Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Cross-Genres: Baroque & Jazz June 29, 2010

I went to another concert that combined a new genre with classical music. It was The Sixteen & Julian Joseph at Spitalfields Music Festival on Thursday 24 June. I went along with other young professionals from Young People in the Arts who I believe were attracted by the novelty of the unusual combination of genres.

The concert combined Monteverdi with Jazz improvisation. The conductor explained beforehand:

‘The first programme contains some of Monteverdi’s most vivacious sacred music but in the second programme we, along with the charismatic jazz musician Julian Joseph, have decided to revisit this great master. Instrumental ritornelli (short recurring passages) occur in all the pieces and in Monteverdi’s time these would have allowed the players a freedom of expression, embellishment and improvisation. With Julian and Mike Hodgson we will extend that idea into a baroque-jazz synthesis and see just how far we can take it.’ Harry Christophers

The very different sets of musicians created a dialogue between each other by either the jazz musicians continuing improvising over a theme stated by the singers or by introducing them. The music was re-composed by Harry Christophers to allow the merging of these two different genres and the most magical moments were when they played simultaneously. I thought it was interesting how the combination emphasised the dissonances in both styles of music showing how music written hundreds of years apart still have things in common.

At the post-concert talk, Julian Joseph explained how it was a good way to introduce people to early music such as Monteverdi. While they may be drawn to the concert by the jazz and the legendary musicians names, they were given a  taster of another sound world.  (However, the audience attending appeared to be made up of a traditional classical demographic). Equally Harry Christophers commented how he thought it was a great experiment and one to be developed. In particular I would like to see more ways in which the two different genres: jazz and baroque could be combined simultaneously rather than alternating between the two.


Classical music: a definition? June 23, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 6:55 pm

During my last post I realised that using the term ‘classical music’ was problematic. I originally posed the question of how could we attract audiences to ‘classical’ concerts, but I am considering whether this is too restrictive. Not only does it feel exclusive to only include classical music, the term in is self is so vague it is hard to judge what music is classical or not.

There are many definition of classical music:

  • Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times.”Classical”, The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, ed. …

However, could the definition of classical music just distinguish between art music and popular music rather than music from a  particular era or location? For example, there is classical music in other cultures other than Europe. Then again, this raises equally problematic questions of the divide between high and low art.


Changing the classical image: Cross-genres

Filed under: 1C: Reviews,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

I was taken along to Exhibition Music Day on Sunday 20 June. Though the festival is very popular on the continent, I had not heard of it before.

What struck me the variety of music on offer from acoustic, classical to jazz as well as every other sub-genre under the sun. Going through the process of choosing what to see really brought home that music taste is such a subjective choice. As there is so much on offer out there, it is interesting to consider what motivates us to chose a certain type of music over the other. I would argue an important factor is personal image. The music that you listen to reflects what type of person you are.

What type of people in the year 2010 stereotypically listen to classical music? Music geeks, band camp nerds, people with greying hair? This is problematic for the self-conscious individual, as attending a classical concert stands them in the stead of being labelled uncool.

Perhaps one solution is to incorporate classical people with another genre, to help broaden the audience. I chose to go to a concert with the duo Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal on cello and kora at the French Institute presented alongside pop and acoustic bands.

Remarkably, they combined two different cultures to create one cohesive musical dialogue. This was emphasised by their two different forms of attire: a Malian yellow tunic in comparison to European black concert dress. While a western instrument, the cellist mainly borrowed the musical language of the kora instead of the European tradition. However, the cello still retained its ‘classical’ status (whatever you take classical to mean).

This cross-genre places the classical musician in a new position that certainly challenges their stereotypical uncool image. It shows how classical music does not have to be limited to the European tradition as it can also be experimental and innovative. Classical does not exclusively mean C18th classical music and is a developing as much today as it was 300 years ago.

Mixing classical music with other genres creates novelty, a new image and potentially a new audience. Is it the way forward?


An Alternative Way: The Night Shift May 30, 2010

Some music organisations are already leading the way in presenting the concert in a different format for example the The Night Shift series by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

It still offers a live experience of classical music, but in a slightly altered format. There are some key aspects that make it more appealing to a broader audience.

  1. Late start of 10pm Cooler like a gig. Different event and audience to the earlier one at 7.30pm – high proportion of young people in the foyer.
  2. Could take drinks into the auditorium – this is usually not allowed in auditoriums while it is common practise at gigs, jazz clubs etc.
  3. Pre-concert live band Though some concerts have pre-concert talks and workshops it is quite unusual for a non-classical pre-performance to take place. This acknowledges the fact that classical music fans don’t just like classical music. It makes the evening more a appealing to one who is unfamiliar with classical music as they are slowly introduced to classical instruments in a format that they are probably more familiar (band in a bar) and then go onto the hard core stuff during the main concert.
  4. Spoken word Presenter on stage who introduces the pieces, interviews the musicians and asks for demonstrations = very cool, assumed didn’t know very much about music and nicely broke up the concert with dialogue. Casual way of talking – called people by their first names. Flautist introduced rest of the woodwind section by their first names – felt like a friendly family. Celebrity appearance of Goldie to reinforce the fact that cool people attend classical concerts.
  5. Alternative programme notes Explains exactly what and when everything happens during the course of the evening.
  6. Audience behaviour Presenter informed audience at the beginning when to clap – this helped break up the symphony, as we clapped between the movements. Also had cheering and wolf whistles from the audience. People laughed at the boring bassoon part. Whispers towards end of concert. Encouraged to get up and get drinks during the concert. Problem as hard to leave seat without disturbing people.
  7. Interactive Imaginative feedback forms – had to write one word to describe how the concert made you feel. Gave audience members cameras to document the evening – later shared on flickr. Audience member to be voice for podcasts. Conventional feedback forms -but chance to win free tickets.