September 9, 2012 at 6:39 PMWhen I was asked to perform string quartets with fellow students at the Penrod Arts Fair, I was quite excited at the opportunity. Touted as "Indiana's Nicest Day," the Arts Fair is a one-day event held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). According to its website, the Penrod Arts Fair “showcases hundreds of artists, and offers live music, performing arts and local cuisine. Proceeds from this one-day celebration provide grants for Indianapolis-area arts and community organizations.” Sounds good to me! Performing on one of the several stages at this fair would allow the quartet to play for hundreds (thousands?) of people; Penrod’s website states that over 20,000 patrons attend the fair each year. With grand visions of promoting the cause of classical music going through my head, I eagerly loaded up the bus with my peers and headed off to the IMA.
Alas, it became clear upon arrival that the administration who set the quartet up with this opportunity had perhaps not done an entirely thorough job. We were not scheduled to perform on any one of the various stages and were in fact not on the program at all. In spite of this setback the quartet determined to perform anyway. Meandering along the rows of little white booths (containing glass work, oil paintings, world rhythm demonstrations, and belly dancing to name a few), we searched for a location where the bleed-through from those lucky, amplified performers on the stages would not interfere too much with our acoustic offering. Eventually we found a clearing in front of some trees near the path and set up in this natural foyer. As I was filling in for a violinist in this ensemble we did not have much preparation time and relied on arrangements for the most part; Bach, Handel, Debussy, Joplin, MacDowell, and others featured in these versions. There was one piece however, that required neither arranging nor much rehearsal due to its near ubiquity- Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
I have to admit I was reluctant to perform the Mozart. I’m not sure about my fellow quartet members, but I find it to be so overplayed that it verges on the point of cheesiness in my mind. However, by that point we had played through most of the pieces we had prepared and were trying to avoid being repetitious as there were a few dedicated audience members listening to us amongst the more mobile crowd. Out came Eine kleine. It was with a cynical smirk that I began the famous ascending motif and my scorn remained as violins, viola, and cello descended from the D. As I accompanied the first violin’s melody in the next phrase, I sneaked some peeks at our audience. To my surprise, we actually had quite a crowd building. And, what had seemed an unfocused audience during some of our other pieces was now decidedly rapt. When the violins share a melody in thirds, I tried to make it sound as beautiful as I could instead of worrying about how corny it might be. The audience’s appreciation of the music was infectious and I soon set aside my initial scoffing attitude. By the time we reached the transition section I was fully involved with the music-making and trying to make an engaging performance for the audience. When we finished the movement we received a very warm response and several people came up after to voice their sincere gratitude for the performance. After a somewhat chaotic start to the day this was a welcome reception.
So maybe “pops”-ish music is not my choice listening or playing material, but after this weekend’s performance I am not nearly as dismissive of it as before. The accessibility of such pieces as Eine kleine Nachtmusik is clearly enjoyable for audiences (it was for me as a performer, too) and I will keep that in mind for future programming. I’m not planning on giving a “Greatest Hits” recital or anything, but I will try to include an easily-approachable piece of music and figure out ways to make something that might be relatively esoteric more relevant and engaging for audiences. From my perspective, classical music is certainly not archaic or dying! However, I know I can do a better job at introducing unfamiliar repertoire to inexperienced listeners. Eine kleine is a fun piece, but there is so much more out there to explore.
I think the significance of that is something kinda forgot/overlooked or maybe even unwisely despised (at least by some) amongst modern composers and is likely partly why the mainstream has turned away from classical music (unless we count music written for movie soundtracks and such I guess).
Still, I do find a whole lot of not-so-popular, pre-20th-century (and other neo-classical/etc.) music quite accessible even at the purely gut level although some do take a bit of time, experience and/or repeat listening. Maybe I'm just wired differently enough though. I gotta say though that I still have a hard time just making my way thru some of Bartok's music as his music, particularly the violin concertos, give me a bit of headache and even a slight bit of nausea *everytime* -- my wife also can't stand how it feels nerve-wracking to her (like experiencing the musical essence of Hitchcock's Psycho perhaps). :-p
The piece had been in my chamber orchestra's repertoire since time immemorial but we hadn't played or rehearsed it for 5 or 6 years until ...
a winter concert in St Mary's Church in Thornbury, England. EK certainly wasn't on the programme, but when we returned from the mid-concert break we found the parts unexpectedly on our stands. The only instruction from the conductor immediately before his down-beat was to "do all the repeats, and watch my stick."
I can say that the performance was delightfully fresh, there were no crashes, and everyone concentrated like mad, especially the three or four who had never played it. Oh, and we forgave the conductor, splendid fellow, although there was one school of thought that considered he should have bought the orchestra a round of drinks afterwards in the local pub.
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