New Audiences for New Music

Getting an audience into a classical music concert isn't always about play Beethoven or Mozart (although these are pretty standard crowd pleasers). Sometimes it's about taking a new look at music, playing something that we may not think of as classical music, but doing it in a classical format. Pop orchestras have been doing something like this for a while, but the attitudes about what a pop orchestra should play is changing and so are the arrangements.

Peter Brennan, a Canadian musician and arranger for Jeans ’n Classics brings together a classic rock music with orchestral arrangements. His band plays music that was popular in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. A traditional orchestra pops concert presents music that was popular in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Other composers (myself included - see below) are using modern styles and hip-hop beats in their original work, incorporating video or dance to expose a broader audience to the orchestra. Groups such as Jeans ’n Classics bring out the similarities between classical music and well-written pop songs by re-orchestrating them. Some rock bands, like Nirvana, are adding orchestras to their pieces to fillout out the sound. All of this is bringing a younger audience into familiarity with classical instruments and sound.

There is also a new generation of musicians from Juilliard School in New York City or the Berklee College of Music in Boston who are moving in a new direction for classical musicians. This new generation of classical artists possess all the technique necessary to tackle Brahms or Beethoven, but they would rather perform innovative repertoire that blurs into genres from hip-hop to electronica, rock and beyond. They might substitute with the New York Philharmonic, play a concert with a pop group or join other colleagues in some hybrid ensemble in between, equally comfortable in any format. Fans follow them from "gig" to "gig" creating a cross culture blend where a concert audience is perhaps just as comfortable in jeans and untucked shirts as a pop audience is with dressey casual.

from Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post
Jumping genres defines the life of Rob Moose, 26, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, who had no desire to follow the traditional route of a classical musician, in his case probably auditioning for an orchestra position somewhere. Instead, the violinist and guitarist tours with the indie rock band Antony and the Johnsons, gigs with the Orchestra of St. Luke's in New York and performs with two genre-busting groups he helped found — Osso and yMusic. "Once you have a taste of that kind of (multifaceted) performing experience, it's hard to go back, because it feels much more unique," Moose said. "I feel like there's more freedom of expression in it. "I don't really think, 'Now, I'm playing a classical violin part and on the next song I'm going to play a slightly improvised guitar part.' It all feels like a part of my vocabulary."

My own first string quartet attempts to take a page from the anthem rock bands of the late 70's. While the music is not specially covers of any tune, it is definitely inspired by the bands of Styx, Journey, Yes, Kansas and Led Zeppelin. The first movement, "Taken for Granite" allows for some classical techniques to emulate power chords, distortion and intricate lead guitar solos. All three movements take a look at different aspects of the anthem rock style of music and yet are linked by the classical development of motivic ideas and written for a classical string quartet. The above is from a live performance by the Edinburgh Quartet in June 2008.

The point of all this cross blend of musical styles is to bring together the kinds of music, we as musicians love. The result is getting audiences that love one style familiar with another. As the pollination continues the flowering of new music is only going to continue as will the audiences.


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