Category Archives: cellists

Orchestra Audiences: Aging and Dying Out, or Just Shrinking?

OK, last post of my morning blogathon.

My friend, colleague, and former student Jon Silpaymanant has a number of posts questioning the interpretation of data widely used to document the aging of symphony orchestra audiences.  What many of us believe to be the case is that absent innovative programming, presentation, and (usually) a fantastic new performance space, orchestra audiences are shrinking because new generations are not becoming regular attenders, ticket purchasers, and, most importantly, donors.

The audience, we overgeneralize, is aging, graying, and dying out.  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” wrote Mark Twain, attributing Benjamin Disraeli.  “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so,” most widely attributed to Will Rogers (but also to Twain), has a lot of truth to it, and it’s what Jon is getting at, it seems.

The audience hasn’t aged as much as we think, Jon says, not very much at all.

If so, that’s some good news.  Because it means that a continued attendance (and donor) decline is even less inevitable and inescapable than many fatalistically assume.  Obviously many orchestras–my local Indianapolis Symphony is a an example–have low attendance and huge financial issues.  Can they thrive with bold, innovative leadership that makes the concerts and the entire enterprise genuinely valuable to the community? Yes.

Whatever the hard-to-truly-measure demographic realities may be, there’s a lot of work to be done–and fantastic opportunities.

 

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Filed under future of classical music, Jon Silpayamanant

Branding? But I’m an Artist!

My good friend, admired colleague, and DePauw alum Jon Silpayamanant (“the world’s foremost Klingon cellist”) makes a great point in his most recent post.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ve Branded yourself well, then Marketing (to raise awareness about your music) and Selling (to get gigs) should be much easier to do.

The notions of branding and self promotion are fairly easy to accept, it seems, by every performing artist or entertainer other than classical musicians (especially performers–composers learn early on that no one will play their music unless they ask, to put it mildly, people to perform it), with classical ballet dancers coming in a close second.  Ballet dancers pretty much have to work for a company.  Classical musicians can put on one-person concerts, so the opportunity to be proactive is ever present.

Branding?  Sounds so commercial.  Here’s another way to see it: it’s about clarifying who you are, and what the difference is that you make (or if you were being genuinely authentic, could be making) in the world.  It starts inside, and in relationship with those who know and work with you well.

  • Who am I?
  • What do I do?
  • What’s unique about it?

So while the word “branding” may have distasteful connotations to some of us in classical music, being clear about who you are and what you do, and appropriately communicating that is something we all benefit from.

 

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Filed under entrepreneurship, Jon Silpayamanant

Engaging New Audiences While Maintaing High Artistic Standards

I returned to Indiana a little over a year ago, after living in Manhattan for five months, as part of a sabbatical, attending concerts and other events nearly every night (and sometimes days).  My purpose was to prepare for teaching a course on music entrepreneurship, and more broadly, audience development.  When I arrived in NY, I thought I was looking for answers: how to get people to concerts, how to promote yourself, etc.

By the time I left I’d discovered that when it comes to developing new audiences under 40 (which is important if we want there to be future audiences over 40), no one really knows, especially when it comes to traditional classical music.  Sure, there are things that work here and there, and lots of speculation.  And some of those things, like multi-genre programming, more use of lighting and other theatrical elements, etc., upset some classical musicians.

It came to me that instead of finding the answers, what I had found was something infinitely more valuable.  A question to shape my own work (including conversations with students, colleagues, and other music lovers):

How can we engage younger audiences without sacrificing artistic integrity?

A lot of classical-music traditionalists are concerned about new ways of programming and presenting music resulting in a lessening of standards.  How do we make it work for everyone?  How do we do music really, really welland do it in a way that engages new audiences?

Questions are more powerful than answers.  Continuing to ask the question, even when you’ve found an answer, opens enormous possibilities.

Lots of people are engaged with the question, framed in a variety of ways.  Greg Sandow has been for years, and is the person who first got me engaged in the conversation.  He’s been a quite  blogging role recently, with a new series of posts:

A friend recently pointed me to composer Chip Michael’s blog Interchanging Idioms, in which he explores, among other things, ways in which orchestras can develop an under-40 audience. Here’s a fascinating (if a bit meandering) conversation he posted on YouTube:

Finally, for today, multi-genre cellist Jon Silpayamanant, my friend and former student, suggests in his most recent blog post that for some failing large institutions, audience development may not be enough to rescue the enterprise.

Lots to think about as we imagine the future(s) for both classical music and classically-trained musicians.

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, Jon Silpayamanant

Painting to Music

Here’s a painting-in-progress, done to a recording of songs by Indiana folk musician Joe Peters.

I’d never seen someone do a painting live, with a music performance, until I saw it done at Joe’s CD release party last year (on which I played).  Then I saw it done on one (or was it two?) of Mike Block’s GALA NYC concerts last spring, and at the opening Summer Stage concert by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in New York’s Central Park (Times review here).  It’s a fascinating collaborative, creative component for a concert. Does it add anything to “the music”?  Not really.  To the overall human experience?  Sure!  I definitely want to program it this coming summer on a Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.

Anyway, I love Joe’s music.  Enjoy.

(BTW, if you like the cello playing in the intro, the player’s initials are “E.E.”  If you don’t, then, uh, I don’t know who the guy is.  The wonderful violin/viola playing is definitely my dear friend and former spouse, Allison Edberg, who did the string arrangement.)

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Filed under Allison Guest Edberg, Folk Music, GALA NYC, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Joe Peters, Mike Block

Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo at the 92nd St Y; Inbal Segev and Fernando Otero at LPR

It really was a visit to the past, in a way, my trip to New York’s 92nd St Y to hear Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo.

Just the night before, I’d been at [le] poisson rouge where I’d been experiencing one part, anyway, of the future of classical music–a terrific recital by the cellist Inbal Segev, joined for part of the program by the amazing pianist Fernando Otero.

Past the bouncers at the front door, hands stamped, my friend “Cello Mike” and I took a right at the suspended fish tank and headed down the red-lit stairs to the main space.  We wandered around a bit, found two black-draped chairs at a table and stared at the “two items minimum per person” sign on the table.

Segev’s beautiful Rugeri cello was amplified, as was the Yamaha piano Otero played.  Colored lights, spot lights, Segev talking to the audience with a microphone, the music accompanied by cocktail shakers shaking. All streamed live on the Internet.

Me spelling “R-O-B R-O-Y” to a  generally inattentive waitress whose first language isn’t English and didn’t believe me that there was such a drink.  “I don’t think we have that.”  “Yes you do, the bartender will know. I’ll spell it for you.”)  And this, all happening sotto voce, during the performance of Otero’s intense, soulful, and not infrequently stunning Songs for Cello and Piano.  (The rest of the program was two solo cello works: the Prelude from the Bach C Minor Suite and the ever-daunting Kodaly Solo Sonata.)  During that Kodaly, kind of wanting another drink, but not wanting to pay for one.  Luckily, the waitress didn’t come to check if we wanted something else until 30 seconds before the piece ended.  No, we didn’t, and we escaped the two-item minimum.

Classical music in clubs–that’s part of the future. There are advantages and disadvantages.  A cellist friend my age was there, for the first time, and found it all distracting.  Mike, who makes a living busking in the subways and playing just about every possible genre of music, including some classical, said he’d much rather hear a classical concert at a place like LPR than a concert hall.    Dressed in cargo shorts and a black wife beater, he looked perfectly at home in a Greenwich Village club, but would have gotten some stares uptown.  So there you go.

The next night, last night, I put on dress pants and shoes, as well as a white polo shirt and a sport coat, to hear Leon Fleisher and Jamie Laredo at the 92nd St. Y.

Security guards, rather than bouncers, greet you, and you have to walk through a metal detector to get in.  (It’s set to a low enough sensitivity that they tell you to hold onto your keys and cell phone, so I wonder how much good it does.) There’s a lounge area off the concert hall, with a bar, so you can get a drink and snacks there, too.  You just can’t take them to your seat, there’s no minimum, and no servers interrupting you during the music.

The audience was mostly over 40, many well over 50.  As is the case at most traditional classical concerts, I got to feel young.  Dark wood paneling, names of great Jewish figures inscribed over the proscenium (David, Moses, Isaiah), great statesmen (Washington, Jefferson), and great composers (Beethoven, et al) around the top of the walls.  The piano and music stand on a plainly-lit stage.  Two legendary performers–who became legendary decades ago.  The audience quiet and attentive, no clapping between movements.

This is the recent past of classical music, and the role of this sort of concert in this sort of venue in the future is yet to be revealed.

It was a visit to my past as well.  I got a bit dressed up because I knew I’d greet Mr. Fleisher after the concert.  As I wrote about yesterday, I had chamber music coachings from him when I was a student at Peabody, and played principal cello for him in the Annapolis Symphony.  I sat in on lessons once in a while, including a couple he gave my mother.  She had a faculty development grant from the University of Tampa, where she was the piano professor, to work with him on left-hand literature.  “If her right hand works,” Fleisher, whose didn’t at the time, asked me, “why on earth would she want to play this left-hand stuff?”  But she always had problems with her right hand, the result of a childhood injury, while having extraordinary facility with her left hand.

One of the pieces she worked on with him, in the spring of 1980, was the Brahms arrangement of the Bach Chaconne, one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever composed, from the D Minor violin partita.  I sat there in Fleisher’s studio as he discussed how he approached breaking the opening chords, two notes and two notes, as would a violin.  (I thought, and still do, that if you’re playing it on a piano, play it on the piano and don’t try to imitate a violin.)  There were details of phrasing and voicing and fingerings, how to bring out the key bass notes that are the basis of the variations that form the work.

And it was that piece that was at the center of last night’s recital.  Fleisher and Laredo had started with two Schubert Sonatinas, in in G and A minor.  And then this piece, the piece he coached my mother, now in her dementia dream world, on. It was the first time I’d heard him perform in person with both hands.  Back when I worked with him, the focal dystonia that would cause the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand to snap shut had yet to be successfully treated.  When there was a brief respite in 1982 and he performed the Franck Symphonic Variations with the Baltimore Symphony, I listened to the sold-out concert on the radio, and cried.  The combination of his celebrity, his musical insight, his personal warmth and accessibility (I sat with him at breakfast in the Peabody cafeteria any number of times during my first year there)–I just loved the guy.  There was a kind of a cult around him.  We had his records, some of us, and compared every other pianist (unfavorably) to his two-handed recordings.  And it seemed that at some point each of his male students (including me for a while) grew a beard and trimmed it, narrowly, just like his. (Not so long ago I heard one of his current successful students, and, no surprise, he was sporting a Fleisher beard.)

Whatever had happened to enable him to use both hands at that concert in 1982 didn’t last.  I left Baltimore in 1984, and hadn’t even seen him until last night.  I’ve heard, and rejoiced in, the two-handed recordings he’s made since more successful treatments have worked their magic, and I’ve read his memoir co-authored with Ann Midgette.  So when I read about last night’s concert, I had to go.  I had to see this man who meant so much to me, who taught me so much, who shared his time with my mother.  And I wanted to see him play with two hands, for myself.

He walked out on the stage, the powerful shoulders (he always seemed very muscular to me, and I always wondered if that had something to do with his hand issues) now a bit stooped, the walk a bit slow. Some gray in his hair, but surprisingly little for a guy who is 82.

It was if I’d just seen him yesterday.  What is it about relationships?  Time passes, and yet it’s as if it hasn’t. There he was, Mr. Fleisher.  I felt 23 again.

You get over the personal stuff, and the miracle of the two hands, and the miracle of being 82 and still performing (I know this is hardly remarkable any more, but by the time my dad was 82, a year he didn’t survive, he was so physically fragile he could barely make it to the supermarket, and my mother, at 78, thinks Bach visited her in person), you’re left with the playing.  And as much as anything else, I went to that concert because I’ve loved what I heard in Fleisher’s recent recordings and I wanted to hear him make music with Jaime Laredo.

It was worth it.  Fleisher’s playing is at once supremely lyrical and profoundly architectural.  Singing and structure, in balance with each other. It’s something that’s not at all easy to do, to get that combination right.  There’s a flow that, as he used to work to help us learn to do ourselves, is rhythmic without being metronomic.  His sound is beautiful–rich and mellow.  There may have been more intensity and high drama in his younger years; there’s still a full range, and the music he makes feels both wise and fully alive.

Jaime Laredo is terrific, too.  When I was growing up, my parents treasured his recording of the Mendelssohn concerto.  Somehow, I’ve never heard him before.  He’s got a sound that ranges from soft and delicate to big and energetic, and played with energy imagination.  They both played wonderfully.  I didn’t feel, though, that they were always “clicking.”  The ensemble playing was good; it just never felt magical to me.  The program was originally going to be all piano, and was changed because Fleisher has been recovering from some more work on his right hand, which was still used quite a bit. So I found myself wondering how rehearsed this program was.

The highlight was that Bach Chaconne, after the two sonatinas, just before intermission.  It was insightful, fluid, colorful, deep, dignified without being pompous, and moving.  There was a big standing ovation after it, and no wonder.  After intermission, Fliesher played a two-handed arrangement of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” I’ve played it in so many wedding services that sometimes I think it will make me scream, but in Fleisher’s hands it was magic.  As he walked off the stage, I thought to myself, “I bet he could even make me like the Pachelbel Canon.

I got to see him, shake his hand, remind him who was (he squinted a bit, in that way he has, and seemed to remember me), and told him what I was doing these days.  He thanked me for coming, and it felt quite sincere.  I let him move on to the next person.  But I forgot to say, “thank you for all you did to help me become the musician I am today.”  So I guess I’ll write him a note.  It’s more for me than for him–I think he knows how much of an impact he’s had on the many young musicians he’s guided.

Life is full of irony.  He plays that Chaconne so extraordinarily well, and includes it even in his two-handed programs.  If those problems with his right hand had never happened, would we ever have gotten to hear him play what has become a kind of signature piece for him, with the mastery and insight that comes from years of performance?  Probably not.  He’d probably be happy to have forgone it.  But that performance last night was so, well, perfect, that I’ll always be grateful. Not just for the playing, but for the pain-tinged beauty he created out of his tragedy.

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Filed under 92nd St Y (Upper East Side), Inbal Segev, Jaime Laredo, Le Poisson Rouge, Leon Fleisher

Cello Blog News: Stark Raving Cello Blog (Even More Raving), String Ovations, and Cello Bello

Back in a Starbucks, that office-away-from-home where it’s somehow easier to concentrate than in my own room!

Some cello website/blogging news:

Emily Wright has redone her Stark Raving Cello Blog.  It’s a on a new server and looks terrific.  Of course I don’t agree with Emily on every aspect of cello playing and interpretation–but what a boring world it would be if we all agreed with each other!  I deeply admire the work and imagination she puts into her online outreach.  I get gripped at times by paralyzing bouts of insecurity regarding my own expertise, which all too often leads me to hold back from discussing my own views on cello playing.  Emily’s go-for-it attitude is genuinely inspiring!

One of the greatest cello teachers in the world, Hans Jensen, whose legendary dedication and enthusiasm is also deeply inspiring, has alerted me to the new blog/website which he’s co-founded, String VisionsAngela Myles Beeching, one of the great music career consultant/project management coaches, wrote me about it just a couple days ago and suggested I offer to write something for it.  So I will!

If you’re a cellist, you’ve surely come across the mother-of-all-cello-websites, Paul Katz’s CelloBello, by now.  It’s got a blog, too, currently leading with a tribute to the late Bernie Greenhouse, one of my beloved former teachers, about whom I haven’t yet been able to write–I’m still in denial about his passing.

Oh, and do you read this planet’s foremost Klingon cellist Jon Silpayamanant’s Mae Mai?  Not yet?  Well, you should! Tremendous amounts of information about both the American orchestral music scene and non-western cello playing and music-making.

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Filed under cello websites, Emily Wright, Paul Katz

Welcomed Back to NY with Bach in the Subway

I got back to New York Tuesday night, after a long weekend away for my son’s college graduation, and fell in love with the city all over again. I just love it here.  What can I say?

To save money, I took a shuttle bus (instead of a cab) from LaGuardia to Times Square.  I stood on 42nd St. for a while, just looking at all the lights and people, and was happy.

Then I went down to the subway, and there, on the 1/2/3 platform, was Dale Henderson, the Bach in the Subways cellist, Baching in the subway.  Couldn’t think of a more perfect welcome “home” (as temporary as it may be).  We chatted a bit, in between movements, as I waited for my train. “Any requests?” Dale asked me.  At first I declined, but then I asked for a Gigue (essentially a jig; each of the six Bach Suites ends with one).  Dale played the powerful and stormy D minor, and then my favorite, the one from the D major suite. When Pete, my son, was born, I used to sing Bach Gigues to him in the hospital nursery.  As I was getting in the subway car, Pete was driving home from Grinnell. Dale playing a Gigue for me (and everyone else), right there, was a perfect way to celebrate Pete’s milestone and the start of my final weeks in New York.

I got back to my big corner room. It was a warm night.  I opened all the windows, and turned out the lights so that I could lie in bed without being on display, yet see the lights from the buildings surrounding mine. Very nice.

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Filed under and everything, Bach in the Subways, Bach Suites, Dale Henderson, life in NY, music in subways