What a concert is supposed to do

Too much fun in church means that at least one person will guiltily look over their shoulder.

The church was Koerner Hall, and the fun was The Minimalist Dream House Project from Toronto Summer Music, Katia and Marielle Labèque plus several additional players.  At intermissions (yes there were two: at this massive concert) I kept hearing incredulity, joy, wonderment.

Of course in classical music circles “new music” has often mean “dissonant” or “atonal” within living memory.  A concert of recent compositions that’s tonal?

No wonder the audience was buzzing with pleasure.

Photo Credit (from left) Katia and Marielle Labèque.  Photo by Umberto Nicoletti.

Photo Credit (from left) Katia and Marielle Labèque. Photo by Umberto Nicoletti.

Too bad the younger audience I’d hoped to see never materialized.  Maybe they didn’t hear about it or perhaps they were out of town (Toronto does feel relatively empty this week).  I had the surreal –and thoroughly exhilarating—experience  of watching a classical concert hijacked, as if a rock band hiding backstage took over partway through.  We started with the Labèque sisters, Satie & Pärt, Duckworth & a powerful piece by Philip Glass.

But after the first interval? Terry Riley’s In C, employing two guitars, pianos, electronic keys & percussion provided a pretext.  The guitars, synth & percussion stayed, and more or less took over, as we heard Brian Eno, Radiohead, and Sonic Youth interspersed with minimalist compositions executed with the same orchestration, and often the same edgy delivery of rock music. Where the first part was often very quiet, the second part was often quite loud!  The passionate explosion of this section was phenomenally cathartic after the relative stasis of the first hour, blowing the lid off the place.

While I’d bravo’d in the first section, in the second part it felt more appropriate to scream and shout.  I wondered if dancing would have been possible, perhaps with a moshpit in front.  Even so,  inhaling the delicate fragrances of Koerner Hall’s wood finishes, I didn’t lose all sense of decorum, especially with a grinning Douglas McNabney (the Artistic Director of TSM) sitting ten feet away. If the balance in the audience had been a bit younger, had those of us hooting and hollering been more than a handful, this would have been perfect.

But even so McNabney had reason to be pleased, in programming that is at least experimental if not downright edgy.  He’d introduced our evening with his usual studious talk, this time giving us some ideas about minimalism.

He reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten, namely that some people dislike minimalist music & composers, something that’s hard to believe after a night like this one.  There’s a knock knock joke starring Philip Glass for instance, where the people who tell it usually think they’re making a clever remark, in pointing out that his music repeats frequently.,.. I suppose it was funny: in 1980. Or 1990 then?  But by now i hope Philip Glass isn’t unknown.

But I was put in mind of the whole context when Minimalism arrived on the scene, that some people were tired of dissonance, of the complexity of modernist composition.  I only wish that concerts like this one became the norm rather than the exception.  Throughout the audience was silent with wonder, in awe of the beauty they were hearing, including the quirky beauty of some of the compositions in the final section of the evening, experimental sounds that straddled the boundary between a classical concert and really exquisite rock music.  David Chalmin, Nicola Tesscari, Alexandre Maillard & Raphaël Séguiner brought virtuoso chops to their instruments, but also a willingness to let their instruments wail when necessary.  The concert at times had a decidedly experimental -exploratory feel to it, as though we were watching something being created afresh, and as though the players weren’t sure what was going to come out of their instruments.

This is what concerts are meant to do.  The audience was challenged, provoked, moved, and yes, shown all sorts of beautiful sounds [and let me add –the morning after–that there was a moment that had me thinking of the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, when some in the audience were overwhelmed and resembling tired old folks, while others stood and cheered… i wondered if we might have a riot, except that the assembled conflict was between the youthfully inspired and the old and tired. No chance of a battle. But “Dream House” is indeed an epithet to be explored… oh how i wish i could ask Katia and Marielle about their dream]. At times it resembled a happening as much as a concert.  It’s the best concert I’ve been to this year.  Bravi!

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4 Responses to What a concert is supposed to do

  1. barczablog says:

    And to anyone who read the first verson of this, my sincerest apologies. I published when i was very tired after a long day & a long concert. I always prefer to share spontaneous impressions even if they’re sometimes full of typos.

  2. Sheldon Hellin says:

    We are regular subscribers of the summer music festival since inception. This year we attended 6 performances including MDP.

    As a subscriber and having experience with the SMF programming we expected a certain level of quality. Debussy and Brahms was a perfect example. Absolutely outstanding.

    The only way however, of describing the MDP is ‘Music’s version of Water boarding’.

    We subscribe on a regular basis to TSO, COC, we go to Tanglewood, we’ve been to every great symphonic hall in Europe and never have we heard an abomination of noise in our life as we experienced in the second act of MDP.

    In our history of viewing live performances we have never walked out mid performance. During MDP we did.

    It was, I’m sure you get the gist, the worst wall of noise we have experience in our lifetimes.

    The danger from from the summer music festival is alienating regular subscribers like ourselves. Next year we will be extremely selective in our SMF choices as we have had scars inflicted upon us.

    Incidently, I noticed no joy in the audience but more groaning than anything else. When I peaked into the hall before we left it seemed 75% of the audience left with us.

    • barczablog says:

      First off, thank you for the courageous & honest commentary. There’s lots of truth in this report. Certainly a good chunk of the audience left, and some of the attendees weren’t thrilled. The report is an accurate reading of at least some of the TSM audience. I wonder if such experiments will be repeated. Much as i admire the program, (in the review) i expressed disappointment that the concert’s audience didn’t quite match the concert. While i saw the artistic director smilng broadly, I think he was aware of the discontent of patrons like yourselves. And I can totally respect that perspective.

      The reason for the headline (“what a concert is supposed to do”) is in recognition of the troubled politics of concerts (or opera) and audience building, a dynamic you see in church congregations as well. While one must respect the senior members of any group, if one never challenges them, if one lets them rule too extremely, things become stagnant, and before you know it, the young will vanish.

      Perhaps TSM & McNabney went a bit far for some on this occasion, but i loved it, and will always cherish the memory, including the obvious split in the audience.

  3. Pingback: The Coronation of King George II | barczablog

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