Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Audience action

Very good comment from Matthew Hodge on my Tabatha Coffey post. I'd talked about Coffey, the embodiment of tough love — just go to her site and read the powerful words you'll see — who on a reality TV show impressively fixes failing hair salons.

What — I asked participants in a workshop I led — would Tabatha change if she came to an orchestra?

And I listed some of the responses I got. Things people had seen, that might revivify orchestras. Audience coming up to talk to the principal cellist during a break. Kids in a youth orchestra smiling while they played.

 Comments Matthew:

It's fascinating how all of the suggested Tabatha responses all involve the musicians getting more intimate with the audiences. (Talking from stage, saying hello in the intermission or even smiling.)

Remarkably simple to implement and all coming in at significantly cheaper than a laser light show and fireworks!

Which then got me thinking…

…of other musicians getting intimate with an audience. So I replied to his comment:

Another, similar idea — when Michael Christie first was music director in Phoenix, he stood outside the concert hall, greeting people in the audience as they came in.

And something I saw myself in St. Louis in the 1990s. At that time the St. Louis Symphony had an active community program. (They may again, but it lapsed earlier.) Before one of their concerts in Powell Hall, I saw audience members come up to the stage, to say hello to musicians they'd met at community events.

Or this: The St. Louis Symphony years ago played a Steve Reich piece, and when it was over, some of the musicians went out into the audience to talk about the music with anyone who wanted to do that.

Or this: Maxim Vengerov giving a solo recital in Carnegie Hall, on the big main stage. After the first piece, he turned to the audience and asked, "Any questions?"

From then on, the concert was a dialogue, with people in the audience shouting questions, even from the top balcony. I wasn't there, but heard about it from my wife Anne Midgette, who reviewed the concert for the New York Times.

I'm sure we can all think of more examples.

More ways to make concerts interactive…

…to break down the invisible (but very tangible wall), to get musicians and audience talking together. And — a key to classical music's future — to make performances really distinctive events.

(Now anticipating comments from those of the old school, who'll say that I'm cheapening the music, that only the music matters, that in it lies all the communication we need. Thus blaming our audience for our failures, saying they're just not educated enough. Or putting the blame on schools, which ought to jump to our commands, and teach every student to love the music we love.)

And today I just read this, from the seasoned consultant Tom Wolf, who in the newsletter his company WolfBrown sends out, talked about being barred from taking photos — even before a concert — in a concert hall he loved.

He writes:

Thinking about all of this later, I was reminded of a concert I attended a few years before at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas when the immensely popular Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky appeared with the magnificent Moscow Chamber Orchestra. The audience was filled with ebullient Russians who, when the popular Hvorostovsky came on stage, whistled and cheered, and shouted bravo and took out their phones to snap photos. Ushers ran from person to person admonishing them to stop, but they refused to be denied. It was a happy crowd and the feeling was infectious. By the end of the concert, the audience was singing along when the baritone offered a popular Russian folk song that served as one of his many encores. I left the hall feeling completely upbeat.

Which then reminds me that after the premiere of one of the early Shostakovich string quartets, there was a party, at which the quartet was played again. This time the audience sang along with one of the themes.

And of course in earlier centuries the audience was anything but quiet. A subject for another post.

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