It’s official: I’m a “badass” cellist–or at least the classical music in jeans concert was. (Thanks, Alek.) Now I finally know what I want my tombstone to say. (Or would say, if I was going to have a tombstone, rather than have my ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico–which sounds like a much more enjoyable place to spend the next billion years or so than a hole in the ground.) Pushing 50 and still badass–that really made my day!
The concert, and the idea behind it, has gotten renewed attention since Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, mentioned it in his blog. The harpist Helen Radice recently wrote a fascinating post prompted by the concert and my ruminations on it, too. Her thoughts are particularly perceptive:
This is the problem: the deeply in love, and the rest. It always has been: I can’t think of another art form that is so divided between those who simply could not live without it, and those for whom it couldn’t be more irrelevant, who would, as Edberg says, rather “watch TV, or play cards, or smoke a joint, or drink a case of beer, or play Ultimate Frisbee, or hang out with friends, or even study…or…could go and listen to (what [they] assume to be) boring music and have to stifle [their] humanity.” That is why opinion so divides over concerts, like Edberg’s experiment, designed specifically for non-musicians. Some non-musicians dance in the aisles, but the musicians can’t bear it. When the musicians are on their feet cheering, often the others are too, heading for the nearest exit.
Edberg is right that musicians should care about what our audiences will enjoy. But, because the division outlined above is the problem in the first place, a similarly divisive solution that either, but not both, the audience or the musicians like, may be a good first jolt, but is not sustainable. As a musician, that is, someone who doesn’t “just love to make music, [but] need[s] to make music… if only 50 or 20 or 10 people come…[he doesn't] really care”, I would argue Edberg recognises this. His concert is an emergency measure: “if it takes letting them dance to get new audiences in, let’s let them dance. I can’t think of anything better to do in a crisis.”
Crisis measures are sometimes necessary, but they are short-term. “Accessible” concerts are about novelty, gimmicks to catch the eye.
It’s well worth reading the rest of her remarks. The thing we who are interested in the future of art music need to continue to explore is how to make concerts accessible but not gimmicky. Greg Sandow (who might be my patron saint if he weren’t still so very much alive and well) has written about this recently, here and here.
I’m probably the only person who has thoroughly read through not just all my posts about my concert experiment but also all the comments posted about it, both on my blog and elsewhere. It’s a lot of reading; but taken together the various responses are quite informative–such a wide range of views.
By the way, the piece in the video clip is the last movement of the Haydn-Piatigorsky Divertimento in D Major. Gregor Piatigorsky, the great Russian cellist (1903-1976), arranged it from (as I understand it) a work originally for baryton, viola, and cello. Two of my teachers, Denis Brott and the late Stephen Kates, were students of Piatigorsky and quite fond of the piece.