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Classical 101

Concerts in New Spaces

The National Symphony in Washington D.C. attracted more attention than usual recently, not for music but for locale. Members of the NSO decamped from the stately Kennedy Center and began appearing in unusual spaces. Homeless shelters, hospitals and neighborhood churches aren't unheard of venues for classical musicians these days. Nor is an enormous dance club called Echostage in an  "up and coming" D.C. neighborhood. The NSO shared the bill with a rapper, a DJ and strobe lighting for days. Reportedly, the joint was jumpin' to music by Shostakovich and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The NSO played Washington's Union Station last year where there have also been flash-mobs (are they out of date by now?) and kid's concerts. The trend now is to begin weaning audiences away from the bona fide concert halls, at least part of the time. Good idea? Yes and No. Hearing music in a gorgeous and acoustically flattering great hall is still a potent experience. Thee's something about the lights going down and the minute of anticipation before the conductor appears. That said, is it realistic to expect our 20-somethings to sit still in the dark for two hours, along with their restlessness or God forbid, their smartphones? New audiences at old halls are confronted by rules foreign to them: no cell phones, no texting, no tweets, don't check your FB status and shut up. That's fine for oldsters like me. But I can see how two hours of darkness with no electronic use or beer and munchies could get on a kid's nerves. Yet I'm not sure if "off site" concerts are here to stay. Will a dance club audience be too wasted to care about Prokofiev and the National Symphony?  Let's face it. The music played in such a venue is designed to be loud, beat-ridden and encouraging to gyrating young people. Echostage patrons reportedly were amazed that the NSO played without mikes! How many of these folks will later visit the Kennedy Center is hard to predict. The solution is not butchering or adapting the music. Play what the composer wrote. If the opera runs three hours then perform the three hours. I think the solution is not changing the venue but changing expectations of audience behavior. Do shorter concerts. Encourage talk backs after each piece. Allow food and drink. Don't worry about people texting or whatever. Play your concert,  then partner with a local club for discounted passes afterward. I have nothing against a classical music mosh pit, so go ahead and encourage that ambiance. Market the concerts for 25 year olds and  under. I don't think where a concert is played is  as interesting as to how audiences are treated at concerts. We need to stop our puritanical approach to Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven. Read any of the correspondence of these composers. They would have no problem with a classical music mosh pit. It ain' the  music and it ain't the composers and it ain't the artists discouraging younger audiences. Can it be the presenters?