‘New Music is disappointing to those who attend with expectations.’
A co-worker of mine mentioned this to me at work after I was lamenting the fact that there were so few people in the audience of the final concert in the New Creations Festival, put on annually by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
I’ve been involved with new music for much of my performing career, as well as being involved with marketing for several groups in Toronto that focus on new music initiatives. There is certainly an appetite for new works, I have no doubt about that. But there are groups that are finding it difficult to bring out audiences to hear world premieres, things that have never been heard on this earth before. Is this not exciting enough?
People go out in droves to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters. After the initial excitement dies down, the great ones stand the test of time, the others go to the bargain bin at HMV. Granted, marketing plays a key role in this, but I would be ecstatic to have that situation in the classical music world. Imagine, an entire festival where the works that receive the most enthusiastic responses are given an encore at the end in one blockbuster concert! The fact is, it’s very simple to say ‘Why won’t people come out, this is great new music’. To be honest, sometimes it isn’t.
But that is not the problem: the problem is these pieces are not even given a chance. I return to my friend’s quote, it is a question of expectation. When certain patrons at the TSO (the subscribers, let’s say), hear about a new music concert being performed, there is this immediate reaction in their mind that equates it to ‘frightening sounds’ – in other words, not Brahms or Beethoven (and this certainly happens, as some of my poor friends can attest to in some of their conversations with ticket-buyers while telemarketing).
Like my previous post about booing and being more vocal in our opinions, perhaps this is a part of a bigger social issue. Have we become so conservative as to not be open to new opportunities, new adventures in sound (ie. the traditional symphony audience)? Or perhaps on the flip side, have concerts in new music gotten so far out of touch with everyday emotions and situations as to no longer be relevant? There needs to be a connection somehow.
The fact is, the 20th and 21st centuries have provided a very diverse and colourful spread of music, as anyone who has read Alex Ross’s ‘The Rest is Noise’ can attest to. Toronto is full of new and wonderful creations, of all styles, that are worth experiencing. I am a little disappointed when I overhear a patron leaving a TSO performance of Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin claiming it to be too modern. That piece is almost 100 years old.
Perhaps, instead of judging this music prematurely, we can take a few risks in our lives.
Please stay tuned for my next post, which will focus on bridging the gap between new creations and the general public (and whether it even needs to be a priority).