What makes you attend a music event? George Steel



George Steel
Photo courtesy of George Steel

Conductor and Artistic Director, Miller Theater (Columbia University)

The Elements of Style: What attracts me to a new music concert

  • Free drinks: A concert is a celebration. It should feel like one. Any gesture of hospitality is always a lure.
  • Unapologetic programming: Nothing makes a program more drab more quickly than the sense that works are being played out of duty or for the sake of appearances. Play music you are crazy about.
  • An ensemble of flexible size and instrumentation: There is too much music for the Pierrot + percussion band. If a group has more than ten players, it is manifest that they have the will and desire to explore more interesting repertoire. It follows that if a large number of players have been persuaded to play a piece, it is more likely to be persuasive music.
  • Not too many solo works: Unless the concert is Berio’s Sequenzas, a string of solo works is seldom inviting. Variety is a prime attractant.
  • Truth in packaging: Marketing materials should make plain the composer’s dates, the date a piece was written, and, if possible, the size of the ensemble. Composerly mumbo-jumbo about pieces should be avoided. Also, any brochure that uses the word “kaleidoscope” is a veiled cry for help. Nothing invites an audience better than a good photograph of composer and ensemble.
  • No Beethoven: I don’t know why Beethoven crops up on so many new music concerts. No composer, no matter what influences they claim, will withstand comparison with Beethoven. The practice of putting a common-practice-era work on the second half to make the audience stay to listen is an admission of defeat. I hate it.
  • Music I don’t know: I go to new music concerts to hear new works.
  • I care if I listen: It is a tautology that needs repeatings — a composer whose work ignores the audience will seldom attract an audience. A concert is a public event, not a private devotion; every advancement in the science of music is not cause for a concert. Precompositional design that is concerned more with structure than affect tends to yield works better seen and not heard.
  • A sense of fun: What more need be said?