Name That Theme: Figuring Out Tully Scope

Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times keeps, well, complaining that he can’t figure out the “theme” of the recent Tully Scope festival here in New York. “But the theme of the festival was hard to discern,” he writes, referring back to the opening event in his enthusiastic review of the final concert (which I blogged about here).  “And at its conclusion the theme of Tully Scope still seemed amorphous,” he continues later.  In his review of the opening event he says,

I cannot figure out what the point of this festival is supposed to be. In a program note Jane Moss, the vice president for programming at Lincoln Center, writes that TullyScope is “an international bazaar,” a “discovery of all that is wonderful about New York’s musical life.” It is also, she adds, “about a very special new musical home at Lincoln Center.” Fair enough, but terribly vague.


Maybe it’s a generational thing. Somehow I doubt Mr. Tommasini uses the shuffle feature on his iPod (if he has one) to experience a randomly-ordered, surprising-filled juxtaposition of music. If he did, this may have made more sense to him.

There wasn’t a central, organizing musical focus, like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Manifest Legacy: Beethoven and Brahms series, which ran concurrently with Tully Scope in the same hall.  You might say that it was a festival “about nothing,” as the now-ancient sitcom Seinfeld (set in New York) was often described.  Which means, that like Seinfeld, it was a festival about everything.  A kind of musical buffet in which one could sample all sorts of new things.  The lack of a central musical point was the point.  It was a celebration of musical diversity. New music, old music.  Superstars like Emmanuel Ax and Jordi Savall.  New York-based up-and-comers like Tyondai Braxton and Brooklyn Rider.

Closing his review of the final concert, he does hit on what I think some of we older music-types may miss the significance of:

After the concert, as with all the Tully Scope events, the audience gathered in the lobby and mingled, given glasses of sparkling wine. You were surrounded by animated conversations about the music. Lincoln Center should find a way to keep this welcome innovation of Tully Scope going.

Absolutely.  As Greg Sandow points out in his post on the final concert,

People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.

Yes, yes, yes.  This added so much to the experience.  I ended up meeting and chatting with someone after every concert I attended, which would not have happened without the space or without the free drink.  In a comment on Greg’s post, Linda writes,

This is what “The Experience Economy” is all about. People (especially in the sought after 25-40 age group) want to buy into a complete experience, preferably one in which they can interact with other people, rather than be passive “receivers.”

The other aspect of the “complete experience,” which the reviews I’ve seen have overlooked, is Tully Scope’s fascinating use of staging and lighting design.  I keep commenting on it in my blog posts because I’m realizing it’s so important and so many of us interested in the future of classical music aren’t thinking (enough) about it.  What I’ve really gotten during my time here in New York is that concerts are much more visual than people my age (50+) tend to realize, or would like to be the case.  For younger audiences, the visual is an important component of the complete experience.

People who just want to hear good music can stay home and listen to the inexhaustible supply of nearly a century’s worth of extraordinary recordings.  Complete, interactive experiences that are humanizing and foster human connection need to engage more than just the ears. If, of course, you want more than a handful of people to attend.



Filed under Alice Tully Hall, future of classical music, Greg Sandow, Lincoln Center, Tully Scope 2011

7 responses to “Name That Theme: Figuring Out Tully Scope

  1. “Experience Economy”–sounds like Linda’s and Greg’s reading material overlap. I thnk I posted a link on your facebook page about Florida’s book about the Creative Class and that was his primary argument for what this new Economic “class” is looking for–total experiences. He uses various metrics to determine what regions/cities in the US are centers that tend to draw members of the creative class and makes the argument that it is in these “creative regions” that he finds a high correlation between arts activity, economic growth, and openness to new things.

    I’m just about done with the book, but have since come across a number of critiques of it–mainly relating to Florida’s claim that there is high economic activity associated with high levels of creativity. Unfortunately it looks like Florida may have been analyzing the tail end of the dot com boom as many of the cities and regions that rank high on his scale of centers of creative activity just happen to be places where many of the tech-geek culture flourished (and eventually busted).

    For example, Joe from Butts in Seats, in an inspiring post about a talk he gave about careers in the arts to 7th and 8th graders, said this about Portland, OR:

    The only bit of sunshine was a story about Portland, OR which discussed that people keep moving to Portland even though there aren’t enough jobs. What keeps drawing them there? The overall culture and atmosphere of the city, including a mention of the music scene. I knew I had heard this sentiment before so I did a Google search before sitting down to write and sure enough, I found stories from 2010, 2009 and even earlier where people talked about the lack of jobs, the cool vibe and the music scene. You can find plenty of blog entries on the subject as well. I was pleased to continually hear a story where the arts were mentioned as an attractive element of a city.

    Portland happens to be one of those cities that ranks pretty high on Florida’s metric.

    Which just constantly reminds me of Dan Pink’s TED talk about motivation and monetary rewards versus intrinsic motivation:

    And also reminds me of my own experiences. One of the biggest breadmaking gig I had, touring around the US with Ray Price, could easily be counted as one of the least [musically] rewarding gigs I’ve ever had. Sure, the total experience itself made it worth it in the end (e.g. playing venues most classically trained musicians would never dream of being able to play; meeting and performing shows with some of the top Country Music stars from many generations; working with some phenomenally gifted non-classically trained musicians) not the least being able to have spent a lot of time with my brother.

    In the end, it was difficult for me to weigh the relative costs and benefits from the satisfaction side of things. Always playing the same set (or close to) day in/day out–even if some of the tunes were some of the most brilliant and Grammy award winning songs in the history of Western pop music–and there’s just that whole touring thing that Zoe Keating humorously talks about:

    And it left me less time to pursue the other projects (e.g. il Troubadore and the Arabic band I had just joined at the time) which were, despite making far less money for me, much more rewarding in many ways.

    As for the total experience issue–yeah, I can see there seems to be a trend towards that from the audience side of things (some qualifications later). For example, one of the shows I just did this past weekend was at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It was a Sci-Fi event in conjunction with the current exhibit they have (“Incredible Costumes from Film & TV). The Museum was expecting a turnout of roughly 8000+ at the event, and from what I could tell, they probably weren’t far off from that estimate.

    Thing is, we were just part of the overall event–and in many ways were hardly noticed (though obviously heard as we were the only musical act for the event) because of the total spectacle of all the activities (it really felt more like a fair or community festival). But sometimes I just wish folks could have just . And I guess that’s something I miss from Classical music concerts–the level of attention (though admittedly sometimes false attention).

    Again, the best part was being able to interact with the folks in between sets, and get my picture taken with tons of kids (more for the parents sake than for the kids, I think) despite their misgivings about wanting to be anywhere near a frightening Klingon cellist. And then there’s also the issue of playing music for audiences that don’t normally get what they way–in this case, Klingon and Sci-Fi themed music. Which brings me to the qualifications I mentioned above.

    Sometimes just giving someone what would be part of an underserved audience something they couldn’t normally get is far more rewarding for me, and I think for them as well than any not-so-stodgy-dull-classical-music-performance just because for them to be able to hear something that they truly resonate with them (e.g. Arab-Americans who’ve been to shows that my not-so-polished Arabic band has given) –well, for them, that’s a total experience for them in a land where the normal entertainment fare (Western Classical and Western Pop) is geared towards a different ethnic majority audience.

    But bleh–I should go blog about this on my own damn blog and stop cluttering up yours! 😛

    Ultimate point is–the musical world is changing, and yes-the older generations are still trying to understand it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the younger ones understand it any better–they’re just more active (from both the audience and performer side of things) in creating it for good or ill!

  2. Pingback: Final Count: 8,263 « Mae Mai

  3. Pingback: Final Count: 8,263 « Mae Mai

  4. Belated thanks for this great reply. Much food for thought. And please continue “cluttering up” my blog.

  5. Pingback: Portland is where young people go to retire: The Curse of the Creative Class | Mae Mai

  6. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this mattsr to be really something
    that I think I would never understand.It seems too complex and very broad
    for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hhang of it!

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