That orchestra is –yawn–boring; lock them up!
By David Amos
SAN DIEGO–At times, I think that people should be put in jail for being boring. Granted, it is not a practical idea, but the thought, nevertheless, is tempting. These potential jail birds lead seminars, make sales presentations, compose music, and attempt to interpret the works of others. They are so wrapped up in their own internal thoughts, whatever they may be, that they become totally unaware that their audience is completely detached of emotion and/or interest of the subject at hand. Sensitivity to one’s audience is an essential element to proper communication and the conveyance of a message, an artistic creation, or a call to motivate and excite.
These concepts were inspired by a recent sales meeting I attended, but it also applies to concerts and lectures at which you and I may have been present. At an American Symphony Orchestra League conference in Dallas years ago, we were told by a major speaker giving a major speech at a major lunch that the greatest cause of dwindling audiences in the concert hall is simply boring music, mostly performed with technical accuracy, but lackluster in spirit and devoid of energy and excitement.
This applies equally to the great classics, or newer music.
The process starts with the proper choice of music. This can become tricky, and varies from audience to audience. In many cities, the public that buys subscription season tickets is conditioned to expect to hear what we call the standard warhorses (such as the 1812 Overture, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s 40th, The Seasons, Bolero, etc..).
Attendance by the mostly wealthy patrons who support the arts is somewhat of a given; after all, many of these fine people do not go to concerts or recitals to enjoy great music, but are there to be seen as part of the community’s high society or as contributors to the arts. This is fine, we need their support. But there are other segments of potential audiences which are neglected. These people are the ones who truly love music, and they fall into two categories: A) The ones who know very little about music and wish to learn and enjoy more of what they hear in classical music, and B) the very knowledgeable enthusiasts who are familiar with the basic repertory as well as its fringes, and most probably own a multitude of recordings, which enables them to make intelligent comparisons of interpretations.
Of the three groups I mentioned, the first, the supporting patrons will buy tickets, be there for the programs, and probably perceive nothing more than a superficial pleasure at best from the experience, no matter how well or how badly the orchestra, the conductor, or the soloist, if there is one, perform. But, when we give performances that are a crashing bore, the second and third groups will be there once, and probably not come back. The former will simply not feel any communication or edification from the music, and the latter will find the presentation ridiculous, or the choice of music unimaginative, and likewise, will keep away.
Applying this to plain numbers, statistics and dollars, it is obvious to see that the affluent patron support is diminishing, and that we are failing to motivate and/or educate a new generation of enthusiastic concertgoers. Is it any surprise that most professional orchestras are in trouble today? There are, obviously, other factors that affect this puzzle, but uncreative choices of repertory, artistic execution, planning, management, and advertising are major contributors.
Note that a performance can be technically perfect, but colorless. This is far worse than a less precise rendition that sparkles with excitement. Take, for instance, the old Sviatoslav Richter recording of a live recital in Sofia, Bulgaria, of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in its original piano version. The audience coughs at times drown out the music, the recording, sonically, is far below the standards of the time, and, conceivably, you could write a whole new piano concerto with the notes that Mr. Richter unceremoniously dropped under the keyboard. Nevertheless, it is one of the most electrifying performances you are likely to hear anywhere!
This historic recording has been re-released on compact disc.
It is not easy to select the right “mix’ of works for a concert that motivates a potential audience to attend, and give a performance that is memorable. As the late Sol Hurok used to say, “ If the public does not want to go to a concert, there is nothing you can do to stop them!”. But, whoever said that the classical music business is easy?
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has conducted professional orchestras around the world. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org