From one of my Eastman students, Jennifer Turbes, a violist. Like Erika Lange (whose comments I posted earlier), she wrote this in response to some questions I asked on a take-home exam. I’m posting it with her permission:
I was recently detained in New York City in the midst of my DMA audition tour. A fine city to spend a few extra days but my experience was stressful rather than invigorating and relaxing.
The one satisfying thing I did with my time was attend a symphony orchestra concert–the Minnesota Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. I’m a Minnesotan by birth and heart so nostalgia and pride would have satisfied my urges perhaps, but this was a fantastic concert. The orchestra and their leader, Osmo Vanska, played the famous Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven and two lesser-known works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The performances were spectacular, most notably for some amazing pianissimo passages–the Sibelius overture ended with barely audible timpani notes–and the enthusiasm of the musicians. Moral is, I was stressed to the max–I even broke out with shingles at the end of my trip!–but for two hours in a concert hall I was relaxed, at home, and able to process my emotions.
Because I can’t possibly believe I’m the only one who feels this way about such concerts, I don’t believe we will have to do away with the concert hall presentations of works from long ago. There are still plenty of people willing and excited to attend them and I’m not ready to give up on the recruitment process to grow that group.
Take the couple I attended the Minnesota Orchestra concert with. They’re 25 years old, newly married, and truly excited to attend classical music events. They’re not musicians, and they’re not rich. They are elementary school teachers who deem classical music a worthy recipient of their earnings and free time.
Things are going to need to get wilder and friendlier, however, if we’re going to attract the size of audience that we need to support the growing numbers of aspiring musicians. I think programming is going to continue to go in new directions and not one singular direction for that matter. Pieces will get newer, programs will get more exploratory, ensembles will be more flexible in size and shape, concert locations will move into more venues.In short, things are going to diversify. This is an age of independence. Not the leaving-home-and-having-a-go-of-it-independence but rather all-the-technology-one-can-dream-of-independence, allowing each of us to create a sound and visual world of our own choosing.
In order to attract these connoisseurs of self-created aesthetics, concert offerings will have to be in more places, doing more things, and advertising hard core.
Classical music should be performed personally, with integrity, and genuine interest in both the music and the audience.If a person or group cannot do that then they should not be in the business. That said, it really doesn’t matter how music is presented as long as it conveys those key aspects.The easiest way to do so, I think, is by talking to your audience during a performance. A genuinely delivered verbal introduction to a peace can do wonders for a listener’s level of experience. First, it shows them that you care about the piece and their experience of it.A few words about why you choose the work, what you’ve learned about it along the way, or perhaps a short demo of something cool in it gives the listener an insider view and a reason beyond mere formality to pay attention.Second, talking breaks down the barrier between stage and house, giving the feeling that instead standing on a pedestal for worship you’re simply standing in front of the audience with something to share.This assumes, of course, that the words will give a feeling of community and not be something like, “watch as I do something none of you could possibly understand!”
As far as dress, wear whatever you want!I don’t think something radical like performance in the nude is necessary, or appropriate unless it is really informed by the sounds and concepts of a piece. Nor do I want concert black to go by the wayside. Music is sound, and especially with a large orchestra it’s sound over individual virtuosity. I don’t want to see one second violinist wearing a bright pink cocktail dress.
Attitude, yes. Distraction, that too. There’s something to be said about the visual unity lent by a prescribed wardrobe. BUT, the musicians should be allowed to play in individual ways. That way, audience members who thrive off visual stimulation can enjoy picking out orchestra members for the way they physically make music not because they’re wearing an outlandish costume. And if the concert is on a Saturday afternoon, dress down a little. If it’s a Hawaiian theme, wear those awful floral shirts. If it’s a small chamber group, choose something fun–rainbow colors, all pastels, jeans and t-shirts, whatever! Most importantly, let the dress compliment the music not distract from it.
Location, location, location. I think musicians are all too concerned about this one and for all the wrong reasons. Yes, it’s thrilling to play in a hall with great acoustics and beautiful decorations. But this isn’t where the newest recruits to the music scene are found nor is it the most practical place to play nor the place where we often encounter our most appreciative audiences. There are only so many great halls in this world and even fewer people who understand how to make them. Therefore, we should consider ourselves lucky when presented with one but learn not to let acoustics dictate the success of a performance. I’ll take an enthusiastic audience and orchestra in a conference room over a boring performance and audience in a great hall any day. Or a boomy church sanctuary for that matter. I had the opportunity to tour with the St. Olaf College Orchestra for four years. No matter how small the town, we had great audiences; I honestly can’t remember a scantily populated audience space. And we played everywhere! Auditoriums, churches, gymnasiums, and even one venue that could best be described as an airline hangar where we performed from a shabby platform while sitting on ancient folding chairs.That audience, however, was amazing!I remember an old woman in one of the front rows who just wouldn’t stop smiling. Cheesy as ever, but that one person made the entire tour worthwhile for me.Another concert brought us to a church in Lincoln, NE where our wind section was joined (read: interrupted) by a stationary, marble alter and the sound was so live that we had to shorten every note to miniscule lengths and watch like mad to maintain any semblance of ensemble.The show was sold out.The tuba concerto a hit, and the church members banded together to host all 89 of us in their homes.I venture to say that the experiences we had on tour brought music beyond its meaning as mere art and into a much bigger, societal view.
As far as what should be played, everything! I talked about this [earlier]–we’re going to need to diversify to maintain audiences. Spread out, satisfy all the self-created aesthetics out there.
Musicians themselves, in fact, will need diversification as we are not exempt from the effects of technology and the accompanying ease of access to any thing we could dream of.Interests within our own community are ever expanding with those of society at large.
I don’t have a problem with musicians taking more freedoms in their performances. In fact, I believe the average faithful concert-goer would be glad to hear such risks taken. If they are going more for image than enjoyment as many argue, hearing a concerto played slightly differently or a Beethoven symphony with more extreme dynamics should make them shift in their seats because they will know, at least unconsciously, that they have heard something new or somehow exciting.Also, musicians should have fun with their reproitoire. As a classical girl, I often feel a bit jealous and even incompetent when listening to jazz or folk performers who are familiar enough with the language of their craft to improvise on the spot. I’d love to be able to jam on Beethoven quartet in C with a group of musicians but it’s simply not a skill I’ve developed or been encouraged to develop.
In sum, we classical musicians need to lighten up. We’re musicians first and superstars only if we’re lucky. The point should be to bring music to the world not fame to ourselves or to garner a complimentary review from one of the handful of critics out there. We should use our incredible luck to be doing something others consider fun for a living to read society, find the holes and to learn which ones our individual talents can fill. Personality, integrity and genuine interest are the keys.