First thought: It may already exist elsewhere, most likely in big cities: London, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Flood me, if you like — I’d be thrilled — with info. I saw an audience like this in the ’80s for one of the new music concerts John Adams curated and conducted with the San Francisco Symphony. And Present Music, the terrific Milwaukee new music series, seems to have created a large audience for itself, which I’m guessing can’t just be the normal classical music or new music crowd.
There must be many other examples. (I’m sure I’m forgetting some I’ve seen.) Educate me!
But New York — or, more generally, any really large city — has advantages in creating this audience. Or finding it. Pure size is an advantage. If we imagine ( a somewhat crude way of looking at things, but a start) that the new audience might be some percentage, maybe a small one, of a city’s population, then the bigger the city, the bigger the audience. In my last post, I listed an impressively long list of New York events this audience seems to have showed up at. Clearly you need a largeish audience to support so many events. Especially since some of the events were large-scale — Le grand macabre at the New York Philharmonic, the triple bill Monodramas at the New York City Opera. You can’t bring off events on that scale without a large audience. Or at least I’d think you can’t do many of them.
But there’s something even more important than pure size I think, and that’s the way the size of a city can help generate a critical mass. A large city is more likely to have media that cover unusual events. In a large city, there’s more chance that you’ll hear of unusual things from a friend, because you have more chance to find friends who are into unusual things. There’s more chance you can find a large audience for something unusual simply by planting your event in a public place, as Bang on a Can has been doing for years with their marathon. Or if, like the marathon, you’re also part of a larger festival, that festival will draw a larger audience in a larger city, which means that a larger number of people with unusual taste will hear about the festival, and respond to the new classical music on it.
And so on. It’s not hard to figure out how a critical mass works. What I think happens is that in a large city, you can increase the percentage of people interested in the kind of event I’m talking about, just because the events themselves, as they continue to burst forth, create a presence that draws people in.
But enough of that. What happens in a smaller city? I don’t think it’s impossible to make the kind of thing I’m talking about happen. And this, more than anything else, is what I want to stress in this post. You might not be able to get a New York-size new music scene happening, with a brand new audience. But you can do something. Something that will attract people outside the normal new-music in group.
I’m sure this has happened. And I’d love to have examples! Again, educate me. Flood me with examples from places smaller — maybe much smaller — than New York. For instance, Baltimore. Here’s a city with an orchestra that seems to create much more public buzz than most orchestras do. It’s also a city with an active arts scene. And a lively new music scene. Put all of this together, and I can see a version of what’s happening in New York ready to emerge. If it hasn’t emerged already!
And by chance — a lucky Facebook contact — I’ve heard about the Mysterium Choir in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, founded by Lia Pas, a multidisciplinary performer/composer/writer (as she calls herself), and also a yoga teacher. Mysterium sings meditative music from many traditions, including a lot of classical new music, by composers like Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, and Pas herself. As well as a small number of traditional classical pieces. (Follow the link to see their latest program.)
Pas told me, when we exchanged messages on Facebook, that she might get 200 people to one of her concerts, and that the mainstream chamber series in Saskatoon might get 50. Someone might say that the attraction here is the meditation, not the music, but then the attraction, as advertised, in Lincoln Center’s White Light festival was spirituality. And people wouldn’t come to a meditation event built around music if the music didn’t speak to them.
Besides, the larger point — and one the classical music world so badly needs to understand — is that people for the most part don’t come to something to hear music. They come for an event. Orchestras dutifully advertise their conductors, programs, and soloists, but most of their audience comes just to hear the orchestra. In pop music, people go to hear their favorite bands — but that’s an event, not just music. The bands have personalities, they dress in particular ways. They put on shows. And the personal identification fans have with them makes a concert an event.
Lia Pas, it seems to me, is creating events, just as Lincoln Center has done in New York. The events are built around music. People respond. And hear and enjoy music they otherwise most likely wouldn’t know about.
Seems to me you could do something like that — and surely more — just about anywhere.