It’s only July, but the pile of 2005-06 season brochures on my apartment floor is already ankle high. Selecting a few at random, I decided to go fantasy concert ticket shopping—fantasy because I was looking at orchestra tickets with an average price tag way outside of my entertainment budget. After 15 minutes, I was completely frustrated by the exercise, but not because of my lack of cash. Here are a few of the programs I was considering:
Elliott CARTER Allegro scorrevole
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 4
BRAHMS Violin Concerto
BRIGHT SHENG New work (NY Premiere)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral”
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture
CHEN YI Si Ji (“Four Seasons”) (NY Premiere)
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto
JOHN ADAMS Chamber Symphony
HAYDN Symphony No. 102
I’m curious: While you were reading that list, did you find yourself humming the Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the other…”? Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for setting up a dialogue between new and old work, which can deepen the experience of both, but is this the only compelling way to present new orchestral work?
Wondering if I was just being a new music snob, I asked my NMBx colleagues if I was missing the deeper philosophical connections between the works. Taking on the Beethoven/Adams/Haydn line-up, Frank shot me that “oh, you poor, naïve child” look and quickly reprogrammed the concert: The Adams, then Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1. After intermission, follow up with Verklärte Nacht and Shaker Loops. Floored once again by my editor’s ability to force the 20th-century music card even before his morning coffee, I was tempted to write the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and suggest the change, but what would they do with the already-booked superstar soloist Josh Bell?
Perhaps this sort of programming is a question of economics. Sandwich the new piece between two of the Big B’s and at least the box office won’t be a total washout. When addressing music issues, especially artistic vs. economic ones, I really do try and keep my head out of the sand, but this strategy just seems mean-spirited to all involved, especially the audience. Would you make 50 Cent fans sit through a Garth Brooks set? Would you expect it to double your box office take?
It’s not that I don’t love an evening of Beethoven; far from it. Intellectually I just don’t want my Beethoven experience encroaching on my Bright Sheng listening unless there’s an actual reason for doing so. I don’t like buffet dining either, though.
I go on record here as believing that, in absence of a compelling reason to do otherwise, new music concerts should exist on their own plane. If we’re worried about butts in the seats, I can’t say I see the difference between a dedicated crowd of a few hundred in Zankel Hall vs the few hundred who are left in Avery Fisher after half the house heads for the exit just before the world premiere of the evening. The austere rooms of the modern section of major galleries are a haven for those whose visual inclinations lean towards the present day and we don’t chastise the curators for it. Where is the flaw in offering new music fans a similar sort of sanctuary?