Swan Song or Song and Dance?
Perspectives from a Composer and an Artistic Director
Artistic Director of Spectrum Concerts Berlin, an innovative concert ensemble dedicated to outstanding performances of lesser-known 20th Century Western composers along with standard and rare works from the Classical and Romantic repertoire
There has been a decline in classical music in Germany, and attendance as well as subscription sales are down . . .For me personally, full houses and successful subscription drives have never been central to my, or our, artistic goals. The preservation of a valuable culture and spreading the word that there is a need for individual conscience belong to my personal goals and beliefs and they are inseparably intertwined with our philosophy at Spectrum Concerts Berlin.
There are two stories I'd like to write to you about that will help shed more light and bring more clarity to what I am saying here:
In 1997, Robert Helps was invited to perform a solo program with Spectrum Concerts Berlin--a program of mostly his music and some other pieces by Roger Sessions and Debussy. The concert took place in the Kammermusiksaal of the Philharmonie in Berlin. A little less than 100 of the 1200 seats were occupied. However, those 100 music lovers in attendance all sat cuddled up together in Block A, directly in front of the stage. Those 100 people or so are what I call music's worker bees - they are the only hope that exists for music and all that ever existed. Truly there for the love of music and fulfillment of inner curiosity, participating in an event that was certainly as much a part of the core as an event can be. After 4 or 5 encores, the audience almost in its entirety proceeded to backstage where Robert Helps again received warm applause for his music and his playing.
Now to the second story. In May of 2003 Spectrum Concerts Berlin presented a program of difficult music by the composers Ravel, Glasunov, Kurtag, and Schulhoff. I had referred to the program as being the most beautiful of the season, to both the press and important audience members. Bitter complaints followed for days. Complaints declared that the program had been far too difficult, much too long, and that it had such a dark and tragic ending, the final movement of Schulhoff's string sextet. The press also followed this concert and to our good fortune, they commended the program and its delivery and clearly stated that such serious attention to this repertoire was brave and necessary. This very positive message from the press and from the critics made a critical difference and sent an important message to sponsors and important participants of our audience.
So, the main issue for me, for us at Spectrum Concerts Berlin, is not the success of our "Business of Music" but the success of our mission - the preservation and maintenance of our valuable world music culture.
If anything, a downturn in financial success in the arts could actually have a long-term positive influence in that it could help sort out the "It cannot be done"-ers and those doing it.
Let us know your ideas for drawing audiences to classical music concerts by entering the "Saving Classical Music" contest (through July 31st). Click here for contest details. The three grand prize winners will receive 100 Naxos CDs each.
Check back soon for part three in our special multi-part feature.
Copyright 2003, Naxos.com.