Gimmicky music vs “actual” music
by Brett Campbell
Their audiences dwindling, their future dark, orchestras everywhere are trying to reach new listeners by changing their marketing, their venues, sometimes even their programming. How, worried orchestra boards are asking, can we get “hep” and draw those much coveted younger listeners to the concert hall? Driven by desperations the proposed solutions range from imaginative (e.g., almost anything our conductor laureate Marin Alsop does these days, primarily involving radical ideas like, y’know, playing music written in our own time and place rather than a century and an ocean away) to crass to pathetic. One of the most popular, at least in terms of ticket sales, has been a touring, prepackaged multimedia program called Play! A Video Game Symphony, featuring live music from popular games arranged for orchestra and choir, which infects the Eugene Symphony on Saturday, April 24. I suppose there’s an argument to be made this is some of the most prominent original music of our time and culture, and in previous stops, it has drawn younger audiences who cheer when the recognize a familiar tune from, say, Super Mario Bros. Plus there’ll be family friendly adjuncts (costume party, video games in the lobby).
Alas, such gimmicks rarely succeed in bringing the new listeners back for regular repertoire, and do nothing to cultivate new audiences for today’s orchestral/postclassical composers — but hey, at least some sell plenty of tickets, enabling orchestras to return to their standard, unimaginative, repetitive, backward-looking, warhorse-heavy fare, postponing the inevitable day of reckoning a little longer. Which isn’t to say this particular gimmick might not be worthwhile. Let us know how it goes, won’t you?
The ESO plays actual classical music on Thursday, when Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman stars as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which you’ve probably heard before but, by golly, not with the solo line played on the actual violin it was written for! Isn’t that special? And it provides the illusion of doing something just a hair different than yet another performance of yet another warhorse, and far less frightening — or relevant — than something radical, like, oh, programming something written by a composer from our own time. It’s a good thing the orchestral leadership of Tchaikovsky’s time wasn’t so timid.
The program does include some lovely century-old Russian music that manages to honor past without ignoring the present: the Divertimento from Igor Stravinsky’s Tchaikovsky tribute, The Fairy’s Kiss and Prokofiev’s genial Symphony #1, an affectionate homage to Haydn.
Eugene Symphony Russian music, 8 pm Thursday, April 22. Play! A Video Game Symphony, 7:30 pm Saturday, April 24 Hult Center. $15 & up each night (Play! Chicago show pictured).