Monday, February 15, 2010

Classically Challenging

I had an opportunity to go to the local symphony orchestra concert yesterday -- and what happened has bearing on our Classical Challenge discussion. Specifically, repertoire choices, audience demographics, and the relationship between the concert hall and the radio.

Fresh Repertoire Choices
The Charlottesville and University Symphony is a pretty good community orchestra. It's run out of the University of Virginia's McIntyre Department of Music, and is comprised of faculty, student, and community players, with first chairs primarily filled by music department faculty.

Maestro Kate Tamarkin doesn't just stick to the same old same old. She regularly programs new music and lesser-known works in the repertoire. This season she's already presented Nino Rota's Bassoon Concerto, and will give a world premiere of a work by Judith Shatin.

With a title like "Heartland of Europe," you might expect I was in for an afternoon of Dvorak and Smetana. Not so. The program:

Zoltan Kodaly: Galatan Dances
Frederic Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2
- intemission -
Arvo Part: Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Andrzej Panufnik: Sinfonia Sacra

Zowie! Now that's a program I could get into! And may I say that the orchestra did a fine job, especially with the intricacies of the Panufnik. It was fearless programming for this community ensemble, and they rose to the challenge.

Not Entirely Ancient Audience Demographics
Yes, as in the case of many orchestras, the audience was mostly mature. Plenty of blue-haired ladies and men with liver-spotted bald heads. But there were also a significant number of folks in their twenties and thirties (and even forties and early fifties).

There wasn't a storming of the exits when the second half started, either. While I could see some of ladies from the retirement home outing squirming uncomfortably during the Panufnik, I also noticed quite a few patrons leaning forward in rapt attention.

The audience wasn't just senior citizens on their last legs -- and the music wasn't all over a century old, either. I'd like to believe there's a connection.

Classically Challenged Radio
Now for any other genre of music you care to name, the music you hear in concert is pretty much the same music you'll hear on the air. We heard four works performed live on stage in Charlottesville. What's the chances of hearing any of them on our local radio station?

Well, according to our snapshot of WVTF's programming, perhaps 50/50. I think it's possible that WVTF would play the Kodaly. After all, symphonic music is a pretty sure bet at that station, and Kodaly's European (96% of composers aired on WVTF), dead (80%), and male (100%).

Chopin's piano concerto is a pretty good bet as well. Not only for the same reasons as Kodaly, but he's a romantic era composer, a style period WVTF heavily favors (about 30% of all pieces).

Panufnik has the right credentials, (European, male, dead), but with the exception of movie soundtracks, WVTF usually stays safely in early part of the 20th Century for their music. A work from 1963 is just, well, too modern. Doubly so for Arvo Part's 1976 "Cantus."

Besides, Part's still alive.

Anyone else see the problem?

- Ralph

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