'Traditional concerts have been somewhat passive affairs for the audience. We want to flip that experience into something more engaging, surprising and varied. Experimentation and discovery are a huge part of our programming.'
Sesame Street X Beastie Boys, with Grover wilding on the flute *and* wielding a baton.
[No idea how I managed to miss this a few years ago.]
'Unfortunately, I think that all these orchestras will die out in twenty or thirty years. They have become too big. Like dinosaurs, they must feed themselves all the time. And the real problem is that they are no longer organizations where real music-making happens. Instead, they exist to satisfy other needs. They satisfy a necessity for job security among the musicians; they satisfy a kind of career mania of soloists and conductors; and they satisfy the interests of a small margin of society that likes to go out and be seen at some kind of unidentifiable social event.'
Amen, Ivan Fischer.
The energetic and visionary Hungarian conductor is the subject of a report by Alex Ross, who attended several concerts given by Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. In recent years the BFO has been reimagining the possibilities of orchestral culture, an approach which dovetails with our work at wcfsymphony:
'The arrangement of the orchestra often changes, with flutes showing up amid the violins, and vice versa. The program is not always announced in advance. On certain nights, the music is picked by an audience member, the chooser determined by a slip of paper drawn from a tuba. Players may start tangoing during Stravinsky’s Tango; a live tree may appear onstage during Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony. The BFO’s Midnight Music concerts, aimed at a youthful crowd, are full-on happenings, intended to strip away routine while leaving the music vibrantly intact.'
Bravo to Fischer and the BFO for not only recognizing the challenges faced by orchestras in the 21st century but urgently and joyously doing something about it.
'Thanks to Williams’s generosity and full-throttle sincerity as a performer, the jokes that went over the kids’ heads never felt exclusionary or as if they had been included at our expense. Instead, they were a warm and thrilling invitation to aspire toward joining the adult table, where Williams would put you at ease by poking you under the table and making fart noises.'
So much love for what Robin Williams gave to so many kids, this one included.
Solid NYT piece on one of the most esoteric aspects of orchestral culture, the existence of distinctive sounds unique to particular ensembles. The group under consideration is the hermetic Vienna Philharmonic, though the superb comment thread offers a plethora of examples and insights about other orchestras around the world. [Two stateside examples of distinctive orchestral sound I’d contribute: Baltimore doing American music with Zinman, and LA playing just about anything modernist with Salonen. I also like some of Vienna’s recent work with Gardiner, who seems to free the orchestra’s winds and brass to play with the naturalness and verve enabled by their more traditional instruments.]
One observation informed by a concert I heard recently at the Musikverein in Vienna: the building’s main orchestral hall, in which the Philhamonic performs the majority of its instrumental concerts, has to be a major consideration in any discussion of how the group plays and sounds. First thing you notice walking into the Großer Saal [especially if you’re used to American concert venues] is the creaking of the floor boards, which turns out to be a prelude to the humming and throbbing of the floors, seats, walls, etc with sound at almost any dynamic level. I can only imagine what it’s like onstage.
The tonal feedback received by an orchestra in any regularly used space is a central element in determining how it plays – a good example is the Philadelphia Orchestra and the way its sound was shaped by a century in the acoustically locked-down Academy of Music. The Philharmonic’s singular combination of elasticity and unity owes much to the remarkably alive confines of the Musikverein.
My love of the Vienna sound and my own immersions in the city’s musical history notwithstanding, I believe that markers like ‘distinctive sound’ have become distractions from the larger issues facing the symphony business. The orchestra of the future will need to be adept at sounding like many types of ensembles, and will present a much more diverse array of repertoire in any number of radically different venues. The Vienna Philharmonic, with its rightly treasured sound, may be one of the few ‘distinctive’ sounding orchestras able to persist unaltered.
[Image by Herwig Prammer for Reuters, edit by me]