The next episode in the history of classical music will require us to learn to improvise, be spontaneous and inventive, and to be extremely attentive to the needs of our audiences. Unknown tasks are probably awaiting, and they are likely to be even less within our comfort zone.
Are we up for the challenge?
We are not trained to improvise, and spontaneity has a rather delicate presence in our toolbox. Our art is all about looking far into the past, studying it, reviving it, extracting layers of meaning out of detailed scores. We were never good in turning our gaze to the future, even when the future seemed more or less known (it never is, right?). Now even the nearest future is obscure.
Ironically, long before COVID-19 happened, there has been so much talk going around about the need to bring freshness and innovation into the concert hall. Now that we are out of the concert hall, and we don’t know when and in what form will we re-appear, the air is full of mixed feelings.
On the one hand there seems to be a boost of appreciation to what we do. We miss the audience, the audience misses us, we can’t wait for the next “normal” concert to take place. On the other hand, we are finally given that slap on the face, the one that frees us from much of what we knew (and we knew a lot!), pushing us to really get in touch with the inventor within for the first time . For one thing is clear, “normal” concerts are not going to be back very soon.
My biggest fear is that once the reality of the pandemic fades away and we are allowed to go back to business, people will say – hey, it was actually much easier to listen to you people in my pyjamas, from the comfort of my living room. And while we, classical musicians, are not necessarily geniuses in communicating with those who came to listen to us (how difficult it is for us to talk to the audience?), I’m not sure if we will be able to collectively address this notion, and re-establish that intimacy with the public.
Adding to that, there are always going to be politicians and lobbyists to help push culture and art outside the limits of what they consider as fundamental needs, in some countries more than others. The issue of our ageing audiences persists and is ever more worrying when looking into the unknown future. All in all, the situation depends more than ever on our ability to address the order of the day without compromising our art.
But the other side of this story is that we are in fact, learning to improvise and sing along. Musicians all over the world are finding new ways to express their talents. Orchestras go above and beyond to find alternatives for their cancelled seasons. And perhaps most importantly, people who on normal days run around from one concert to the next gig, cautious to avoid double booking, struggling not to miss a flight, suddenly have time to read a book, listen to other music, engage in political and social activism, take a walk outside, have long conversations with those they care for (maybe “about” would be better here? care for has kind of a “caregiver” connotation to it, oder?). all of which are things we tend to forget how crucial they are, for being a whole artist.
As for me, I finally found time to rejuvenate the magazine, engage new and exciting contributors, and develop ideas. I’m mostly thrilled about a new line of interviews titled A Room, which will take you into the studios and practice rooms of women musicians from around the globe. In many ways it is my reaction to the challenges of the day, because if there was ever a group of people who is typically more accustomed to staying at home that is women. Now, more than ever, I’m interested in exploring the sanctuary of rooms women have demanded and built for themselves, to be able to work, create and hear themselves thinking, despite a whole array of gender specific difficulties. You can read the first interviews in this series here.
Also with reference to COVID-19, we published a list of 5 Other Ways to Practice, for When You Have No Concerts to Practice for.
On a different note, we just released a short and sweet interview with Emanuel Ax, and lastly, a new Sunday Mixtape awaits you just around the corner.
Please stay safe, sane and in touch!