With the large number of relatively successful contemporary ensembles in Boston, it surprises me that there hasn't been more of a standout. Or at least one that I have perceived as such. I have attended performances by a few of the major contemporary ensembles this semester: Callithumpian Consort, Collage New Music, and most recently Boston Musica Viva. I addition, I attended a concert by New England Conservatory's Contemporary Music Ensemble as well as a "New Music Tuesday" concert.
The performers were incredible but what struck me most about the first three concerts was the audience. Most of the crowd (which was relatively small) was older and mild-mannered. For the NEC ensemble and Tuesday concert, the crowd was much younger, louder, and more energized. I imagine the size discrepancy has mostly to do with the relative ease of word-of-mouth advertising at a music school as opposed to general citywide advertising. I only wish that established ensembles outside of a music school could have that relatively easy ability to advertise.
This dilemma can be either be seen as a setback or an opportunity to grow an audience in a different way. The older, more established ensembles need to find creative ways to reach young people. Putting up posters and offering student tickets for $10 isn't enough to attract college students (as I witnessed at the Boston Musica Viva concert). While the programming with all ensembles was excellent (to my taste, at least), each ensemble needs to take a hard look at the choices they make and how that will affect their audience. This is not to say that anyone should water down their program to appeal to a mass audience, but looking for young, exciting composers with a growing following might be the answer.
In the near future, I plan to attend concerts by some of the other major contemporary ensembles in Boston (Dinosaur Annex, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Alea III, etc) but for now I have to reflect on the concerts I've been to. It appears that audiences are drawn to concerts by one ensemble or another. Also, if concerts at NEC or Longy are any indicator, students at music schools tend to be drawn primarily to their own school's concerts to see their friends. I would encourage continuing to support friends in concerts, but also making new friends by going to concerts at other schools. It has been a real pleasure to experience the many musical offerings in this city after going to school in a small town in Virginia for four years. It is my hope that Boston will continue that have a thriving contemporary music scene for many years to come and I will play a part in it, both as a performer, and as an active audience member.