A couple of weeks ago, I posted some testimony, to the power of concerts that blend classical music and indie rock, and draw an excited new audience. Here’s more, sent to me in an email from a friend who works in the mainstream part of the classical music business. He and I had been at Le Poisson Rouge together, seeing a show from the Nonclassical record label (and club night) that’s based in London. A show also cosponsored by New Amsterdam Records, a New York label, which, like Nonclassical, features music by classical composers who’re as much influenced by pop music as they are by classical.
All of which reads, to me, like a boring list of things that many readers might not know about. So let me back up. For decades now, we’ve had an alternative classical scene in New York, starting with the minimalists, moving forward through time with Bang on a Can, and now bursting out with amazing force with, for instance, the big orchestral concerts that Wordless Music did, and the big, free Bang on a Can marathons, which last all night and attract 1000 people or more.
I’ve blogged about a lot of this before. (As you can see from the last two links.) All these events involve composers who write classical music — structured, preplanned, notated — but do it in an environment informed by pop, something that for these composers is as unremarkable as Milton Babbitt being influenced by Schoenberg.
And an audience has grown — an audience of nonspecialists, an audience that surely for the most part never goes to Lincoln Center, an audience that might be attracted by the presence of indie rock on some of these programs, or by a big indie rock star who’s written a classical piece. But above all, this is an audience that doesn’t care about labels, isn’t put off by complexity or austerity, reacts with shouts and whoops, and finds the new classical pieces on all these programs completely comfortable.
On Saturday, a piece I’m writing about all this — and about the challenge it poses to the classical mainstream — should be published in the Wall Street Journal. But now I just want to offer testimony. Two people I know, with a thoroughly mainstream classical background, went to concerts like the ones I’ve described.
One said, in an e-mail she was happy for me to quote:
The melodies and rhythms washed over me throughout the evening, and I was truly moved. OK, I admit…I even shed a few cathartic tears. It just felt so RIGHT to be in a concert hall with an audience of younger people who don’t typically attend symphonic concerts. And they were loving what they were hearing. [For more, see my testimony post.]
And now this, from another friend, after another concert (also quoted by permission):
I can’t tell you how grateful I am you invited me. It was a terrific night, both personally and professionally. I would love to go back.
One of the things that made it work for the audience was that the whole gestalt was that of an indie rock event, not classical. The age of the performers played into that — they were the same demo and dressed the same as the audience.
Note that the music at this concert — the Nonclassical event at LPR — was wholly classical, and often without any obvious pop music reference. And note also that the audience was largely silent, even though both the guy who runs Nonclassical (Gabriel Prokofiev, the composer’s grandson) and one of the chamber groups that played both told the crowd to make some noise. But still it felt like a rock show. And was tremendously exciting to a mainstream classical person who was there.
(I’m not finished with the arts and popular culture. Just needed to do some time management, a big refrain with me lately, and thought this would be a little quicker to write.)