You know the drill. Take your seat, don’t move, sit quietly, then applaud enthusiastically only at the appropriate times. Is this prescribed concert behavior the best way to engage audiences? Susan Key—special projects director for the San Francisco Symphony—examines this question.
There has been a lot of discussion lately in arts circles about the importance of listening to our audiences. For me, the point was underscored by an audience question during our March 17 Forum in San Francisco:
Sitting in the audience can be a very passive experience. I mean, my head is spinning. I have lots of thoughts going through it. But I’m not supposed to move… the expectation is that we sit. We’re well behaved. …but we’re not supposed to do anything. And I wonder whether on occasion there could be a little bit more—like in rock concerts [when] people get up and dance.
Her question brings up an issue that I think orchestras ignore at their peril: the distance between the multi-textured human experience embedded in the works on our concerts and the human behavior we prescribe for their consumption. (more…)
Topic: Audience | Tags: american mavericks, susan key
May 2, 2012 by Beth Hondl | Comments (3)
Is this post, Professor Mark Clague asks can anyone be a “Maverick”? See Mark Clague in conversation with composers John Adams and Mason Bates (both Mavericks themselves!) this Saturday, March 17 in San Francisco at our free, live event Talking About Creativity. Register today!
Texas rancher and patriot Samuel Maverick (1803–70)—his name was the source of the term “Maverick,” first used in 1867.
Can anyone be a “Maverick”? Can we leverage the example of this American icon to spark creativity? If so, how does our notion of the Maverick need to be adjusted to make such exceptional inspiration open to all?
The San Francisco Symphony’s American Mavericks festival justly celebrates the creativity of musical individualists, yet as a teacher I am interested in the Maverick not as rarefied genius, but as an everyday icon that inspires today’s artists, thinkers, and inventors. That there was a Maverick on the Mayflower (Moses Maverick—an ancestor of Texas rancher Samuel who begat the word) suggests that the Maverick’s risk taking, pioneering roots are deeply embedded in our cultural imagination. That Michael Tilson Thomas and the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony can create a multiple-concert series on the topic is possible only because the Maverick’s uniqueness has become a verified tradition. In American music, Maverick composers range from the 1770s and William Billings to today in the work of new composers such as Mason Bates. (more…)
Topic: Creativity | Tags: american mavericks, mark clague
March 16, 2012 by Beth Hondl | Comments (12)
As the current American Mavericks festival at the San Francisco Symphony demonstrates, there’s no one approach to creativity in the orchestral world. And Steven Winn—arts journalist and co-moderator of our live event in San Francisco this Saturday, March 17—is perfectly happy to take on all the contrasting and conflicting notions of creativity on display.
E/C/D-sharp/C-sharp. From that taut little four-note cell, Aaron Copland spun out the material, at once dense and spacious, imploded and expansive, of his 1930 Piano Variations. Cunningly orchestrated by the composer 27 years later, the Orchestral Variations got the San Francisco Symphony’s 2012 American Mavericks festival opener off to a bracing start on March 8 at Davies Symphony Hall. It also got me to thinking about the marvel of creativity, which can feed on so little to generate so much, like some tiny, tremendously efficient micro-organism.
An hour later, deep into Henry Brant’s 1994 orchestration of Charles Ives’ mighty 1920 Concord Sonata (A Concord Symphony), creativity had morphed into a giant daisy chain of inspiration and influence. (more…)
Topic: Creativity | Tags: american mavericks, san francisco symphony, steven winn
March 14, 2012 by Beth Hondl | Comments (0)
Where is music headed in the next twenty or fifty years? The beautiful thing is… no one knows. Just when you think an instrument (or the orchestra) may have lost its relevance to a mass audience, you’ll be surprised by where composers take it next. This post is adapted from an essay composer John Adams wrote for the book American Mavericks: Musical Visionaries, Pioneers, Iconoclasts.
I grew up playing the clarinet. My father was my first teacher. He had played it during the 1930s and ’40s, when Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were the pop culture stars of their day. By the time I got to college the electric guitar and heavily amplified rock music had replaced big band swing, and the clarinet was a ludicrously old-fashioned instrument. Paul McCartney used it in a song about retired people to set the tone for “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Grace Slick held an old metal clarinet in her lap for the cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. By then it had become little more than a tchotchke. But there was no clarinet on any of her songs, and none I remember on any of the other great albums from that era.
Imagine: I thought my life in music was already foreclosed due to an error in the instrument I’d chosen at a very young age.
But thirty years later, the clarinet is still around, and it has reappeared as an important instrument in styles I never would have imagined back in the 1960s. (more…)
Topic: Creativity | Tags: american mavericks, john adams
March 9, 2012 by Beth Hondl | Comments (0)