In this post, Susan Key—special projects director for the San Francisco Symphony—examines the role the physical concert hall plays in creativity. It’s a question inspired by tonight’s performance by Mason Bates at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Join us tomorrow for our live event with Mason Bates!
Tonight, Mason Bates wears two very different hats at Davies Symphony Hall. First, he will appear onstage with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and organist Paul Jacobs to perform his new composition, Mass Transmission. Once the concert is over, he’ll move to the Second Tier lobby-turned-lounge for an event called Davies After Hours. In a nightclub-like atmosphere, he’ll spin electronic tracks and beats as “DJ Masonic” with friends David Arend on upright bass, Aaron Kahn on trumpet and Gloria Justen on electric violin.
In a recent conversation, Mason reflected on the impact different spaces have on the audience’s experience. The concert hall encourages a hyper-focused type of listening while the nightclub/lounge vibe is certainly more informal. His observation made me wonder about what kinds of innovative ways orchestras might think about the use of their concert halls.
While the experience of listening to classical music in an acoustically resonant space with as few distractions as possible might represent an ideal to many of us, the 21st-century audience consumes music in many different modes and contexts. Are there ways of offering audiences alternative experiences within a traditional space? How can technology be harnessed to foster deep, focused listening? How can we think more flexibly about concert format to allow audience members to interact with each other? With the musicians? It’s exciting to hear about what Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony are doing to address these questions. What other models are there in the orchestra world for this kind of innovation?
I’m looking forward to hearing Mason talk about this interaction of technology, space, and audience experience at tomorrow’s Talking About Creativity event.