mean to be a pedant, but this stuff is so new to people in the classical music world that some may doubt it really exists.)
And about classical downloads: Yes, it's well known that younger people are downloading classical music, far more than they ever bought it in record stores. This is part of a larger phenomenon -- a wonderful trend toward interest in a wide variety of music. But let's not exaggerate it. It doesn't mean that kids are listening to entire symphonies, and especially it doesn't mean that they're going to classical concerts, or that they'd want to. Who doesn't like the sound of classical music? Its appeal, simply as something you'd listen to, isn't in question. What's worth pondering, rather, is the way in which we're asked to listen to it -- entire concerts of old classical repertoire, played in formal dress, with an older, largely passive audience.
Footnote about Bill Osborne. He keeps popping up in these discussions, always saying the same thing. The question for him -- especially since, for God's sake, he lives in Germany! -- would be why he doesn't note that government funding for the arts in Europe has been falling for many years now. The Berlin Philharmonic, for instance, now gets only half its funding (if that) from government sources, As a result, the Berlin Philharmonic and other European orchestras are out there scrambling for cash much like American orchestras, even if they don't yet need to do it to the same extent. But they're certainly bringing in American consultants to teach them how to raise funds, and how to do marketing.
Death of an expertby Russell Willis Taylor
Difficult to know what to add to so many insightful observations, so have been reading rather than writing. It is gratifying to see that we are beyond the "we don't want the world to change" stage, if not perhaps all at the same stage of acceptance that the delivery systems that we have invested untold millions in just may not meet the needs and wants of the next generation. This is not to say that there isn't a role for wonderful music beautifully played by professional musicians in a glorious concert hall, but is rather to say that perhaps we need to get to grips with the fact that this is far from the only experience of classical music that people want, and they may not want to experience as much of it as we wish to produce.
One of the respondents early on in this blog commented that "I'm not a great watcher. . . I like to be singing or playing." And there it is - a succinct affirmation that the unmet appetite is the participatory one. I think it goes much deeper than just the American Idol syndrome, or everyone wanting their fifteen minutes of fame. Some of you may have followed the story in both Wired and The Washington Post about a respected journalist who found he could not interview bloggers for a story, as they refused to have their words filtered through him as a professional journalist. This goes much further than just the curatorial me, it is an example of the zeitgeist telling us that the role of the expert is shifting rapidly. New technologies are not just helping people explore ways in which to be creative, they are giving people the outlet to be heard and are providing a powerful vehicle for the democratization of expression.
A recent study by five university psychologists analyzed results from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (I'm not making this one up, folks) and demonstrated that since 1982 young people are experiencing an inexorable increase in the "positive and inflated view of the self." The academics speculated that technology may have something to do with it, but the point is that the next generation of viewers see themselves differently than our current audiences do, and in a pretty fundamental way. If we want anything we do to be of relevance, we have to see ourselves and the role we play in their lives differently to the same degree of radical change. This is not one for tinkering at the margins - this is a complete shift from being the expert to making each and every audience member the expert, and living with their freely expressed opinions.
The organizational structure of most of our business doesn't lend itself to change in this way, but Doug has admonished us to stick with one topic per posting, so I will save that for later.
The Arts Experience vs. The ARTS (Warning!-- this entry contains a sports analogy)by Lynne Conner
I'd like to argue for another definition of engagement from the one that we seem to be focused on in this discussion and in much of the current industry literature (e.g., Gifts of the Muse).
What I mean when I talk about engagement is NOT what happens in the moment of reception, when we are the butts-in-the-seats at a concert (play, ballet, opera). For me, the most significant opportunities for engagement come before and after the arts event, when audiences are invited to formulate and express an opinion in a public context. I believe today's potential arts audiences don't want the Arts; they want the arts experience. They want the opportunity to participate--in an intelligent and responsible way--in telling its meaning. Like their forebears in the amphitheaters of fifth-century Athens and the vaudeville palaces of nineteenth-century America, they want a real forum--or several forums--for the interplay of ideas, experience, data, and feeling that makes up the arts experience. They want to retrieve sovereignty over their arts-going by reclaiming the cultural right to formulate and exchange opinions that are valued by the community.
Consider, for instance, what it means to engage as a football game. I acknowledge that sports--with their emphasis on competition and tribal affiliations--serve a set of individual and collective impulses arguably distinct from those serviced by our contemporary definition of art. (Though I also take the opportunity to note that many forms of western art, including theatre, began in a competitive, tribal environment.) But perhaps sports attendance is so high in the United States because of the felt value of participating in the sports experience rather than in simply watching the sports event itself. Sports fans are constantly invited to co-author meaning and are regularly provided with experiential opportunities that facilitate that co-authoring process. The enormous amateur sports enterprise--enabling children and adults to participate on a physical level--supports a connection to and engagement with the professional industry. But even non-athletes can participate in significant and meaningful ways. Every day they can read in newspapers about their game of interest: its current conditions, its people, its politics. Every day they can watch and listen to expert analysis of their game on the television or the radio, and every day they can debate their own opinions with a coworker or a neighbor or make a call to radio and television talk shows. In our society opportunities for the analysis of and debate about sporting events are so abundant, in fact, that we can be democratic in how we field those opportunities. We have the cultural space, so to speak, to listen to everyone's opinion.
The distinction here is obvious: We do not have the same attitude or approach to arts as to sports. We rarely carry the energy of an arts experience into our work environment, and we seldom, if ever, feel knowledgeable or empowered enough to debate the meaning or value of an arts event. Sports fans, unlike their arts counterparts, have been given permission to express their opinions openly and the tools they need to back up those opinions. The experiences that surround the sporting event--from talk shows to twenty pages of sports writing in the daily newspaper--help the audience to prepare, to process, to analyze, and to feel a deep sense of satisfaction.
I ask you, if you put your average passionately engaged football fan in a room with a tv and turned out the lights, told her to be quiet, didn't give him any accessible background information (no newspaper, tv, radio or internet coverage), and didn't offer him or her any opportunities to talk about it before (no tailgate parties, no sidewalk or over-the-fence encounter with the neighbors) or afterwards (no call-in shows, no water cooler chats)--what would happen to the sports industry?
As every sports fan knows, the real pleasure, the deep satisfaction, of the sports experience is not limited to watching the game--it's in those public opportunities to prepare, to process, to analyze. Throughout the twentieth century, the sports industry has understood its responsibility to promote opportunities for public debate and civic discourse. The arts industry has largely neglected that task, and we are paying for it now.
An audacious new world of creativity?by Moy Eng
I am witnessing the redefinition of artmaking and cultural engagement at the beginning of the millennium. A redefinition fueled by technology and the internet where everyone is creative; anyone can be an artist; and creative expressions have expanded far beyond the standard art idioms to encompass anime and machinima. Compared to jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman whom could not readily find support or an audience after music critics claimed he played out of tune instead of hearing the crafting of a new language, experimentation with new forms can find a global audience/community with virtually one click. As articulated in Jenkins and Bertozzi's article Artistic Expression in the Age of Participatory Culture and my personal observations with teens and young adults, many have bypassed formal intermediary institutions such as nonprofit theaters for validation, and support. As a result, they are changing not only how art is created and disseminated but fundamentally redefining what constitutes art, culture, an artist, the artistic/creative experience, its role in daily life and where it's experienced.
Will this trend radically change the way in which arts and culture is funded? Quite likely for supporters who care about artmaking or cultural participation. For institutional funders such as The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, it will be a challenge to figure how to adeptly shift resources to support new ways of artmaking and cultural engagement. IRS tax code regulations and established philanthropic practices have long focused the bulk of foundation support to the creators, producers and presenters of art via nonprofit arts organizations. Quite simply I am awed and thrilled by the proliferation and breadth of diverse cultural engagement. I believe that the most important step for the Hewlett Foundation is to learn more, listen and be open to what is unfolding to determine how we could more fully respond with the right strategies to support this new world of creative expression.
The European modelby Robert Levine
William Osborne wrote (in a comment):
I hate to speak in such blunt terms, but the naivety of this discussion is appalling, even if based on very common American delusions. You refuse to admit that our problems with the performing arts are systemic, due to our lack of public arts funding. It really is a form of willful denial with the result that your views are not only blinkered, they reflect a chauvinistic ethnocentricity.
...The USA is the ONLY industrial country in the world that does not have extensive public funding for the arts. You all accept this extremism as if it were normal and confine your thinking to this absurd paradigm. As arts journalists you should be the first to protest our lack of public funding for the arts. You should be the first to open discuss how the lack of public funding contextualizes all of the problems and challenges you are discussing. So why all the silence?
Actually the US does have extensive public funding for the arts. But it's done by tax policy rather than direct funding. It probably doesn't provide as much funding for the arts per capita as does the direct subsidies in some (not all) European countries. But it provides far more money for the arts than any other mechanism that any conceivable constellation of political forces in the US could achieve.
I'd love to have the kind of public funding that German orchestras have. It's going to happen in the same millennium that the Berlin Bombers have the best record in baseball.