Live blog: Talking About Creativity with MTT, John Adams, Mason Bates

What follows is a live blog “Talking About Creativity”—our live event in San Francisco.

Talking About Creativity
Saturday, March 17, 1:30-4:30 PDT
Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA

1:30pm – Keynote: Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director, San Francisco Symphony, in conversation with Brent Assink, Executive Director, San Francisco Symphony

2:00pm – Spotlight #1: Mason Bates (a.k.a. DJ Masonic), composer, in conversation with John Adams, composer, moderated by Mark Clague

2:30pm – Spotlight #2: Margo Drakos, cellist and Co-founder, InstantEncore, in conversation with Ed Sanders, Group Marketing Manager, Creative Lab at Google, moderated by Steven Winn, San Francisco arts journalist and critic

3:15pm – Roundtable: Spotlight speakers in conversation with Mark Clague and Steven Winn

Live Blog – Roundtable

4:30pm – Margo Drakos – as a young cellist, so focused on mastering the instrument, I lost track of the broader perspective. The why? How do we connect to the world? So that’s a question – how do we make all stakeholders feel like they are sharing the music?

4:28pm – Audience member asked: How do we get people excited about music viscerally? Like with sports? Brent Assink: Part of it is knowing more about the game. People who know more about the music are more engaged. Playing an instrument is number one indicator of likelihood to attend concerts.

4:23 pm – Mason Bates talks about taking the classical concert behavior to the DJ experience. It’s odd. Just as many people feel it’s odd not to respond to music in the classical concert hall.

4:19 pm – Brent Assink: it’s ok not to like something. There are dozens of concerts each season, it’s not expected that you would like every piece.

4:13 pm – Mark Clague: Content is starting to be out there. Composers have blogs and Twitter accounts, but orchestras need the bandwidth to pull it all together. John Adams: the problem I have with much of the discussion of technology is that is has more to do with the medium, rather than the content. Young people seem more interested in the medium than the message.

4:02 pm – A question for Ed Sanders – how do younger administrators bring about change when they don’t have the power? Ed Sanders – for innovation, you need to let people with certain skill sets run free. It’s hard for managers with experience to do that. But it can be very empowering and powerful. You need to have a “making” culture – to encourage younger employees to get out and do and make things.

4:02 pm – Brent Assink – those who work in the orchestral world have invested so much time in perfecting the audio sound, in person and on high quality recordings. It’s very different to think of a world, or a situation, where that doesn’t matter. People are astonished, in today’s world, to understand that the sound of the orchestra is not enhanced by technology. The microphones you see on stage are only for recording, not amplification.

3:56pm – A plea from Mason Bates: classical music orgs, please stream your concerts. It will NEVER replace the concert experience. Please. Beethoven 9 on your tinny computer speakers will never replace the concert.

3:52pm – Mark Clague: One mistake along the way was separating the professional music-making from the amateur. Putting the professional orch on a pedestal maybe alienated people?

3:43pm – John Adams comments on the sometimes odd marketing of classical music. Margo Drakos believes there could be more communicated around the unique experience of the live concert and the role of the audience to actively listen. Mark Clague: we have to be proud of the things that make us special. The element of respite and reflection and focus.

Live Blog – Spotlight #2

3:22pm – Margo Drakos: You need to relate to your audience where they are or you will no longer be in existence. Ed Sanders: walls are coming down. The companies and orgs who embrace that, who tell their own story, who innovate and try things, are the ones who will survive. It’s exciting times. You can be terrified, or let go and see what happens.

3:19pm – Ed Sanders: that’s right, it’s about options. The music in its purest form doesn’t need to be complicated, the purity will always make it great, but it’s the story that gets wrapped around the content itself that is so interesting and has such potential. Think of moves: the fan communities, the DVD add-ons, the documentary on the making off, etc., etc., it helps people dive in.

3:14pm – Margo Drakos: Technology supports the live experience. It gives options. You have to use the media of your time.

3:12pm – Just as you work on your tool, the instrument, to present music in the best way, you have to work on using the tools of technology in the best way to present music.

3:10pm – Margo Drakos – these issues are not unique to orchestras, this hits a lot of industries. Change is hard. Might have hit the orchestral world earlier.

3:07pm – Ed Sanders: for us, this is success. We have the platform, introduced a way of using it, but now others take the model and run with it. These days, the cost of experimentation is low, compared to years past. “Developers are cheap. You can pay them in beer and pizza.”

3:05pm – Margo Drakos – some orgs are taking the YTSO model and translating it to their local environment. Detroit Symphony is one example, using mobile technology, live webcasting, being incredibly open. Also, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

3:02pm – There are a lot of passionate classical music fans, but they are incredibly fragmented. Spread all over the world.

2:58pm – 33 million+ people watched the YouTube Symphony. It was the biggest streaming event of the time. Bigger than U2.

2:54pm – Ed Sanders – classical music can be a bit walled off. MTT told him – “All you need to know to love classical music is that you’re alive.” That seems fundamentally at odds with how young people are presented with classical music today. Fundamentally, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO) was about giving young people a chance to do something they usually wouldn’t get to do, and give people who usually wouldn’t get to watch a concert the ability to do so.

2:50pm –
Margo Drakos’ personal experience as a musician inspired her to examine how to shape the future of music through technology. To examine the doom and gloom, and “the crisis” that everyone talks about. Use the tools of our time to expand the reach of music.

Live Blog – Spotlight #1

2:42pm – Mason Bates: It’s true, there is a vibe to these spaces. There is a connotation to it. One person told Mason Bates, writing for orchestra is so bourgeois. Mason Bates believes the wrapping could be changed, without changing the music. Orchestras are for everyone, just listen to the music.

2:35pm – John Adams: There is something arbitrary about the setup and size of the orchestra. But why not 30 oboes? Composers are always interested in trying new sounds. Instruments have changed so much through the centuries and instrumentalists can do so much more now. Gives more options. That said – the orchestra does have limits. One limit is it has an iconic cultural signal. When you heard “the orchestra” – it sounds like “Culure” with British accent. [audience laughs} Largely the only classical music you hear on the radio is pleasant-sounding music from the 19th century. “The orchestra” has a certain cultural connotation. Young people hear it and think that’s not my world. As a composer, you say, I’m going to join that world and make it fresh. In the end, I think the orchestra has enormous sound potential. That’s why he composers for orchestra and is not a rock musician.

2:31pm – Mason Bates found in the radio communications that the meaningful things are the everyday things. How’s the weather? How’s it going? This is life. When we are apart, it gives those things great meaning. We are not saying everyday “I have kissed the face of God.”

2:28 pm – John Adams: Music is above and beyond, more than anything, the art of feeling. We are in the business of communicating feeling.

2:25pm – Mark Clague: one way to be a Maverick is to annoy the audience, but both of you embrace the audience. Is that between you and the page or do you imagine a listener early on? John Adams: I can’t believe people ask this question. It shines an interesting light on how people think about contemporary music that a composer would not think about the listener.

2:18pm – For his new piece, Mason Bates came across this very direct personal story of a mother/daughter conversation across radio lines. It had a certain mystery to it. Mason Bates likes to think about the form, the way to do something different is often in the form. The time of the piece.

2:12pm – John Adams: They say when composers reach their late period, they get involved in counterpoint. [audience laughs] The very old Schubert in his late period (his mid thirties?) sought out a counterpoint teacher. For Beethoven, it was the Grosse Fugue. Adams says he adores the SFS, more now that ever, could never refuse a commission from them, even though he had no idea what he was going to write. A tough feeling.

2:09pm – Advice from John Adams to Mason Bates on finding a text for his new piece: go far afield. Go past the obvious.

Live Blog – Keynote

2:04pm – Brent Assink asks, “why is innovation important in the orchestral world?” MTT: Because we are the chief partisans of a great tradition. It’s a way of thinking sound can be used, it goes back 1200 years. Classical music abstracts and distills the music of all sorts of primal peoples. Life itself is preserved, condensed and abstracted by this musical tradition.

2:00pm – MTT: In the future all the arts will be much more melded together. Experimental things will become commonplace

1:58pm – Even having lived with a lot of the American Mavericks music for many years, it still has so many new things to say to MTT. Ives represents so many things: sentimental music, aggressive music, but it was all part of bigger world view, that music can exist beyond the concept of it being pretty.

1:56pm – Notation can only take you so far. Hearing a composer sing a line to you tells you so much more. MTT gives an example of a piece by Copland, to the great amusement of the audience.

1:49pm –
MTT: I try to get people to go beyond limits. But you don’t know the limit unless you go TOO far. It’s faster to go out too far and then take it back, then it is to go forward incrementally.

1:53pm – MTT talks about the American Mavericks festival. There is a world of music beyond what the symphony orchestra can do. It’s good for orchestras to look at what else is out there and what they might undertake.

1:46pm – MTT, “I could not live my life without Walt Whitman.” He quotes Song of the Broad Ax: “Nothing endures but personal qualities.” The spirit in which work is done permeates everything.

1:44pm – Brent Assink asks about the creativity of orchestral players. MTT says musicians have to be character actors in a way. The life experience of live musicians comes across in the performance. This is what makes the music comprehensible to us. MTT: my job is to make that happen.

1:42pm – Brent Assink comments that the New World Symphony offered MTT a blank slate for thinking about where the modern American orchestra could go. What was that like? MTT – the focus at NWS was always on the young artists, to see it as a launching pad for young musicians’ careers, a training ground for where to go next. Also, encouraging them to explore the relationship between the artist and the audience, especially exploring new media. And the construction of the new building expanded on this. MTT: I am so interested in giving young musicians a sense of mission and a sense of context. At my age, probably the best thing I can contribute is a sense of context. It’s clear to me what it meant to be an artist through the centuries, I want to pass this along and have people spin this out in ways I can’t imagine.

1:35pm – MTT says he was raised to see and live a connection between all the arts. There is also a real communal aspect to it. It’s important that those who participate in the programs are encourage to bring their own spin and personality to the process.

1:30pm –
Brent Assink welcomes the audience and introduces today’s program.

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