There are a ton of local groups whose music loosely fits under the “classical music” umbrella. For all of them, the challenge is to figure out how audiences will respond to the concerts they put together. How much of a group’s season should include music written centuries ago? How much should highlight the work of composers who are still alive?
One local conductor thinks the whole fulcrum should be shifted. Often, orchestras use the 19th century work of Beethoven as a midpoint, choosing half of the pieces they’ll play from older composers (Haydn, Mozart, Bach) and half from after (Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Strauss). But Beethoven died in 1827, nearly 200 years ago. It’s tough to label the composers who immediately followed him as anything close to new or modern.
So the conductor of the La Jolla Symphony wants to bump the fulcrum up 100 years or so. He’s a familiar name to us: Steven Schick, who netted rave reviews conducting a world premiere in Europe last fall and again in New York last month. He’s the guy reader Anna Daniels told us she trusts to guide her into music she might otherwise not check out.
Schick thinks a better focus point is a Russian composer named Igor Stravinsky who was born in 1882 and died in 1971. Here’s Schick, from a Union-Tribune story:
At some point the timeline has to correct itself or we would still be playing (14th century Italian composer) Palestrina as our midline. So, obviously, in the history of music, the center point has changed periodically. … It seems to me we can make the choice of saying: A) it’s time for another change and B) one is already under way that we just need to recognize. Our proposition is this midpoint has shifted.”
One of Stravinsky’s most famous pieces is “The Rite of Spring.” The first night it was performed in Paris in 1913, the piece’s intense rhythms, dissonant chords and atypical choreography is said to have sparked one of the most renowned “classical music riots” in history. The police were called to calm down the unruly audience.
When Disney made “Fantasia” in 1940, it used the piece to accompany the story of Earth’s history through the time dinosaurs went extinct. You can watch the first part here:
The La Jolla Symphony will be playing that piece this weekend and focusing on Stravinsky’s work in several upcoming concerts.
Remember this philosophy, from a New York Times profile of Schick last month? He combats the idea that audiences won’t hang in there with an edgier program.
“I wonder if people realize in the typical symphony orchestra paradigm how anesthetizing it is to an audience to be given the explicit or inferred message that ‘you’re probably not up to this,’ ” Mr. Schick said. “If you say to somebody: ‘Look, we’re not doing this for a grant or because we feel we should. We do it because we love it and because you are our audience, you are the people we’d like to share this with’ – something as simple as a gesture of friendship like this, I’ve never seen people that don’t respond.”
Here’s more from Schick’s conductor’s note for the program this weekend:
And, we also don’t claim that the world of Mozart and Beethoven; Bach and Berlioz is irrelevant. To the contrary! This is vital music that you will often hear us play. But join us as we look at the enormous invention, variety, and insight in the music of Igor Stravinsky. Look deeply into this music with us. We think you’ll find that what it reflects is true.
What do you think of Schick’s suggestion that Stravinsky, not Beethoven, form the new midpoint for groups playing so-called classical music? Leave a comment below or on Facebook.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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