Monday, September 19, 2011

Report from the Front: Bargemusic and the Blending of Genres

This weekend, I found this article by Steve Smith from The New York Times entitled "Standard Fare Upended, to Reinvent and Explore," reviewing a Bargemusic concert. The article focuses on a concert that took place during Labor Day weekend from Bargemusic’s Here and Now series, a new music series with concerts scheduled throughout Bargemusic's concert calendar. Bargemusic’c current artistic director, violinist Mark Peskanov, who has held that post with the organization since 2006, introduced the series. In addition to the Here and Now concerts, the contrasting There and Then series featuring music from the Medieval and Baroque periods appears on Bargemusic’s calendar, as well as concerts of solo and chamber music from the standard classical repertoire.

The concert reviewed in the article was one of a variety untypical of the average new music concert. The program contained new works by composers both within the boundaries of conventional new classical music (including the fairly conservative Piano Trio by Lera Auerbach) and outside those boundaries (such as an original composition performed by cellist Yoed Nir on an electric cello). Also, new renditions of existing works were part of the concert (the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 made an above-tempo appearance on the program) as well as inclusions of items usually considered to be from the realm of popular music, such as Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” The performers consisted of various soloists (quite a few cellists) and several small ensembles (including the American Modern Ensemble and Trio Vela). Towards the end of the article, this sentence about the cellist David Eggar, who concluded the program, caught my attention:

Pressed by Mr. Peskanov to play something “legitimate,” Mr. Eggar said from the stage, he took up a tenor violin for a cheeky account of Paganini’s Variations on One String.

Steve Smith, "Standard Fare Upended, to Reinvent and Explore," The New York Times, September 4, 2011, accessed September 17, 2011,

The writer of the article does indicate Peskanov’s request was meant humorously, but the inclusion of the request itself reveals the ever-present tendency to classify music in a hierarchical manner. However jokingly Peskanov may have used the term “legitimate,” his using the word in the first place is telling of how ingrained the categorizations of culture in American society are. Ironically, despite the (albeit lighthearted) request on Peskanov’s part for a “legitimate” piece, Eggar chose to end the concert with a rendition of “Bring Me To Life” by the rock band Evanescence.

In conclusion, it is refreshing to see an organization fill its concert calendar with programs from the standard classical repertoire as well as performances of new music (and, as in this concert’s case, new renditions of previous works) by innovative artists without an overwhelming sense of elitism or intellectualism, an openness to the blending of genres, and relatively little evidence of a hierarchical attitude towards music.

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