New venues, new conventions

‘I’ve been writing about the arts for 35 years now, and the resolve with which resourceful young musicians are dumping the ancestral conventions of their art-form strikes me as the most exciting development in classical music for decades, if not centuries.’

Richard Morrison, The Times  –  22 July ’11

With the Peckham car-park Rite of Spring Project only a day away, and a very encouraging and optimistic column by Richard Morrison about it in today’s Times, I wanted to repost a few articles which I think explore the idea of new performance contexts in interesting ways.

Firstly, an article entitled ‘Different spaces, different faces?’ by Philip Venables, put up on his blog recently (to coincide with Wednesday’s launch of Yellow Lounge in London) but originally published in Sound and Music’s INTO Magazine in December 2010.


(His suggestion that the main focus should be ‘opening up the heart of the classical repertoire to the wider world’ (i.e. Bach/Beethoven/Brahms?) doesn’t quite chime with our stance, but his attitude is otherwise spot-on. In particular, he stresses the importance of inviting in a new audience, rather than just transplanting your present one.)


Secondly, a commentary on the recent rise of immersive theatre techniques in musical performance – an idea very close to our heart – from Andrew Dickson of the Guardian.


(The discussion begins with an account of what sounds like a fantastic event, featuring Alina Ibragimova and designed/directed by the Quay Brothers, which is on again at Wilton’s Music Hall from 25-27 July. Dickson does show a little (reactionary) skepticism as the article goes on though, and his slightly smug observation that ‘the most profound moments’ of aforementioned performance came from ‘just’ the music – ‘no tricks, no gimmicks’ – is pretty eye-rolling. Nobody’s saying that theatrical decisions are meant to replace or supercede the music; I’m sure they were actually intended to amplify its effects.)


Finally, an account of a legendary interview with legend Jonathan Harvey in the Observer last year, as he calls for ‘things that are considered blasphemous, like amplifying classical music in an atmosphere where people can come and go’. (And also a bit of tentative conservatism from Julian Lloyd Webber. Bleurgh.)


(The article contains an interesting, but tellingly short, list of some of ‘the experiments’ in concert conventions which had occurred in the UK up to that point. Also, I think Lloyd Webber’s remark that we’d be ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ if we started regularly amplifying concerts underestimates the sophistication of amplification systems, but it also represents an opinion that I seem to come across quite a lot…

…(a little rant)…

So, the fear of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ is basically the conservative formula: don’t change anything just in case it gets worse. ‘Let the baby sit in the bathwater forever. That way, we know it’s safe.’ I don’t know what the baby is in this case though. For Lloyd Webber, the baby is ‘sense of nuance’, and we shouldn’t try to widen classical appeal or open it up to a larger audience in case we risk losing ‘sense of nuance’. For many, I think, the baby in this scenario is a proper respect for, and understanding of, the history of classical music, and the ‘core repertoire’, as it has been enshrined. The baby might also be… the capacity for silent awe, or transcendent elevation etc etc. If the baby is ‘classical music’, or the ‘classical tradition’, then I would suggest that it is a very sickly baby, rapidly developing pneumonia, and it needs to be wrapped in a towel as soon as possible.

In any case, the suggestion that a few people’s throwing of anything anywhere will severely effect the deeply conservative inner circle of international classical practice is just silly. Amplification will never become standard in the Wigmore Hall. Never ever ever. But for people to speak out against the very idea as a way of ‘protecting’ the entire art-form is just so insulting. People should be allowed to present music however they want. If people don’t like it, then people don’t like it. If people suddenly love classical music as soon as it loses its ‘sense of nuance’, then I suggest that the effect of this ‘sense of nuance’ should be quite critically re-evaluated. The best possible option would be if we cloned the baby, in its bath, a thousand times, and we threw them all out in different directions. Sometimes the baby would fall to its death (whatever that might involve), sometimes it would stay in the bath. Perhaps, at some point, we’d find the perfect formula, where the baby would emerge all sweet-smelling and pink and soft and dry and new. And then we’d have the answer. But to deny anyone the right to try these new things, in this day and age, is ridiculous. It’s the kind of debate that would have been altogether finished with in any other art-form by the end of the ’60s. Meanwhile, I fully trust that the Wigmore Hall have their own baby, locked up in a dark safe somewhere, drip-fed through a hole in one of the walls, never aging, never changing, and that all the amplification in the world, poised Jericho-style, wouldn’t be enough to shake it free.)

This entry was posted in community, theory. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to New venues, new conventions

  1. Pingback: ‘The Question of Qualitative Compromise’ (New venues, new conventions II) |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s