Saturday, September 6, 2014

Let's Try and See What Happens? Updated

The music field is not generally one that people would think of as filled with risks. Ask someone who is not a musician to list careers that come with a high level of risk, and professions such as doctors, firemen or military would probably top the list. But in all truthfulness having classical music as your day job does come with a risk factor. Not because someone could die from our bad intonation or world peace hangs in the balance of how successful the next Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is, but because what was once certain in the field of classical music has become less of a guarantee.
We have all heard in the past 10 years that the world of the concert hall is changing and that we as classical musicians must adapt in order to have our art form survive. The ways in which we are to adapt are not always spelled out for us and moreover, when we sit down to collaborate on how to make our concerts resonate more with the general public, risk is the word that most of us would more than likely prefer not to use. But we need to be willing to take risks and more importantly, we must recognize that this is what we are doing. Because like it or not, taking risks is a necessary part of being a musician..
In the New York Times on Sept 5th 2014, Phillip Lutz wrote the article A Conductor Promotes Risk-Taking in Music Programs about one well-known member of the classical world who is openly taking risks. Toshiyuki Shimada, music director and conductor for the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and the Yale Symphony Orchestra isn't afraid of approaching things from a different angle as he works to present music that he hopes will attract the younger generation to the concert hall.
In the upcoming season for the Eastern Connecticut Symphony he is programming many contemporary works, four of which the composers are still alive, such as “The Canyons Curved Burgundy,” a world premiere by William Brittelle, a graduate of Yale. This piece calls for synthesizers, string section, pop style electric guitar and vocals. It was in fact, Mr. Shimada who suggested to Mr. Brittelle that he include electric guitar and he expects his orchestra to be willing to embrace his out of the box methods. Mr. Shimada is also purposefully programming works that are shorter in two concerts called "Classical Shuffle" to be more like what the audience is use to with their ipods.
Some might think that he is lowering his expectations too much and over simplifying his concerts to make it more palatable. There is some truth in that statement as Mr. Shimada is working to meet his audience half way but this will, in all likelihood, go much farther than the opposite approach of continuing to play the well-known works without caring about the kind of audience you are attracting or where that audience will be 50 years from now. Mr. Shimada is aware that his plans could backfire on him but he is willing to try anyway, as he stated in the article “let’s try and see what happens.”
What could we, the next generation of classical musicians accomplish if instead of living in fear of our audience dying out or worrying about the right action to take, we adopt Mr. Shimada’s simple strategy of “let’s try and see what happens?”
For more information see the article referenced at

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