Last week I attended the Chamber Music America conference for the first time; I was partially there representing NewMusicBox, and partially there to satisfy the curiosity of my composer self. I should preface this by stating that I am not a big conference person, but I’m really glad I went because it was great to connect with so many old friends and to meet lots of fellow musical travelers.
While other conferences have struck me as gigantic family reunions, this one seemed more like a gathering of inhabitants from the many moons orbiting a planet. A variety of musical worlds were represented, not to mention the different facets making those worlds tick—performers, artist managers, presenters, etc.—all with very specific agendas in tow. Networking was more like speed-dating. “Are you doing my thing? No? Okay. Here’s my card anyway. Nicetomeetyoubye!” As Ellen McSweeney has already pointed out, new music was not much represented, and although the keynote speaker was Tod Machover (who delivered a wonderful, airtight, inspiring speech), electronic music was basically absent from the landscape.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t difficult for anyone there to encounter like-minded folks of one sort or another. The various panels, meetings, and showcases ensured that classical would rub shoulders with jazz, the big presenters with smaller, and that the more seasoned, established attendees would come into contact with the newcomers. I think that both Angela Myles Beeching (if you haven’t read her book, do it now) and Steve Smith should receive awards for exemplary panel facilitation!
The conference also provided a glimpse into the workings of standard ensembles that play primarily standard repertoire. Faced with two piano trios who play Brahms equally well, how does a presenter choose? Will it be based upon the group’s photo? Or on the presenter’s relationship with the group’s manager? On the ensemble’s ability to attract an audience? I do not envy the sort of competition those ensembles, and performers of straight-up classical music in general, have to endure. Many of the panels were aimed at developing creative methods to address exactly those issues. Although I heard more than one panelist suggest that this model for presenting classical chamber music is fading away, last week it appeared healthy, strong, and eager to keep on trucking.
In the end, what I walked away with—in addition to a pile of business cards and CDs—was a head full of very small, yet very smart ideas for enhancing one’s musical life that are easy to implement but that could have a substantial impact. These ideas came primarily from conversations with individuals and less from group activities. Even if you’re not a conference person, it’s still a good plan to dive into the fray; you never know what will happen!