As many of you know, NewMusicBox used to offer a national calendar of concerts featuring new American music. Due to the sheer scope of such a project and the inevitable limited resources of something staffed by a part-time person based in one geographical locale and funded by a non-profit organization, it was always woefully incomplete. It was also woefully underutilized both by site visitors and by the people involved with such concerts. (Composers, performers, and presenters were all given ample opportunities to submit listings to it, but few ever did.) So, with more than a tinge of regret, we put the whole thing on hiatus over a year and a half ago.
Yet the discussion about having such a national calendar still rages on. What would it take to make it work? Who would it ultimately serve? If concert calendars are, for the most part, local endeavors designed to get people who live in city X excited enough about a concert in city X to attend it, what would be the use of telling people in city X about a concert in city Y halfway across the country? Would people in Atlanta ever read about something happening next week in L.A. and decide to book a flight and go? Or does the significance of such a calendar reside in a more abstract realm where people in city X really want to know about what’s going on in cities Y and Z since all they ever get from their local media is information about city X?
While we all have come around to basically agree on the potential value of the latter, more abstract paradigm, which was the modus operandi of the calendar we once had on NewMusicBox, for the sake of argument I’d like to ponder a world in which the former jetsetting option were also a reality.
Attending a New York press conference back in August for John Adams’s new opera Doctor Atomic made me feel like I should go to its premiere at the San Francisco Opera on October 1, but alas I couldn’t. As the reviews kept trickling in, both the positive and the negative from published sources and people I knew, the need to go felt greater and greater. I knew I could get in to see it (power of the press and all that) and could crash with a friend. All I needed were the plane tickets which nowadays thanks to sites like Orbitz don’t require you to sell your most collectible LPs on eBay, so last weekend I did it. I won’t have much pocket change for a while, but I’m glad I went. Plus, while flying in Thursday night for that final Saturday night performance was a surefire remedy against jetlag during a long opera, I even managed to catch other concerts during the rest of my time there.
As wonderful as each of those events leading up to Saturday had been, everything was a prologue for Dr. A. No secondhand commentary from anyone can replace having been there. So I won’t even pretend to give it a review here except to say don’t believe the folks who say that the second act isn’t as strong as the first. But the fact of the matter is I never would have known that had I not gone. Getting firsthand knowledge of one of the most talked about premieres in recent memory reminded me once again how important it is to take what others write or say only at face value. As I’ve said so many times in the past I sound like a broken record already, an opinion usually informs a reader more about the person making the opinion than about the object of the opinion. But it is ultimately through those opinions that people around the world find out about what actually happened, unless they are somehow able to get up and go themselves.
I know (and my credit card bill will remind me later this month if I happen to forget) that jumping on a plane from New York City to catch a performance in San Francisco is somewhat extravagant, but how hard would it be for someone from Chicago to get to Milwaukee, or make a trek from Cleveland to Pittsburgh from time to time. Over the last few months, I’ll be trying to catch performances in Philly, D.C., and Boston (thank you Julia Werntz). Despite the rants of a few bloggers, those Chinatown buses are actually pretty good. In an era when it’s so hard to get folks to go to stuff in their own backyards, maybe it’s time to cast the net even further. Maybe needing to travel for a while to get to a concert might somehow make that concert the important destination that it should always be. Thoughts?