Snow day solutions

The big storm has hit New York. Juilliard closed for the day. My class is canceled. One great way to use the time I’ve just been given — post more solutions!

Here are some that came in as comments. I should also note that I’ve had some responses to my call for help, and that the blog sidebar on solutions is coming “with all deliberate speed” (to quote a famous line from the Supreme Court).

Here are today’s solutions. Note that I’m posting them simply in the order they came in. Thanks to all who sent them!

From Paul Gambill, something he did with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra:

A few years ago I commissioned a work by J. Mark Scearce that set Toni Morrison’s poem The Dead of September 11, for solo mezzo, solo violin and orchestra. As you can imagine, it’s an intense work, and one that I was nervous to program.  How do you attract and engage an audience with a concert that features the world premiere of a work about 9/11, and what else do you program on that concert?

My solution was to use gospel music on the first half that resonated with the sentiments in Morrison’s poem. We invited a narrator to read the poem in sections throughout the first half, interspersed with the gospel selections that featured several soloists and a gospel choir. In this way the audience was fully engaged with the text before hearing Mark’s work on the second half. Ultimately, the juxtaposition of the gospel selections on the first half against the classical intensity of the second half combined to create an unexpected synergy that carried the day.

I think many people would consider this an extreme example of “alternative” programming: gospel with new classical music. But just the idea that this is viewed as unusual programming is exactly why we should be doing more out-of-the-box stuff.  Let’s make it more normal to surprise our audiences and challenge their notion of what an orchestra (classical music) can be and the role it can have in their lives.

And this, from “a curious reader,” as he calls himself, in his vivid comments here:

Here’s an interesting “solution” that is painfully obvious (collaboration of different arts): premiered 2008 with orchestra, chorus, and ballet. i think that’s a great and unique take on a requiem that quite a few people can get excited for. another that I have to point out is Eric Whitacre’s “electronic opera” Paradise

it may not be for some, but this is a true fusion of everything great in classical music, and the best in the electronic scene in my opinion — and i feel that these two genre’s have the best cross over ability.Electronic music, like classical, is largely based on the inner-workings of line, timbre and how those two relate to each other.

After one listen, i was totally hooked and i really hope that the opera takes of — i think it has the potential to resonate with the younger generation easily. The theme and subject is great for the “untapped audience,” the music SOUNDS new, and Eric worked with an instantly recognizable name to do all the mixing/scratch work: Mr. Han from mega-band Linkin Park.

And then this, from Caspar Vogel, in the Netherlands:

The sociological angle is not without importance. I am inspired to tackle the presumed obvious, the unquestioned which goes without saying. To my mind there is much to say for weakening the mental biotope of classical music, firmly tied as it is to upper class, institutional power and yes places older generations take for granted: concert & recital halls, opera theatres.

I recently experienced the way New York’s Le Poisson Rouge mixes jazz and contemporary [classical] programming and as a result confuses, hopefully intrigues and seduces audiences. 

When I directed the Utrecht Early Music Festival I was not surprised to recognize many a medieval & renaissance buff elsewhere at cutting edge contemporary concerts. They are models of a growing audience of people who find their own way through many channels, internet included. Why do not we more adapt to this phenomenon and how?

Another thought. With the Rotterdam Opera Days Festival we wanted not only to serve the more or less accustomed audience at the well known venues, how super the programming there is. Our signature opening production is on several spots on the shore of the Maas river, audience transported by boat from one scène to another.

Moreover we reached out to the city- at-large, re-introducing the age old format of private concerts, opera aria recitals, mini music theater and musical story telling from various cultures included. We match singers and people who are willing to invite their neighbours and friends. For the artists the festival guarantees a very modest expense allowance, supplemented by audience donations afterwards. This brings starting professionals to studenthouses, living rooms, bread&breakfast, a home for the elderly, a civil center in a socially vulnarable quarter and many more spots, 50 in all.

So much fun that well established soloists also collaborate on the same terms. This really is a very rewarding and exciting experience for everyone involved and one of the most succesful components of the Festival.

So let’s also focus on more of these kind of practices wherever.

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  1. Janis says

    More cool stuff from Baltimore (is it wrong of me to take pride that it’s a woman music director who’s behind all this? Eh):,0,1690372.story

    ” … the 120 or so participants in the first BSO Academy will still have a packed schedule of group activities when they gather at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in June.

    For a week, beginning June 13, participants in the academy – tuition starts at $1,650 – will work intensely with BSO players and music director Marin Alsop.”

    Again — the orchestra is turning toward people who are not content to be a mere audience. And they are handing the music to the community. This sort of stuff is everything a modern orchestra needs to be: a community of musicians. I’d trade years off my life to have the Phila Orch do stuff like this …

  2. Janis says


    “The idea for an academy originated years ago among BSO musicians, but the players initially envisioned a summer camp for students and young professionals. Alsop introduced the adult-education angle.”

    Note that “young, hip, and trendy” isn’t the only audience you want to attract! Alsop was right to cast a wide net — these people have families that will come to see and hear them, and more disposable income.

  3. says

    Thanks for highlighting the program that combined gospel music with the premiere of This Thread, by J Mark Scearce. It’s an amazing work that I hope will get a larger audience.

    I’d be very interested to hear other ideas about creating programs with similarly intense works. I think the most creative programming ideas are often born out of necessity. Orchestra Remix has more info on this program, how it came together, and audio of the premiere performance of This Thread.

  4. says

    Not to toot my own horn (OK, I am tooting my own horn; we composers sometimes have to do whatever we can to get attention), but I wrote a political cantata that was performed in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival last year, received a fair bit of national press, including features in the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

    It’s being given a second performance in April at the Bard Conservatory by a conductor who is also wrestling with the questions you discuss. See his blog: And I hope very much that you don’t consider this too spammy, but I have to include a link to the fundraising website for the project:

    I’m proud to say that many, if not most, of the audience at the Fringe Performances were not “typical” classical music concertgoers. I had crossover from the theater scene, hipsters who heard about it in the alternative press, and of course, politically interested people (and at least one high-profile political blogger). One audience member approached me in tears after the show, radiant that I had “made something beautiful out of eight years of horror.” I received thank-you notes from all over the country, including from real-life figures involved in the events upon which the cantata was based.

    The classical music world has walled itself in. There’s nothing wrong with a composer wanting to play only to the people within the tower (or to even smaller walled gardens on the tower grounds), but in order to extend your reach outside, you and your art have to be involved in something outside. The reality is that we’re no longer going to reach a new audience with “Symphony No. 2″ or “Marimba and Cello Duet.” But tie your music to our broader culture, and you’ll appeal to people who live in that culture. Maybe you’ll even be able to lure them into our tower afterward.

    I don’t meet many people outside of the classical music world who say they love Ligeti. Ask them if they enjoyed the soundtrack of 2001 or Eyes Wide Shut, though, and you’ll get a different answer.

    Nicely put, Melissa. And of course you should toot your horn. If you don’t, who will?