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June 29, 2005

Working with the Contemporary

Dear Doug,

Greetings from Tokyo where it's pouring.

On the topic of direct interaction with the audience, I believe there are many ways in which we can foster more meaningful relationships among audiences, performers, and organizers. In order to succeed, the communication must run in both directions. It is through the sharing of experiences that people from different walks of life can bond.

I am very excited to be in the Total Experience portion of my Asian tour right now and also to be planning for the Contemporary Music Project which takes place next Spring. I am experimenting with both ideas as ways of encouraging communication beyond the normal concert setting. I would like to write about them over the next two blogs.

The Contemporary Recitals Project has a few unique challenges, among them the fact that audience members, less familiar with contemporary composers than with, say, Beethoven and Mozart, may be reluctant to invest in tickets to an all-contemporary recital. The majority of the audience will be hearing the works on the program for the first time, in some cases with little, if any, knowledge about the composers. While this may be a refreshing experience for some, most listeners would probably benefit from repeated exposure or prior knowledge about the composers or the pieces in the program.

In some quarters, contemporary music has earned a reputation for being inaccessible. I actually find this interesting and somewhat perplexing because the term “contemporary music” covers a very wide range of styles. For example, I have known people who consider all 20th century compositions‘contemporary.’ For the purpose of my project, I have decided to interpret the term 'contemporary' to mean that either the piece or the composer must be from my lifetime. I have decided to include in my recital works written after I became musically aware--in my pre-teens. In other words, the term 'contemporary' can be a personal one that changes from individual to individual.

Next spring, I am scheduled to give an all-contemporary recital in San Francisco, and, in addition to the concert itself, I will spend two extra days over the preceding three weeks involved in a series of off-site events. Coordinated in partnership with the San Francisco Performances, in my experimental project, I will work with young musicians/composers and also with potential audience members. The reason why we are working on different events and activities a few weeks ahead is to give everyone an opportunity to digest the information as there is so much more we can learn if not compacted simply into a more conventional 30-minute pre-concert presentation.

I will encourage as many young music students and composers as possible to get to know the pieces, particularly by playing the works for one another. With each playing and with each player, the tradition for the piece becomes more established. Having each work played multiple times by different individuals can be a powerful method of advocating for the health of contemporary music. I am also interested in working with young composers and gathering input from them on how they would like to see contemporary music is presented to audiences. Since they are living with the most current music on a regular basis and personally trying to arrange for it to be heard and understood, their ideas could be especially inspiring and effective. Above all, it is important for me to set the tone of partnership and the mechanism of collaboration from early in the project.

In addition to working with the young music students such as in a master class setting, we are setting up other events for audience members, including preview performances of works in the recital program, and a series of workshops and discussions exploring the contemporary music scene, as well as the specific works on the program. We may also hold a screening of some rare film footage. Through these different pre-concert events, audience members will gain exposure to the new music in the recital, and at the same time an introduction to young musicians who are advocating for new music.

Not all the activities will take place in a traditional concert setting. Rather, we are discussing holding a demonstration at a local music store and mounting displays in the local arts library and museum. In doing any kind of outreach, I always like to emphasize going "out to them" rather than always having "them come to us." The internet and websites can also be powerful vehicles to reach out to many people.

I initiated the Contemporary Music Project, with the same program and with several special events, last December in Japan. Audience feedback was encouraging and told us that that having opportunities to learn about and experience the works for two weeks before attending the concert was most valuable and effective in helping them to maximize the actual concert experience.

In my next blog, I will write about Total Experience, a concept that first came to my mind when I was still a college student at Gallatin-NYU. Total Experience can potentially set up numerous and varied opportunities for direct communication among many people.

Posted by at June 29, 2005 2:16 PM