Sunday, November 2, 2014

For Want of a Better Concert Experience

There was an article recently floating around the Facebook profiles of my fellow music students. Baldur Brönnimann, an esteemed orchestra conductor with a fondness for new music, posted on his blog about possible ways to change the format of classical concerts. While many musicians and critics have written on the subject, Brönnimann's article might have gained some of its momentum because of the list form, a now popular tactic on the internet for conveying information. Brönnimann lists ten things that he thinks should be changed at concerts.
Part of the list focuses on the "formality" aspect of classical music. Audiences should be able to applaud between movements, programs should be less predictable, drinks should be allowed in the hall, artists should engage with audiences, orchestras should not wear tail suits. All of these changes, except maybe the tail suit one, would make today's classical concerts more similar to those at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As we have read in class, the formal rules of the concert gradually came into being throughout that century, and before they existed, concerts were a much more casual event where audiences could socialize as well as listen and performers kept them engaged by using widely-appealing material. As Brönnimann notes, we see some of these elements in popular music concerts, where formality is not an issue. Since there was a time when classical music was popular music, treating it as such (in some ways) today might garner more interest from a larger audience.
In contrast to the nineteenth-century aspects, other parts of the list focus on bringing classical music into the twenty-first century. Brönnimann suggests that mobile phones should be allowed in the hall, as long as they are in silent mode, so that audience members can record or take pictures, or else share their experience immediately through social media. He endorses the use of technology in concert production, proposing screens to show closer views of the performers or downloadable information about the music, and encouraging artists to be more creative with their technological ventures. And at the end of his list, he advocates including at least one contemporary piece at every concert.
Obviously, the issue of re-popularizing classical music and making it more accessible is a substantial one. Like many people, Brönnimann wants to find ways of engaging audiences and making concerts less intimidating for those less used to them. How long will it be before the classical music community as a whole makes these changes and moves into a new era? Will they work?
Read the article here.

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