Is Classical Music boring???

On Hyperkinesis there is a post about 'The Artful Dichotomy - “Classical Music is boring” (and so are your press kits!) Part 2.' It speaks about how Classical music is about stasis, staying the same, permanence - the very definition of classical. For me this is not so evident in the music composed but in the presentation.

Certainly there are a number of composers in the late 20th and early 21st century that are producing new forms of music, but these new sounds are presented in the same format as previous forms of classical music - the stiff, formal, up-tight "art" of classical music. There doesn't seem to be any joy or frivolity in classical music presentation (heaven help you if you wish to applaud, let alone cheer, in the midst of a performance!). During Mozart's time the theatres and public houses were noisy places where the audience cheered (or booed) the performers with vigor (note: this was not the atmosphere in the upper class concerts). Liszt had women swooning at his performances, as did the famous castrato Farinelli - both classical music performers. At the turn of the 20th century there were numerous reports of riots and vitriolic responses to classical music performances.

Somewhere in the mid-20th century, perhaps in response to horrors of war, in an attempt to create a calmer, more "civilized" world, classical music gravitated to the upper class style of performances, where emotions are to be held in check. The result is we have created an elite world where the common person doesn't feel welcome and certainly doesn't enjoy themselves.

When I was a boy growing up in Denver, the Denver Symphony used to perform concerts in the park. They were free, but they were also riotous - throngs of people sitting in the park listening to the music while talking, relaxing, eating and generally enjoying themselves. Some of these concerts had upwards of 80,000 people in attendance. I don't know if ticket sales to the indoor concerts increased, but it was at these concerts that I fell in love with classical music. A few years after my first concert in the park I finally succeeded in convincing my father to take me to the concert hall to see the symphony perform in the "home" space. The atmosphere was stifling. While the audience did applaud at the end of each major work, it was hardly an enjoyable place for a boy of 10. The music was wonderful, but I didn't feel as though I could really enjoy it, as I was too conscious of how I was supposed to act.

Some months ago I conducted my first symphony in concert. One of the comments about my conducting given to me by a member of the orchestra (during rehearsals) was that I was too flamboyant, too energetic. He wanted me to keep my movements small. Out of respect I did try to accommodate this request, but it just isn't me and come concert time, I was flailing about the podium pouring as much emotion into the conducting (and thereby the music) as I possibly could. You can't really see it with the picture here - but hopefully I can post a video of the concert that will demonstrate what I mean. Gustavo Dudamel (of Venezuela) conducts with much the same vigor and he is a real crowd pleaser. Maybe it's because he gets wonderful music out of the orchestra - but maybe, just maybe, he gets wonderful music out of the orchestra because his emotion is evident - and the audience responds in kind.

Jazz performers get applause at the end of solos, in the middle of songs (let alone at the end of a piece). Rock bands get all kinds of responses from the audience throughout a performance. If you've ever been to one of these concerts, as soon as a popular piece is recognised, the audience applauds and cheers with appreciation - excited to hear one of their favourite pieces. Why can't this same attitude be present in classical performances? The high the performers get from that sort of audience feedback is amazing and (I think) classical music professionals would be surprised at how much more fun it is to perform for an audience that is involved with the performance, rather than just waiting for a chance to demonstrate proper applause at the end.


marahfab said…
good point about applauding at jazz concerts, tho after solos it can be perfunctory. Someone should get the ball rolling on this. As for Dudamel, there's a recent interview with London Philh. players, one of whom notes that they always give 100% but when the conductor gives 150% back, as Dudamel does, they go even further. In so many of the videos on Youtube of him conducting he's smiling! (how often do you see a conductor do this?) especially so with his own orchestra, the SBYOV.
Chip said…
It is my belief that a conductor's job is more than just keeping the players together. It is to give them confidence (particularly with an amateur ensemble).

So, before I step up to the podium I try and put my head in a positive frame of mind; "We will succeed" and try and ensure that feeling is written across my face at all times. At the end of each movement (if not all the way through), a smile of reassurance is important, a chance to communicate to the players "Well done" even if the audience isn't applauding inbetween movements.
A smile is also a sign of joy, proving that you are actually happy to be there. And it is contagious, it spreads said joy around, which is one of the top reasons people love art, because it allows us to share a connection.
Chip said…
The smiles were real. I was thrilled to be conducting my first symphony!!! I think sometimes I may have been a bit too giddy, but you'd have to ask the orchestra whether I was or not (can't really judge that one myself).

I can say I have had some very positive comments from people about my conducting of that concert, so something must have been right with the smile.

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