No one can deny that significant changes are afoot when it comes to the performance and reception of western classical music. Though I in no way believe that classical music is dying, I believe that it is important to acknowledge that for classical music to thrive in the future we need to reevaluate the place of classical music in society and how to make it as relevant and meaningful, and as incorporated into daily society as it once was.
For example, the Kronos Quartet recently gave a concert at a Bleecker Street nightclub in New York City. Le Poisson Rouge, which has been open for two years, has always endeavored to include “adventurous music” in their scheduling. It would seem that the Kronos Quartet, with their own history of adventurous programming, is well suited for the space.
The New York Times recently reviewed two concerts that the Kronos Quartet gave at Le Poisson Rouge over last weekend, and which included several works by women composers. Among the works heard were Missy Mazzoli’s “Harp and Alter”, the premiere of Aleksandra Vrebalov’s “spell No. 4, for a changing world”, “Flow” by Laurie Anderson, and the first New York performance of String Quartet No. 1 by Maria Schneider. In Saturday’s concert, the quartet also collaborated with Judith Berkson, singer, keyboardist, composer and cantor. Included in the performance were two arrangements of works by Schubert by Berkson (“Die Krähe” from “Winterreise” and “Psalm 92”), and an original work by Berkson entitled “Ur Song” from her opera-in-progress.
I am delighted to know of so much under-heard music being performed, particularly by an ensemble whose name carries so much weight. Certainly, there is appeal to the Kronos Quartet, and their audiences, to new works that might not seem well suited to a traditional concert hall – Missy Mazzoli and Laurie Anderson’s work often includes electronic elements that might make the most typical classical music enthusiasts uneasy.
But the Kronos Quartet does have a history of including works by women composers. In fact, two of the four winners of their Under 30 Project winners have been women. Alexandra du Bois’s String Quartet: Oculus Pro Oculo Totum Orbem Terrae Caecat was commission in 2003 and Moscow-born Aviya Kopelman was selected in 2007 to compose a work for the ensemble, which was entitled “Widows & Lovers”.
However, apart from the incorporation of more music by women composers, I am interested in the space that it was heard. Just as more composers, like Missy Mazzoli, are creating ensembles to write for (thereby assuring that their works get performed), perhaps more ensembles should seek less traditional venues for their performances. I feel that in some ways these alternate performance spaces could be seen as another way to “other” this music – keeping it out of the concert halls that are meant for “serious” music. However, can it also be seen as a way to reach a new and enthusiastic audience. Professional musicians are performing classical music in bars in Cleveland – including Mozart, Britten, Corigliano, Piazzolla, and Bolcom. Perhaps a more intimate setting with a new audience is just the place to introduce more of the less-known works and attract interest and enthusiasm to the continued performance of this art form? Perhaps nightclubs and bars are the new parlors for classical music – space to engage with music intimately and stir conversation and enthusiasm, which is never a bad thing.
I will be interested to see how these trends develop, or don’t develop, in the coming months and years. It bears repeating that change is not only inevitable but necessary for classical music to not only exist but thrive in a meaningful way in contemporary society. This could be just the ticket.
And for anyone in New York City, you can head to Le Poisson Rouge on October 17 to hear The Chiara String Quartet perform the New York premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Milagros”.