The classical music concert stereotype

I always enjoy reading Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise and writer for The New Yorker. In a recent interview with Michael Louis Vinson of the Appleton Post Crescent, he had this to say about some of the traditions surrounding the classical music concert experience.

I really am a big believer in pushing back against some of these stereotypes around classical music. It discourages me when I see scenes in movies or even TV commercials where classical concerts always get depicted as a bunch of stuffy people in evening wear. When you go to a regular concert, people don’t dress like that. People dress up a little bit, in the same way they do when they go to the theater, but it’s really not that kind of an environment.

Some of those stereotypes are self-generated to a certain extent. I think classical music has had a problem with projecting a certain image and being too reserved and too attached to some old rituals of behavior in the concert hall. That needs to be addressed, and there are some people who are really taking that on. They’re thinking about how we can do this differently. What is a different contemporary model that we could have for classical concerts? Read the full interview with Alex Ross.

His comments prompted me to search out and re-watch this scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much:

This movie is 55 years old. 55 years. Yet the depiction of the concert doesn’t seem all that far removed from what happens most nights in concert halls across the country—if you omit the attempted assassination.

1 Comment

  1. Rick Robinson says:

    I don’t believe we need to give up entirely on traditional concert presentations as much as offer a FLIPSIDE or variety of casual presentation styles that let the consumer choose what level of tradition they want: expanding the menu, as it were.
    To some extent, concert-goers already have many choices of presentation styles with the variety of classical ensembles in any given city. The lowest budget ones perhaps being the most casual. But for the major orchestras to be all things to all people, the traditional formats will have to either imitate (at first) or innovate. I find major orchestras to be deathly afraid of imitating or the perception thereof. Too bad. There’s alot to be learned from first imitating another. (Pablo Casals was my first model.) No doubt, branding and intellectual property can become issues.

    If we didn’t need to worry about what happens DURING the music, before and after the concert and between the works could offer ample opportunities to liven up the whole experience. Unfortunately, we DO have to examine both possible visual and sound aspects that ENHANCE or DISTRACT depending only on your point of view. Clearly the audience also hears with their eyes. We look for visual cues from the performers that enhance the impact of their sound. Just think of Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg, the Berlin Philharmonic or most chamber musicians. If we really didn’t want that, we might play behind a screen! No, we should admit that we like to SEE as well as hear the drama.

    Short of technological enhancements (another subject), returning symphonic music back to its roots in dance and gesture I think is powerful. Featuring a dancer(s) even for one short work will stimulate our audiences capacity to imagine for the rest of the concert as well as have them talking about it long after!

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