Classical musicians to break with tradition and speak to the audience – Daily Telegraph

In the hope of breaking down century old barriers between an orchestra and its audience the performers will step up to the front to talk about the piece they are about to play, its history, how the rehearsal process has impacted on the finished piece and what it means to them. The orchestra’s conductors will also introduce themselves and the music.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led by Marin Alsop, is going to make their concerts less stodgy, but why has this taken so long? I’ve attended concerts where there was a talk about the music before the concert, but as a separate “event,” usually an hour before. These are generally sparsely attended. It makes sense to have a brief intro for the different works performed, as long as it isn’t too didactic.

Source: Classical musicians to break with tradition and speak to the audience

5 thoughts on “Classical musicians to break with tradition and speak to the audience – Daily Telegraph

  1. David Curtis, Stratford-upon-Avon’s Orchestra of the Swan’s (OOTS) original artistic director, always talked to the audience about the piece/s that was/were about to be played – even more so with the non-professional Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra (CSO) he conducts. It builds both short- and long-term bonds with the audience; as well as removing some of the traditional and formal ‘stodginess’ (supposedly) associated with what is known as ‘classical’ music. However, it takes guts (and a great deal of skill) to stand up in front of an audience and do this – especially when your mind is already stressed by the weight and detail of the conducting you are about to do; and not many professional musicians – in my experience – are capable of pulling it off just before the heat of performance. (Marin Alsop is one of the few great communicators; as was Leonard Bernstein.)

    It is, indeed, something that is sorely needed – particularly as we are going through a period where ‘classical’ music is struggling for relevance, and (therefore?) funding. But how it is achieved – and ideally at all points of the continuum, from Alsop and Rattle to the amateur director of a small, non-professional chamber group – I do not know. Perhaps it should be taught at our conservatories and universities? Or audiences should – somehow – explicitly demand it…?

    A final comment…. Good (and strong?) communication (and communication skills) are needed in many places where they are currently either badly practised, or not practised at all; and not just in the arts… – from the managers of small enterprises to the front benches of Parliament. Not always is the willingness to speak reinforced with the necessary skills; and having a large ego (with the associated ability to talk rubbish; or that of being able to lie without blushing) doesn’t necessarily make you the right person for the job.

  2. Here in Dublin, concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra are broadcast live and are preceded by an onstage introduction by a radio presenter. It is a practice which I abhor, as it turns the experience inside out, with the radio transmission intruding on the concert experience. The annoyance is all the greater when the presenter in question has such a large ego that his scripts tend to be over-long and sometimes incomprehensible.

    On the other hand, John Wilson, during his tenure as chief conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, regularly turned to the audience and offered some words of introduction. One occasion I remember with great affection was when the orchestra were performing Ives’s Three Pieces in New England. He warned the audience that what we were about to hear might be considered ‘difficult’ and, as such, merited an introduction. His contributions (he introduced each piece separately) were revelatory, witty and engaging.

    As Stephen says, it all depends on the person doing the introduction. John Wilson was wonderful; our radio presenter makes my hackles rise and disturbs my enjoyment of the music.

    • Lots of radio and TV stations do this, and it’s often horrible, because they have to fill the dead air while they’re waiting for the performance to begin.

  3. In the live radio broadcasts of Australian symphony orchestra concerts on ABC Classic FM* the commentary is presented from the broadcast box and goes completely unheard by the audience in the hall. This is better as the presenter can tailor what they say to the needs of the radio audience, including describing visual elements when needed or relevant. (Depending on what it is, onstage announcements or commentary may or may not be picked up for the broadcast.)
    * These are streamed and can be heard on abc.net.au/classic

  4. At least around the SF Bay Area, quite a lot of chamber musicians do this routinely. Thanks in part to Groupmuse
    https://www.groupmuse.com/
    there are lots of small-scale house concerts where the performers are physically close to the audience (which is typically no more than 25 people, sometimes as few as 10) and the pre-concert remarks can easily turn into a conversation–someone asked a question about Mendelssohn that turned into a short but interesting dialogue about whether the concept of “progress” fits with the history of changing musical styles and practices. It’s also possible to recite the texts of art songs, as poetry in the audience’s language, before doing the music with text in the language set by the composer. (Here’s a terrific example: https://youtu.be/MRB3mICzCbc

    I’ve never heard a musician complain about applause between movements, or sneer at audience members’ unfamiliarity with the music; I’ve never met a musician who wasn’t happy (even eager) to talk about what we do. If stuffy codes of behavior and dress are what’s keeping younger people away, we’re delighted to dispose of them. (I think there are other important factors that musicians have less control over.) We want to make music with and for people, maybe make a living by it if possible, and that’s the whole of our ambition.

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