March 10, 2009

Agreement and something to think about

Like Jess, I also bristled at the suggestion that "we play music that we think our audiences want to hear" and I agree completely with her post below addressing this topic. I would, however, like to add that as performers we shouldn't adhere to tradition for tradition's sake. In fact, programming modern music may very well be in our economic best interest.

Increasingly, the traditional model of funding classical music through the philanthropy of little old ladies is proving unsustainable. As these aging donors die off they are not being replaced because younger philanthropists have many more charitable options than existed 50 years ago and are more likely to donate to those causes they find most interesting. If we don't make classical music more interesting to younger generations it will no longer be able to fund its own existence. One of the ways that we can continue to engage younger audiences is through the programming of works that exhibit some relevance to modern experience. In his day Bach didn't have to compete with Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, Green Day, what have you, but in the present day he must! So, if we are to maintain the "classical" music idiom as a museum of the common practice music we must subsidize Mozart through the programming of modern music. True, this will usually mean playing a pops concert, but wouldn't you rather challenge yourself and your listeners by giving them something substantive, current, relevant, interesting and engaging? Personally, I would rather spend my time on Xenakis than on Hoagie Carmichael--but that's just me.

You, as a performer, have a responsibility to educate your audience. They aren't going to demand what they do not know, but when you open their eyes to something new they will remember it. The more we can impact audiences in new ways, the more likely they are to support us. We need to stop seeing modern music as a nuisance and begin seeing it as a path to our continued relevance and job security!

February 15, 2009

Whare are the String Quartets?

Dear Classmates,

It has come to my attention that there are a good number of string players in this class--and rightly so given its topic matter--so I primarily pose this question to them, but others may feel free to respond.

In my nearly 5 years at this university I have noticed that String Quartets do not seem to exist. "What?", you may say, "I heard one while walking down the hall the other day," and I suppose that you would be right. Certainly, a quartet's worth of string players do, on occasion, pool their efforts to work up some piece from the repertoire. However, these ensembles are usually short-lived projects assembled for the purpose of a recital and rarely last for more than a semester or two. I know of only a few that have been around long enough to begin to mature as an ensemble to the point that they might try to tackle some of the repertoire addressed in this class. I find this curious lack of regular string quartets puzzling given the talent that seems to be running around this place and I'm left wondering why anybody would pass up the fun of playing in a quartet.

You see, before I began my graduate studies I had a decade-long performing career with several ensembles. One of these was a quartet that met for 5-10 hours a week for four years. In that time we built the familiarity and instinctual connection that can only come from years of contact with the same personalities. We worked up an extensive repertoire, played festivals, won awards, etc. but most importantly, we had a lot of fun surveying the landscape of pieces written for the idiom. Nobody made us do it; we did it because we loved it.

Maybe I've gotten it wrong and Ferguson hall is crawling with mature string quartets who have elicit copies of keys to the building and get together in the middle of the night to read down Radelescu. I hope they are out there. But I'm often here into the wee hours and I have yet to find them. I guess I'm looking for the answers to the following questions:

1) What is keeping our string players from forming quartets?
2) When quartets do form, why do they dissolve so quickly?

Thanks in advance. This question has been bugging me for years.

Jeremy Wagner