Not a theory — instead, a way that really works. I’ve heard about it working, and I’ve also seen it myself, twice. You combine classical music with alternative pop (an umbrella term that may not really exist, but which I’m using here to mean all kinds of pop music that isn’t on the pop charts, including alternative rock and electronica). The London Sinfonietta (as I’ve written here before) has done this several times, and (or so I’ve been told) has gotten 1000 people in their 20s cheering for Xenakis.
There’s a double CD set on Warp Records (Warp is the Sinfonietta’s pop collaborator) documenting some of these events. There’s no Xenakis on it, but you can hear people screaming for Ligeti, Steve Reich, and the John Cage Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. (Aphex Twin, a Warp artist, uses prepared piano on his album Drukqs.)
And in New York, Ronen Givony, a grant writer with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, has staged two events of this kind in a church. I just came from one. A band called A Hawk and a Hacksaw — with two people in it, playing violin and accordion — opened the show, to cheers from the crowd. The church was packed with people who seemed to be in their 20s.
Then Steven Beck, a very good pianist (who took one of my Juilliard courses some years ago), played the Bach B flat Partita, to more cheers. And in fact the crowd cheered him twice, breaking into spontaneous applause after the Courante, and then cheering even more after the Gigue.
At the first of Ronen’s concerts, last month (if my tired mind remembers the date correctly), members of Wilco played some free jazz improvisations, not by any means easy listening, joined from the classical side by Jenny Lin, another very fine pianist, and Elliott Sharp, who’s been an out on the edge guitarist and composer for many, many years. Jenny also played some Shostakovich, which the crowd (even larger than the one tonight) seemed to love.
This really works. And the best part is that this audience is serious. You don’t need to shorten, sugarcoat, or simplify the classical pieces. The people hear them just as easily as they hear the pop stuff. It really works. And, maybe best of all, it takes classical music off its pedestal, and makes it nothing more (but also nothing less) than something terrific to listen to.