Recently, a bunch of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra staff and I attended a concert over at Millennium Park. This Saturday, I’m heading to Ravinia. Everybody loves these summer concerts, wouldn’t you agree? There’s something so comfortable about them, a sense that in some way you are out on a mega patio chilling out at a big party and listening to some super great music. Then the season turns. Autumn arrives in a flurry of school supplies and No. 2 pencils. We go back to the routine. Get “back to business.”
Of course, in the Midwest with the long gray winter it’s impossible to continue outdoor concerts, so we move inside. That’s fine. I mean, there is something to be said for sitting in a proper hall, being able to hear all the notes, and not be distracted by having to pass the potato chips once again. What I’m wondering is: how can we retain that “this is fun!” feeling that outdoor concerts have once we move back inside? Am I the only one that occasionally gets that “now we’re being serious, kids, school is in session” vibe during the proper concert season?
I’m not saying that ALL concerts in a concert hall feel that way. In fact, when I went to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (our neighbors down the street) perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 this past spring, there was a sky-high level of energy and excitement – everyone was super pumped to hear such an epic piece of music. I loved it, not just because hearing the music performed so spectacularly made me wanna cry, but because the feeling of audience engagement was so real it was like you could reach out and poke it. If audio came in 3-D that would have been it.
Okay, so what am I getting at? Basically this: concerts have been done a certain way (with certain manners and protocol…clap here, don’t clap there, wear this, don’t wear that, etc.) for years and years, but everything needs to change sometime, right? So, what needs to be changed and what should stay the same? Who is this generation of young musicians (possibly you, my dear reader) going to inherit for an audience?
I recently had a conversation with a really bright young professional who is interested in getting to more classical concerts. She told me that one thing that bothers her is that she often feels like she needs to know something, like, be prepared, to go to a concert. It’s that “we-should-clean-the-house-before-the-housecleaners-come-clean-the-house” syndrome. In a few short weeks, members of CYSO are going to get up on the Kidzapalooza stage at Lollapalooza to perform with Dan Zanes. No one that will come to that concert is going to care about what they know or don’t know about Dan Zanes’ music before they attend. They are just going to show up and enjoy it. Shouldn’t that happen not only in Grant Park but more and more often across the street in Symphony Center, too? What do you think?
Full disclosure: I (Kathryn) am acquainted with James Rhodes, the pianist I’m about to introduce to you. James is actively engaging his audiences with a “loosen your collars/you don’t need to know anything just enjoy it” feeling at his concerts. What I love about James’ approach is his, “Who made up the rules?” attitude. Because, really, who DID make up the rules? (Alex Ross answers that question partially in a lecture he gave at the Royal Philharmonic Society, and you can read that here if you want.)
Anyway, if you have a few minutes, check out the interview James recently did on BBC television (he’s British, btw).
It’s one thing for a soloist to find ways to change the vibe of his/her concerts, but how does an orchestra do that? I have some ideas, but I’ve already said a lot here and we would love to know what YOU think. Drop us a comment in the comment box.