Thursday night I heard a wonderful concert by eighth blackbird, in Zankel Hall. There was a new Steve Reich piece, Double Sextet, and then an extravaganza — music plus exuberant staging – from the three Bang on a Can composers, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon. Among much else, this was a real New York event, highlighting music by two generations of composers whose sound just about screams “New York.” Steve Reich was New York in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Bang on a Can — not that they don’t have other influences — come in a direct line from him. That was especially clear at the start of their piece, with a rippling pattern of repeated things that wouldn’t have been possible without Reich showing the path.
This was a happy concert, too — pulsing music, music full of ideas and surprises, exuberant music (though it could be quiet and lyrical, too). One great (repeated moment) — big happy chords, bright major triads, in the Bang on a Can piece, played on percussion and accordion, with eighth blackbird’s enthusiastically grinning pianist handling the accordion.
But the audience could have been much bigger. Thousands of people in New York would have loved this concert, and might well have turned out for them, if they’d only known. I’ve seen those people, at the Bang on a Can marathon a year ago, at the Wordless music orchestra concert, at Sufjan Stevens’s show at BAM, and maybe at the Red Buill orchestra concert a couple of years ago, who filled Carnegie Hall, though that crowd was more club-glamorous than the people at the other three events. This also is at least in part the audience the new “Evening Music” show on WNYC means to attract.
And of course these people weren’t at Zankel because nobody tried to attract them. This wonderful concert took place under the old classical paradigm, in which new music concerts have a minority place, and get presented in small, restricted circumstances, on the assumption that not many people will come. Zankel is a terrific, stylish space, but still it’s part of that old paradigm and the audience for eighth blackbird was to some extent the familiar new-music in crowd.
So what could be done? Get the Wordless Music e-mail list, and promote the concert to everyone on it. That’s a start. But then you have to get viral marketing started. I think you have to start working early, to get consciousness of this event circulating. One place to start would be music schools, not just because students who want to play new music would love working with eighth blackbird, but because even students — a lot of them, anyway — who don’t take much interest in new music would have loved this event. So get eighth blackbird a residency at one of New York’s music schools, have them work there over the course of a year, have students play these two pieces.
That last would be natural. The Reich involves two sextets, which at this concert were both eighth blackbird twice, live and on tape. So have students be the other sextet. And singing in the dead of night is modular, divided into sections that could easily be alternated by various ensembles. Or, since the piece is so exuberantly staged, players could even replace each other in the middle of a section.
Get this into music schools, get students talking about it, and hordes of them might show up for the concert.