Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poor Argument

Reading "Classical Notes" over at MPR, I am shocked in many ways by John Birge's most recent post, in a topic started at NewMusicBox. But I wasn't surprised by Birge to tell the truth.
"But beyond that, perhaps people walk out of concerts not because the contemporary piece they are hearing disturbs their quietude, but because it's bad art, and has nothing to say to them."
Not only is this laughable, it's untrue - what is this sentence based on? Surely not from experiences of concerts/concert-goers with the Minnesota Orchestra or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Birge's backyard! Perhaps from Birge's Cincinnati Pops background? I hope not and doubt that too.
We are living in the leading country of modern composers/compositions today - I speak with roughly 30 or more composers each year, hear mountains of new recorded works, and attend concerts in Philly, NYC, DC and Baltimore on a regular basis. As Vienna and Paris were musical capitals in the past, New York and the US are the leading place for modern music today.
John, take in some of the Minnesota Orchestra's Composers Institute next year. And why not do a feature on it? [Read a young composer's view about it here.]

Then Birge addresses the environment question:
"If it was simply a matter of being averse to "sonic disturbances," people would be leaving movie theaters in droves every night of the week at Dolby THX suburban multiplexes across the land. But be it cinema or concert hall (or radio station for that matter), they'll stay -- if the art that's presented to them has a compelling story to tell, one that makes them so engaged that they can't wait for the next scene, the next movement, the next chapter. Art that makes them excitedly anticipate: "What happens next?""
Actually, I don't think you should settle, in the theater or concert hall, for distrubances. You're paying for entertainment, not for someone else talking or their cellphone ringing. Yes, the content should be compelling, but please don't put "Norbit" or "Music and Lyrics" on the same platform as Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 or John Adams' My Father Knew Charles Ives.

We should support and nuture music, especially new music; let's not be hasty and declare an exodus for audiences. Attend the preconcert talk, or talkback after a concert - ask questions, discuss the's art and sometimes a second hearing, or even a little insight might help. Just two weeks ago, in Philadelphia for a composer's 50th birthday, I was looking for the stairs (after the concert was over, and had spoken to the players/composer, ahem!) and joked to another concert-goer, who happened to be a conductor of a new music ensemble, "Oh here it is, Exit- in case of Brahms!" We both had a chuckle.

In a nutshell, give music a chance.

1 comment:

spartacus said...

I don't know what's so laughable about John Birge's comments. I love contemporary music and I happen to believe some of it isn't very good. We are after all hearing much of this for the first time and audiences did the same thing during Beethoven's time too.

I think when Mr. Birge say's "it's bad art", he's talking in a more general sense, not necessarily about new music in general. I've walked out on a Tchaikovsky 5th before. It was an extremely boring performance (Sommerfest 2004), and I was bored. I got to 10-15 concerts every season. I'm as seasoned a listener as you will find. Trust me - I want people to walk out if the music isn't speaking to them. Why would I want them to stay in the hall being bored - which leads to talking and playing with gadgets and disrupting my enjoyment.

I think you've mad an issue out of a non-issue.