New music, new audience

Last night I went to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s last concert in the Metropolis Festival of contemporary music at the Malthouse Theatre. Members of the current MSO ArtPlay Ensemble, who worked with me last month on a composition project inspired by Brett Dean’s Beggars and Angels, were also there in the audience. Good on them! They came along to Brett’s pre-concert interview (“Our youngest-ever pre-concert talk audience!” the Director of Artistic Planning told me delightedly) and then stayed for the concert – 2 hours of it. All contemporary music, where Webern was the most old-school of the composers presented.

“What did you think of the music?” I asked one of the youngsters, who was admittedly looking a little dazed at interval.

“Pretty good,” he told me earnestly, adding shyly, “It was a bit loud sometimes.” It certainly was, I agreed. This was the young violinist who had repeatedly, sweetly, raised in his hand during the workshops in April to ask, “Umm, Gillian, can we take a break now?” I felt impressed at his fortitude at what must have been a late-night concert for him.

However, I’m not imagining any great fortitude was required for the concert repertoire. I love seeing this age group (8-12) at contemporary music concerts. There is so much for them to experience – the huge range of unconventional sounds, the awesome virtuosity of some of the performers (last night we were treated to not one but two performances by pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, who is incapable of not making every single one of the notes he plays utterly compelling), the intensity and activity of the percussion section, the detail of the stage moves between pieces… it’s such a complete, alive, dynamic experience for them.

As I sat there, I found myself listening with two sets of ears and imaginations. One was for myself, but the other was imagining what the children were experiencing and noticing.  I’m looking forward to seeing them again in June when we remount our Beggars and Angels piece. I’m hoping they will bring lots of ideas from this concert experience with them.

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