Last night I trekked out to Astoria, which is at the northwest edge of Queens, to hear the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble perform works by composers associated with the Sequenza 21 website. From the office of the American Music Center it’s not that difficult a journey, but getting back from there to my home in Inwood—which is at the northern- most tip of Manhattan—was like going from Midtown Manhattan to downtown Philadelphia. That said, it was totally worth it. It was great to hear eight extremely different pieces that I had never heard before, to get to know an ensemble I’d never before encountered, and to visit a new venue—Waltz Astoria—which had a great beer selection, great desserts, satisfying acoustics, and a cozy, welcoming vibe. In short, it was an ideal chamber music experience, and more enjoyable that most of the formal chamber music concerts I attended this year.
But what ultimately made the concert so extraordinary was that a website brought it into being. The only thing these composers had in common was that they all post comments to Sequenza21 from time to time, and many of them only know each other from their non-corporeal conversations there.
The fact that a concert can emerge when people get to know each other online is a real victory both for new music and for the internet. It’s a triumph of the so-called virtual marketplace. Not that anyone got rich off of this. It was even a free concert. But it’s a new paradigm and exploring further might reveal ways in which such concerts could be economically viable in the long term. (For the sake of full disclosure to readers who might not already know this, I also post to Sequenza 21 upon occasion and a piece of mine was programmed on the first Sequenza21 concert a couple of years back.)
Perhaps what I find most intriguing about all this is how it turns the cliches about internet music distribution upside down. We’ve heard forever and a day that the internet has the potential to turn more people onto music than other medium has thus far due to the ease at which it can disseminate disembodied digital transmissions of it, but the internet can also be a catalyst for an intimate in-person musical experience. With tools like Sequenza21, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., concerts like this should be happening all over the place, not just in New York City. One of the composers on the program, Samuel Vreisen, is from the Netherlands and flew in to be at the concert. Now that’s commitment. It also makes my whining about getting from Astoria to Inwood seem really trivial.