One stop shopping here today, with a shout out to a favorite blog that happens to echo a great thought.
Oh, if only all American orchestras could talk to the world the way the Minnesota Orchestra does, especially the contributions by violist Sam Berger. No puff pieces about artists here, no self-glorification, just interesting observations about music and how we listen to it, well-argued cases for new music, and occasional bawdy – but topical – videos. His recent series of posts on incorporating new music into concert programming pointed out the fact that even “accessible” contemporary music is not popular with audiences because it remains unfamiliar. Bergman’s idea is simple: repeat performances of good contemporary works and world premieres. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? Surely Beethoven got played more than once, what’s stopping us from repeating some Kernis or Boulez? Well, an administrator might grouse, if it was slow at the box office the first time, it won’t bring ’em out in droves the second. So how about a Sneaky Chef approach to the new: advertise Beethoven’s 9th, then play Xenakis or Feldman. (Or actually, Rite of Spring might be progressive for the 9th crowd.) Hmm. Subscribers might either love it or never come back.
Now for that quote, which comes from my friend Frank Oteri’s endlessly fascinating conversation with Milton Babbitt a few years ago. Lamenting that instrumentalists at Juilliard were refusing to play the well-written music of one of his students, he observed that:
most of these players here are not here to study music; they’re here to pursue careers. They’re not interested in music; they’re interested in careers in music.
He goes on to make the same point that Sam does, that a Paganini etude will see a young violinist through most of her career, while “one of these new modern pieces” will likely be performed once and never again.
To put Sam’s idea into practice, performers should take matters into their own hands and play every new piece of music they possibly can. Then repeat the good ones. Only in this way will we – as performers – be able to cultivate a generation of music we like to play and that audiences will come to enjoy.
Babbitt’s quote might especially hit a nerve with singers, this one included. Do I really sing because I’m so in love with music, or because I’m in love with the idea of me singing at the Met? Either attitude would reflect a singer’s passion, and get them through another grueling audition season. But only one puts the singer in the empowering position of shaping the musical landscape.