The future of classical music?

I came across this blog by Greg Sandow today, which I’m adding to my blogroll. Greg is based in New York, and writes about classical music, audiences, new media, and many other things. He is exploring many different aspects of the classical music world, from the point of view of performers and composers as well as audience members. I found it interesting reading.

I puzzle over what it is that I personally want from orchestras. I don’t always feel very patient with the typical performance format. I’ve blogged about my desire to only attend concerts that are in some way life-changing – a tall order, and you can read that post here, if you wish follow that train of thought further.

Last week I went to hear the Australian Art Orchestra perform their Miles Davis: Prince of Darkness concert, and the two pieces that everyone wanted to talk about afterward were the new work by Anthony Pateras, which used the vast, broad space of the Melbourne Town Hall to great effect, and was an incredibly engaging, intriguing work to listen to, and the techno-inspired interpretation of Davis’ Black Satin which was loud but vibrant and fascinating in the way he utilised the band and the electronics. (Gratifyingly, these were also the two pieces I chose to focus on with the young musicians in the Signal Art Ensemble. I chose well!).

Everyone wanted to talk… We sat up in our seats as we listened… People felt challenged and engaged… People also felt like participants, I think. And present at something that was new and exciting and perhaps even a little risky. That’s what I like in a concert.

Recently too, I went to see Bliss, the much-anticipated opera by Australian composer Brett Dean, based on the novel by Peter Carey. Bliss (the novel and the opera) dealt with questions of materialism, consumerism, value, meaning in life. Images of contemporary hell(s) were set aside those of the earthly, and the music was, for me, deeply engaging. It made me reflect on what I want to see performed as opera, and I realised I am far more interested in stories that reflect aspects of the world that I know back to me, in ways that surprise, shock, delight or challenge me. I remember some years ago, Opera Australia’s then research and development arm (Oz Opera) commissioned a series of short operas to be written on stories submitted by members of the public.  The stories needed to be set on particular streets in Melbourne. (I’d considered submitting one – a story about having a loud verbal fight with an ex-lover I’d bumped into in Acland Street, St Kilda). I went along to the informal performance that was given at the end of the project and really enjoyed it. I loved that the stories were local, that the music was new, and that the presentations were somewhat low-tech and unadorned – the music was the focus.

However, I don’t think that kind of work continued at Oz Opera. These days it is described as “the touring arm of Opera Australia” and the focus is on taking scaled-down versions of opera classics out to regional and remote parts of Australia. Very photogenic, and a valuable thing to be offered, but it is a shame that the exploration of the shape of contemporary opera couldn’t also have continued.

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