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Poll: Programming the Contemporary

I'll keep this poll visible on the blog for a few days; it refers to a point I made in this review and then posted about here. (It strikes me that I should have figured out a way to ask whether those responding regularly attend orchestra concerts or not. But I'm new to the polling game. Consider it a work in progress.)

By Anne Midgette  |  May 16, 2009; 10:35 AM ET
Categories:  polls  
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I can't really vote, because I think there's room for all the answers. I love contemporary works, and I love them when they work with older pieces, but that's no reason to put them in every concert. My answer would be:

X Don't get so hung up on chronology. Program what feels juicy and makes sense for your audience.

Posted by: evilpuppet | May 14, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Congrats on a successful first stab at surveying. I wonder, though, if there's not a sampling error here, in that the average blog reader/commenter is a very different animal compared to the average classical music lover who attends the NSO or similar orchestras. The geeky statistician in me would love to see this correlated with age, frequency of attendance, knowledge of/interest level in contemporary rep, etc. Would be useful for orchestra programmers too. Doesn't make the survey any less important or interesting, just something to keep in the back of our heads as we consider exactly what it tells us. I get we'll leave that survey to a trade organization though.

When I worked at a symphony, one which regularly mixed standard rep with more adventurous programming, patrons would HOWL....lots of snail mail, phone calls, the occasional angry email. It was hard to gauge whether they were an exceptionally vocal minority or representative of the mix. Those howling patrons were uniformly older (65+), while those that turned out for the adventurous programming probably averaged a full 10-20 years younger. But here's what I always wanted to say to those disgruntled patrons: If you don't like it, don't buy a ticket. The symphony was very careful to offer plenty of subscription series made up of only war-horses, it's not like there wasn't plenty to choose from. I was left with the impression that those that complained were the dedicated complainers of this world.

That being said, I don't approve of the practice of putting contemporary works first on a program, followed by Beethoven's 9th or what not. The logic here is that, were the order flipped, some people would walk out after the war horse, leaving empty seats for the contemporary stuff. Patrons are smart, they get that the company is actively trying to keep a full house for the entire concert. The result is that people feel like contemporary music is forced down their throats, and thus they resent it. And honestly, I can't blame them. I'd rather see the order reversed, and give people the choice to stay for the contemporary work. Sure, some would leave, but I bet more would opt to stay. And those who choose to stay would feel personally empowered to choose to like/dislike the work.

I long ago made my peace with the fact that you can't please all of the people, all of the time. While I'd love to convince everyone that contemporary classical is great, it's not a battle I or anyone else is going to win with the masses.

Posted by: OperaLove | May 14, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Performance of new compositions is a small peek at the future. That is where we are going regardless of our approval or disapproval. So it should be included in as many programs as one could fit in. A very small peek indeed, however, because most we hear today will unlikely make it out of the huge, I mean really huge, digital archive in the future. So why should we endure listening to them as there is a high probability that they inflict us displeasures, confusions, even pain, and often outrage. On the other hand, that is what most of us go through our lives with our children. That is how we make the future.

So... It appears that listening to new music is one of those necessary things that we do everyday; a part of being a human in history.

Posted by: joungcook | May 15, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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