The Minnesota Orchestra has garnered a fair amount of space on NewMusicBox, and with good reason: By orchestral standards, the group plays a fair amount of new music, racking up a formidable fourteen ASCAP Adventuresome Programming Awards. I ambled out to Peavey Plaza, right outside the orchestra’s headquarters, to catch a Target-sponsored outdoor concert last week. (I make a special point of noting the concert’s benefactor because the orchestra performed in a tent whose rear wall was covered in Target logos.) The program was enjoyable bring-your-kids boilerplate, mostly opera overtures, that featured the group’s percussion section.
I’d like to tell you that the orchestra played well—and I suspect that they did—but I didn’t really hear them, to be honest. What I heard was a looming, thunderous, no doubt Target-donated PA. I know I’m being unreasonable and finicky and just sort of weird here, but it really disappoints me when I see people playing and hear what might (but for a few accidental mic-bumps) be a recording of the same. I spend a lot of time in front of speakers at the computer; most of the music I hear on a day-to-day level is thus reproduced (or, to be more accurate, transduced). When I go hear an orchestra, I really want to hear actual humans playing instruments. The intervening “reinforcement” just doesn’t do it for me.
But Colin, Colin, Colin, you may be saying, what about the teenagers making out behind you on the steps in Peavey Plaza? What about the elderly lady with the noisy chips? What about the vigorously dancing toddler in front of you? Don’t they necessitate the sound system and, at the same time, lower the “aura bar” for the whole event? Maybe, but I kind of liked that part of the show. (For the record, I do not consider the teenagers making out part of the “show” proper.) When everybody clapped between sections of the Carmen suite, I took a genuine, if perverse, pleasure in clapping along. (For the record, I think we should just clap whenever the hell we feel like it. Between movements, after cadenzas, whenever. Life’s too short.) That huge PA is what broke the concert for me, and although I know there’s no way around it, it would be great if somebody could at least figure out a subtler, more natural-sounding reinforcement method for classical music. I bet Target’s good for at least a couple spherical speakers.