2/22/10 Buenos Aires Herald

Programmers give audiences what they want

Classic classical music

The other day, I made a list of all the new operas premièring around the United States this year. For many of us who love opera, it’s fantastic to see attempts at bringing new energy and new music into the opera house. But for many regular opera-goers and subscribers, all this new work represents an affront.?

There are many people who pay several thousand dollars a year to go to the opera and don’t see why they should be spending that money to see works in which they have no interest. These people are often intelligent opera-goers of long standing. Some of them write me about it. They formed a subgroup of those who responded favorably to my critical look at Placido Domingo’s tenure at the Washington National Opera: but one reason they were upset with Domingo is that he put on new, unfamiliar operas, whereas I was rather hard on him for, this season, not putting on enough.?

Many of us who love music share a vague idea that audiences should be open to new things, and that they should be convinced to give them a try. But is this true? I’ve observed before that classical music, particularly opera companies and orchestras, are unusual in that they repeatedly try to force things on its audience that its audience doesn’t necessarily want.?

Someone who comes to the movie theater to see “Avatar” is not necessarily going to be thrilled if I show him “Pan’s Labyrinth” instead, even if I’m convinced that he would really love it if only he would watch it. And yet this is what’s going on in classical music, all the time: audiences are being asked to pay lots of money to be taken out of their comfort zone.

An interesting thing happened in New Hampshire last week. The New Hampshire Music Festival had brought in some big guns in the classical music world to help it restructure: Henry Fogel, the former head of the Chicago Symphony and subsequently of the League of American Orchestras, as festival director, and Johnny Gandelsman, a violinist who plays with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and founded the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider, as artistic director. The orchestra, made up of players from around the country, got the distinct impression during last summer’s season that Fogel was trying to change the way things had been done, and it, and a bunch of festival supporters, resisted. The result: Fogel and Gandelsman are out, along with three board members. Tradition wins over innovation. The orchestra will be the way it was, for the audience who wants it that way.

The orchestra world is certainly traditional, and it’s been glacially slow to change. (A blogger just painstakingly compiled the performance history of the Toronto Symphony over the last decade, and discovered that, even with the more adventurous programming since Peter Oundjian took over there, the most-performed works were still the Beethoven 7th and Tchaikovsky 6th symphonies, as well as the Beethoven violin concerto and Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto — the meat and potatoes of the orchestral repertory.)

Many of us have accepted that it’s got to change if it wants to survive, and this may be true. But how do we reconcile this with the large portion of the audience that loves things just the way they are, so passionately that it’s willing to fight for them?

It’s a question that institutions are grappling with all the time, in part because they have people like me nipping at their heels in print if they fail to move with the times, and they have to balance that against the host of ticket-buyers who really want to see all those performances of “Madame Butterfly.” And my tendency is usually to say, put it on and they will come; show people what’s exciting, and they will get excited. But, playing devil’s advocate to my own views: shouldn’t paying customers be able to get what they want, rather than what some of us think they should want?

What about argentina?. Herald classical music critic Pablo Bardin has often, and pointedly, criticized local theatres and companies for the same defects highlighted in this stiry about the US. The same big names are offered time and time again in BA’s opera season, sometimes with two competing productions of the same work within the same season, whereas more modern or unconventional works go unheard.