During my weekly perusal of arts news, I came across Greg Sandow's blog about the future of classical music. He has a lot of relevant and interesting posts, but the few that struck a chord with me were his Four Keys to the Future, 100 Cage, and Shuffle.Play.Listen.
In Four Keys to the Future, he introduces four steps we can take as classical musicians to stay relevant in the future by building new audiences. The keys are to "understand and respect the culture outside classical music, work actively to find your audience, be yourself, and make music vividly." I find it reassuring that these four "keys" are conclusions we as a class have drawn ourselves. Perhaps we have worded them differently, or not as specifically, but if you boiled down our discussions to their essence, I believe there would be a great deal of similarity. This is reassuring not because what Greg Sandow says is some kind of ultimate truth, but because it means the world of classical music is adapting, and that there are people in the real world that have similar ideals in mind for it's future that extend beyond our classroom.
The next article that caught my attention was his article about John Cage. In 100 Cage, he describes two different performances of Cage's piece, Variations IV. I have had the chance to perform this piece, twice, during my undergrad at Syracuse University while taking a class about John Cage. With this piece, you take a blueprint of your performance space, and drop a certain number of cut out circles and points onto the blueprint. These circles and spots indicate where something is to be performed, and you connect the circles to the points with a line. We performed this twice; once in Crouse College, the music school, and once on Marshall Street, a busy street on campus full of restaurants and bars. We each chose what our performances were going to be and which dots we would go to. The performances ranged from Shakespearian monologue recitations to acoustic versions of Brittney Spears songs to evocative moaning sounds. The experience was very different from any performance I had ever done before, and I encourage anyone who has not had the chance to perform this piece to do it at some point in their lives. After reading Sandow's take on Variations IV, the validity of "making music vividly" really can make the difference between, in his words, a lame performance of 4'33" and a moving one. He says that with Cage's music, often times there is nothing for the performer to rely on in terms of notation, so all you are left with is the encompassing style of his works. The freedom his pieces allow provide an opportunity to do something real and meaningful, which is an idea that should be applied to everything we perform.
Shuffle.Play.Listen. brings up an innovative way to program concerts. We briefly discussed the genre of pop music played on classical instruments, but this takes it to the next level. Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O'Riley put out a CD entitled Shuffle.Play.Listen, which included music from both pop and classical genres on 2 disks. They also gave a live performance where they played the tracks from the CD shuffled together, so that the audience would hear classical works mixed in with the pop pieces. According to Sandow, the pop arrangements aren't immediately apparently pop; they are convincing as legitimate cello and piano works. This got me thinking about the limitless potential we have for programming concerts. I hope they publish their arrangements, because it would be a wonderful way to broaden our audience. Pop played convincingly on classical instruments certainly sounds like fun to me. The CD is on Spotify, so give it a listen if you're interested!