So the ADO and I finished up with Tosca yesterday. We had three quite extraordinary Australian opera singers join us who were superb (tell me again why we are importing non-Australian overseas opera singers to perform Opera in Australia with the major companies?) and the orchestra handled the material on just two calls quite magnificently.
All to the good. But, this morning, bemoaning the soreness I now get after long days rehearsing and concertising as a consequence of my spinal surgery back in 2014 (sic.), I was aimlessly trawling through Orchestra Twitter feeds I follow whilst consuming the days’ first ‘heart-starter’ coffee, only to be lurched into mental activity by some appalling orchestra conducting video snippets.
These (always soundless) video bites of various ‘profile’ conductors doing their thing (it’s BBC Proms season right now, so there a lot of these to view) seem to inadvertently capture the unwary (or uninformed) conductor looking like a performing seal.
These ‘social media’ marketing activities – no doubt put together by millenial-age assistant producers or even more lowly artistic adminstrative assistants with minimal artistic judgement – working with whichever orchestra or Arts organisation, are a blight.
Nobody outside of the syncophantic echelons of orchestra management cares what conductors do – it’s only the quality of the music they assist orchestra players in making in which they have a role. I quite realise that the aforementioned video snippets are nothing more than (mostly inane) marketing exercises, but surely it must eventually dawn on the administrative gurus of orchestras that it is the rank and file musicians whom audiences are fascinated by; not in imagining their personal lives and narratives therein, per se, but in observing the sound that emanates from their respective instruments; individually and, within an ensemble setting.
Where did the fiction come from that conductors sell orchestra concerts? Really they don’t (OK, there are a few I admit) but what music is performed does! The dichotomy is that if music is presented only as a “we’re playing it again, isn’t that nice – but this time it is being conducted by [insert name of next conductor]” audiences will tire of the work at a rate logarhithmically proportional to the number of repeated performances
Ultimately, if we keep this up, God himself playing Beethoven 9 or Mahler 2 won’t draw an audience. The problem is not the music in of itself, but that we diminish orchestral music’s capacity to reach out and move people through the efforts of the orchestra to bring the music to life, because we don’t focus – and trust – the intrisic capacity of the greatest music to effect emotional change in audience, or catharsis on occasion.
To do that we have to provide CONTEXT for audiences. Context does not mean program notes (or even Apps. that purport to do this in real-time). It does mean that orchestras have to work very hard to define and articulate HOW that context is going to be created.
At the ADO, and TOSCA is a good example of this, we work very, very hard indeed to design portals of engagement for audiences to find their way into where the music we perform lives.
Of the copious amount of feedback we receive, none of it ever says, “I don’t get the music”, or “I don’t like the music” or similar negativities, but always talk about how we can do even MORE to facilitate their enjoyment of our presentations.
Now what does that tell you – other than of course, one key aspect of context, is that we do get feedback!
Having time off now. Back later.