The speed of change

future blogOne thing my mavericks posts showed was how much change there is in classical music, how many people and groups are doing new things. And we barely scratched the surface. (The link takes you to the first of these posts. At the end of it, you’ll find links to all the others.)

As I said, I’ll be adding to the mavericks list. But right now, here’s something related — a post about new things that have popped up in my inbox or web browsing in the past month or so, things that also show how things are changing. Whether the people and groups responsible are mavericks is something I won’t try to answer. But these things they’re doing mean a lot.

So, in no special order:

Shuffle Concert: A chamber ensemble in New York. They give everyone in the audience “an individually-numbered menu filled with more than 40 musical masterpieces in every possible music style, from Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Broadway, Jazz and Pop.  If your number is selected you choose what style and piece will be performed next.” At their December 11 concert, the first half of the program (new pieces, plus Ravel and Piazzolla) was set in advance, and the shuffle came after the intermission.

Robert Stallman’s recording of the Bach flute sonatas: On the Bogner’s Café label. The sonatas, PR for the recording says, were written to be played in a coffee house. “Actually Bach was not just a sober contrapuntalist, but a rather gregarious, earthy, unbuttoned fellow who could have a drink, smoke a pipe and enjoy a lighter style of music.…We could say that these sonatas give us Bach’s carousing side and profundity all rolled into one.” The goal of the label? “[T]o capture the adventuresome spirit in which the living art of chamber music found its way into the heart of everyday life via early café culture.” [I can’t say I heard so much carousing when I played the CD, but others may differ. And I like the point of view.]

Steve Reich writes a piece based on Radiohead songs: Called Radio Rewrite, getting its world premiere by the London Sinfonietta on March 5. Yet another link in the chain that increasingly joins classical music (and especially new classical music) with pop. Philip Glass has had pop connections before, as have many indie classical composers. I don’t remember Reich having any up to now.

Universal — the parent company of two of the biggest classical labels, Decca and DG — starts a website to demystify (or to hipify) classical music. The name is just awful, if you ask me: Sinfini Music. And the breathless tone wore me down after a while. But then the website isn’t aimed at me, and there’s a lot of lively, thoughtful stuff on it.

The Baltimore Symphony partners with Parsons New School of Design to reimagine concert dress. Says BSO music director, Marin Alsop: “The basic concert black worn by nearly every orchestra across the globe has been the status quo for hundreds of years. It’s time to reinvent the modern orchestra. In honor of my friend and mentor, Tomio Taki—a leader in the fashion industry and Parsons board member–I’ve invited the talented students at Parsons to apply their creativity to the concert experience. These students are innovators in design and fashion and I’m excited to see their vision for the BSO for the 21st century. Concert attire is just the start. Our goal is to erase any pre-conceived notions of what a concert should look like and create an experience that is as inspiring as the music we perform.”

[You might think it would be more decisive to announce that the dress was changing, and commission a top designer to come up with what the musicians now will wear. But I think the BSO approach may well be smarter, as well — of course — as cheaper. Throw all your eggs into one big-time design basket (terrible mixed metaphor!), and you’re looking for trouble. Musicians not liking the design, designer balking at musicians’ input. Plus more. Better, very likely, to experiment before launching such a decisive change.]

New music string quartet Ethel tours with Todd Rundgren. Here’s a web announcement of one of the concerts, and here’s a video. Ethel really wails towards the end. Again, classical music and pop come closer together.

Redesign of Avery Fisher Hall aims at the future of classical music: A New York Times story in November announced a major renovation of the hall, requiring its major tenant, the New York Philharmonic, to play elsewhere for two years. And, to quote the story:

The Philharmonic…feels a sense of urgency. Many orchestras have folded in the past 10 years while patrons have moved away from season-long subscriptions in favor of single ticket sales.

“If you’re not thinking about the way in which our art form and music and audiences are evolving, you’re not serving the art form long term,” said Matthew VanBesien, who this year became the orchestra’s executive director. “You really want to build this next great hall in a new way, to do the kinds of things you maybe are doing but want to do in a more compelling way or maybe can’t even imagine yet.”

Lincoln Center’s chairwoman, Katherine G. Farley, adds, thinking of VanBiesen planning these changes, along with the Philharmonic’s board chair Gary Parr and its music director, Alan Gilbert:

You have three guys under 50 who are thinking hard about what’s the future of music.

[I have no idea how far their thinking goes, but notice how, VanBiesen thinks of the future, he thinks of change.]

And finally, David Lang was appointed Carnegie Hall’s composer in residence for 2013-2014. Carnegie Hall is a mainstream institution, but David  — despite his Pulitzer Prize  — isn’t exactly a composer of standard classical concert music. Times really are changing!


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  1. says

    I like them all, Greg. As always, many thanks for bringing all of this to our attention. As for us in the Quad Cities (Iowa and Illinois) our next concert features women (all living!) composers and we’re working to partner with other arts organizations as well as a group called the “Women’s Connection” to expand what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

    Our recent collaboration with the Big River Brass Band brought in the largest audience in recent memory. We’re not yet packing the hall, but we’re getting there! And yes, I’m thinking we’re in need of a change of attire (we’re not really following the “rules” anyway).

    • says

      Thanks, Barbara. I think our field is a contradiction. Vibrant in some ways, stagnant in others. But the vibrant side — the change side — is growing, and it’s the future. I feel very optimistic.