As I'm sure everyone knows by now, this past Wednesday's Boston Pops concert featured a brawl between a talker and a shusher in the second balcony. While most news features have capitalized on the incongruity between a brawl and a symphony concert, Jeremy Eichler's thoughtful review in the Globe asks some more important questions.
The audience that night was a mixed bag of Pops subscribers, benefit concert-goers, and Ben Folds fans--not the normal Symphony Hall makeup. In Eichler's opinion, the Pops could have better seized upon the opportunity with their programming of the first half. Instead of the ubiquitous Dvorak "Carnival" Overture, Eichler suggests:
"...a short, gnarly, and exhilarating work of 20th-century music, offering a quick glimpse of, say, the ecstatic washes of color in Messiaen, or the quivering extraterrestrial sound worlds of a Ligeti score?"
As an advocate of contemporary music, I give Eichler's suggestion a resounding "right on!" As a practical observer of concert audiences, however, I'm forced to note that the inclusion of such a piece would probably kill the "pops" ethos. But maybe therein lies the problem.
We tend to categorize and pigeonhole repertoire to such an extent there is little to no flexibility, even when the audience might afford the opportunity. We have "Early Music" concerts, "New Music" concerts, "Pops" concerts (that's where all the film music goes, folks!), and "Classics" concerts. In a recent article in the New Yorker, Alex Ross discusses how Esa-Pekka Salonen has tried valiantly to usher in contemporary music as part of the LA Phil's standard repertoire (with varying levels of success). Maybe the element of surprise should be more standard for concerts nowadays. Sure, reel the regulars in with a big seller, but have a couple of "TBAs" on the program. Vary it: a newly commissioned work (short), a film music suite, an oldie-but-a-goodie. I wonder what would happen if you had audiences coming to see one or two works, and being stretched just a little tiny bit.
It is truly hard to stand outside myself and speculate as to my reaction as a non-music specializing concertgoer. But I think that I'd be quite okay with hearing one or two of the Ligeti piano etudes, even if I came to hear the 1812 Overture or a medley of the best of John Williams. Idealistic? Maybe. Optimistic? Assuredly.
(Cross-posted at LiveJournal)