BY TAMARA KOHLER
Bim and Bob are heading to the symphony tonight; a program of Sculthorpe, Mozart and Beethoven. Bim has her best little black dress on and Bob his evening tie. They’ve parked their Toyota in the parking lot, lined up in the box office collection queue, and are now heading for Door 3. After light pleasantries with the usher, they settle in seats E17 and E18. With one eye slowly dwindling on orchestra members and the other glancing over the program, the lights begin to dim. Their hands clap together as the concert master is welcomed to the stage in his clean pressed tails. The oboe’s concert A resonates throughout the hall as the orchestra tune up before standing to acknowledge the arrival of this evening’s conductor. The concert begins.
Bim scans over the first violin members throughout the Sculthorpe, taking note of the various fashions and hairstyles while Bob checks out the talent in the wind section. As the first piece ends, the audience re-shuffles into a new endurance position while the soloist for the evening is introduced to the stage. Bob grabs Bim’s hand between movements of the Mozart to prevent any possible inappropriate clapping. At the conclusion, the couple scurries out to collect pre-ordered interval champagne. After some friendly banter amongst fellow attendees and a brief bathroom visit, E17 and E18 are once again occupied. The evening continues.
The whole routine of attending a concert is so much more than just the music. The same could easily be said of attending the ballet, theatre or even an art showing. From location, fashion, social exchange, and pre-/post-concert beverages to finding that concert ticket in the back pocket of your pants a week later, a concert should be a complete stimulatory experience. Considering the society in which we live is surrounded by 24-hour over-stimulation, why have we not acknowledged that in many ways, the current concert format is stuck in the traditions of the 19th Century?
Traditionally, the concert setting has always been informed by societal conventions of the time. Whether it was chorales written for the church service that week, or a Schubertiade held in the living room of a private benefactor, it has always been an all-inclusive experience for both player and listener. After discussions with some non-musician friends of mine, they expressed that in many ways the concert experience today seems unapproachable and seemingly elitist.
I was recently lucky enough to participate in a residency directed by pianist Pedja Muzijevic, who is a great believer in experimenting with the current day concert experience. Pedja reinforced to me that as musicians we are re-creators, not creators. This therefore makes it our task to take what we have and work with it in the most interesting way we can. Over my time with Pedja, he workshopped a new presentation of Morton Feldman’s piano solo ‘Triadic Memories’, in which he collaborated with Burke Brown to create a lighting design which complimented the music. As a preface to the presentation, Pedja announced that audience members may leave at any time and should take the experience as they feel comfortable.
Why don’t we create experiences rather than concerts, and give audience members permission to perceive the art as they wish? Consider that the event begins the second the audience member steps out of their car, and make it your challenge as a presenter/performer to stimulate them from that very second. Tell your audience to move when they feel like moving, clap when they feel like clapping. As Pedja says, “Haydn would be offended if you didn’t clap between movements”.
Art itself is a medium with endless boundaries, so why do we place boundaries on our audiences? An option for opening these avenues is by looking at music with artists of different disciplines. Surely, when executed well, this can only heighten the outcome. After all, inter-disciplinary relationships are hardly a new trend, when you consider the collaborations behind Mozart operas or the dance and poetry presented at many early Schubertiades. Why not offer current day audiences another way of experiencing a piece of music, whether it be with a different setting of venue, a little poetry, or a surprise interpretive dance? In the end, it is all theatre. Let’s blur the lines a little. Then, after all of this, if they don’t like it, that’s ok, too.
When looking at the concert setting, let’s look outward rather than forward. Yes, we want to see the future of classical music progress, but let us achieve this through enhancing what we already have. A beautiful friend of mine named Matt, a designer from Canada (who, funnily enough, I met through a collaborative arts project of my own) recently said to me: “It tends to be easier to place older objects in more contemporary environments than it is to place contemporary objects in older environments. You can imagine that a baroque chair is more at home in a modern living room than a modern chair would be in a baroque chamber”. So let us decorate our baroque chairs with a little light and freedom and see what becomes of it!
Image: anon. ensemble