- 7 May, 2009
- 1 Comment
This week composer Sean Hickey, Naxos’ National Sales and Business Development Manager, weighs in on the growing trend in alternative performance venues, a subject which has been covered at length in The New York Times and many other publications including the June issue of Gramophone. On May 18 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall, pianist Xiayin Wang will perform the world premiere of Sean Hickey’s Cursive, a work commissioned for the pianist. Her program also will feature a world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s The Enchanted Garden, Preludes Book II.
I just finished reading Laurence Vittes’ article in the June Gramophone on alternative classical venues. Since it’s a topic that I have a particular interest in, I felt compelled to post something on the topic. First, it’s nice to see a mainstream classical music publication take on the trend. Though they’re a bit late to the party, I’m glad to see it get covered. What is most interesting is that, for those of us that live in New York and sample the diversifying concert scene here, this is not news. The alt-classical scene has been taking off in New York, London and Berlin for quite some time. I felt the need to chime in on the topic, not because I take issue with anything said in the article, but to underscore what I think is a hugely important development in classical music presentation over the past few years. Greg Sandow has written eloquently on the topic several times.
Last week I attended a release party for composer/conductor/arranger Peter Breiner and the release of his latest Naxos disc, a wonderful recording of orchestral suites arranged from the operas of Leos Janacek. The event, like others we at Naxos have done, took place at Le Poisson Rouge, specifically in the bar portion. I can’t overstate the pleasure in listening to great music in a public drinking space, and on an excellent sound system that manages to not sound obtrusive but succeeds in cutting through any conversation. LPR’s Justin Kantor has invested heavily in this crucial aspect which naturally means that they’re a great place for events centered around listening. Through LPR’s extensive social network we turned out a respectable crowd, many of them Czechs interested in the music of this fascinating composer. LPR, along with many other venues, have found real success in promoting their events not by advertising in the traditional print publications, but relying on their extensive fan and friend lists on Facebook, MySpace, LastFM and others to spread the word on concerts and gatherings. I’ve attended several shows there and I’ve never seen anything that wasn’t sold out or nearly. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a concert there where I’ve been able to sit down. Amazing how alcohol and interesting music seem to bring people together.
Like many of my friends, I came to classical music through the back door. I grew up playing the electric guitar in imitation of the guitar gods like Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. In my mid-teens I discovered the progressive rock of King Crimson and the punk spirit of the Clash. At some point around then I heard the Rite of Spring for the first time and, though it might sound cliche, it changed my life forever. The Shostakovich Fifth, especially in context of what I learned of the composer’s life, had a similar effect. Even more life-changing was a trip to see the Chicago Symphony for the first time when I was sixteen. The sight of a primarily empty orchestra stage as a setting for Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments will always stay with me. The unique sound world of that particular piece still has the echoes of Symphony Hall in my ears. At that moment, at least in my mind, I set down the guitar and decided to become a composer. All of this is to say that, if such places as LPR existed in my hometown way back when, I might have taken in my first non-rock concert not on a stiff-back chair, but on a barstool. Okay, that doesn’t sound like the right place for a teenager.
In terms of New York, Vittes could have listed many more places such as The Stone, Barbes, Galapagos, the Nabi Gallery and others, all of them regularly showcasing chamber music, opera and most importantly, new music. I’m amazed at the reception of new works by these audiences, especially in comparison to the crowd at Avery Fisher who can often only manage polite applause for a new piece after unwrapping their throat lozenge. It’s of course important to note that many composers, in great DIY fashion, got their start performing or having their works performed in alternative spaces (some of them private or semi-private and many certainly non-commercial) from the 60′s through the 80s.
All of this is to say that I applaud any venue of any kind that programs classical music or invites new music to be a part – however small – of the overall programming and presentation of music of any kind. My hope is that these kind of multi-genre, multi-generational venues proliferate elsewhere.