Tonight is my final evening in Varano. With the fellows en route to America and my suitcase packed, I now notice the hushed tranquility of the Italian countryside. I see that the light is beginning to change to a dusky orange, and I note the smell of summer edging slowly into the kitchen. The house is still. But it continues to vibrate with energy, like a concert hall in the quiet moments after the audience has left, yet before the janitor turns off the stage lights. I can imagine a flute playing long tones, the creak of a refrigerator door, and Tonino’s colossal voice yelling on the phone at some sorry soul. Lena, the Italian woman who lives across the street, scolds her grandchildren. A car drives by. Now a motorcycle. Now a tractor.
I often try to visualize my future with calm, carefully calculated expectations, and Chamber Music Campania had been a part of my reticent imagination for over seven years. Still, I came to think about the project with near fanatical anticipation, the way a teenage girl obsessively ponders her future Prince (or Princess) Charming. It did not feel real or even possible. But it did feel necessary. Now that the festival rests in my memory, not my fantasy, I am left with the great sadness that arrives when things come to an end. And, so, I find solace in the whisper of new dreams.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I will continue to update the blog as Chamber Music Campania grows into something ever more beautiful.
Our final roundtable discussions examined the music performance degree and its curriculum––a topic that was not wanting in impassioned opinions from the fellows (myself included). Taking Michelle Jones’s didactic and arguably naïve column as our basis, the fellows suggested modifications to the “traditional” music performance curriculum. Some proposed the inclusion of courses in performance anxiety and health/preventative medicine, as well as a mandatory language requirement.
Mike (horn) provided a radical alternative to our current educational system; he envisioned a structure that distinguishes “orchestral track” musicians from “freelance track” or entrepreneurial-minded ones. Such a system would prepare aspiring artists to creatively approach an oversaturated marketplace with a variety of skills (both musical and non-musical), while maintaining the traditional curriculum for those who prefer a hyper-focused study of their craft. Some fellows grumbled at the notion, and one musician smartly pointed to the Manhattan School of Music as a less-than-successful prototype for a segregated and thus tension-ridden institution.
Our final roundtables did not present any decisive conclusions. Still, I am left invigorated and inspired to continue the dialogue about music education.
Since we're heading off-site tomorrow and Scott and I are spending the beginning of next week in Rome, I just realized that last night was my final chance to enjoy Tonino's cooking at C'era una volta. I think he must have known, because he pulled out all the stops with a homemade ricotta (?) cheesecake topped with some sort of heavenly preserves (raspberry?) to conclude the meal. My Italian was too limited to verbally express how I felt about the cheesecake, so I defaulted to a round of applause. I think we understood each other.
Before the cheesecake arrived, I was considering the various means by which we discover new music. By "new music," I mean music that was previously unfamiliar to us. For me, songza and pandora came to mind quickly, but I rarely if ever discover new "classical" music using these services. More often than not, I look to a few trusted mavens (my friends who are active in commissioning and performing new music, a handful of music "critics") for this, but I suspect many people learn to love certain pieces of classical music after hearing them in film scores.
What if we created movie-themed playlists that allowed "classical" and "non-classical" musics to happily co-mingle? I'm envisioning a "films starring Daniel Day Lewis" playlist featuring works by Radiohead, Arvo Pärt, Brahms... For me, this would be a thrilling point of departure, and I suspect it could open new avenues of musical exploration for a lot of people. And it might be a gentle way to introduce even more classical music into the ever-expanding world of curated, streaming playlists and online radio stations.
Here is a picture of some cheese. I believe this is all Buffalo milk.
During the fourth roundtable discussion (again, moderated by the ever cunning and witty Melanie), the fellows critically evaluated several New York-based venues and ensembles that engage with the “music of our time” (e.g. Le Poisson Rogue, NY Phil CONTACT!, and ICE).
We identified a handful of elements that contribute to successful (and less-than-successful) performances of newly composed music, or performances of unfamiliar music for new audiences. The fellows, in particular, contemplated the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration, whether it be the added element of dance, art, lighting, or food and drink. Some expressed hesitations about thoughtless multisensory productions, for instance, the seemingly gratuitous pairing of a mediocre beer with the stellar theatrics of Eighth Blackbird at LPR. Mike (horn), however, described his inventive work with Studio Forza and made a convincing case for the intermingling of good sounds and good brew.
We leave for Gargano tomorrow morning for our second official concert, to be held in a museum dedicated to the history of Italian agriculture!
Yesterday's conversation with our fellows left me wondering what America's musical landscape will look like 10 years from now. Among other things, we discussed the role of the symphony orchestra and the relevance of programming symphonies in their entirety. How might the music industry evolve if we only had four or five professional orchestras in the US? Would pick-up orchestras fill in the gap in smaller cities and towns? Would we participate via "digital concert halls"? Would we even notice the absence of live orchestral music made by members of our smaller communities?
I just tried to respond to the questions I posed above, and after 20 minutes, I deleted everything. These are challenging questions to answer, and I'm not brave enough to respond in any meaningful way. Perhaps this sort of sweeping institutional change could make room for a more diverse array of performing ensembles that may appeal to a broader subset of Americans? I am inclined to think that it could, but only if we encourage innovative thinking and community engagement throughout all stages of life, and if we find a way to re-prioritize applied music education in primary and secondary schools.
Scott captured this shot of us mid-discussion, and here is another of me en route to the Amalfi Coast during a day trip last Sunday. I post this because there is no other way to convey how beautiful the weather has been every day of my visit.
Our third of six conversations, smartly facilitated by Melanie, addressed the intersection of the popular and classical music industries. We identified a couple noteworthy distinctions between the two spheres. For one, the performer of “popular” music largely contributes to the genesis of a work, whereas the performer of “classical” music acts an interpreter or reproducer of a composed piece. It follows, then, that the classical musician (arguably, unlike the popular musician) is beholden to several voices of authority, that of the composer, historical performance practices, recording technology, “great” music-making institutions, etc.
The stolid concert ceremonies that Alex Ross discusses in Listen to This, the reading for this week, only encourages a pop-classic divide. As our fellows Christina (bassoon) and Mike (horn) justly noted, the orchestral audition process undermines the potential for originality, forcing classical performers to be mindless technicians, not unique, “popular-music” personalities. (In other words, we have too many Capuchin monks, not enough Beyonces.)
The conversation, fortunately, was not a Chopinian dirge for classical music! The fellows, always envisioning an ever-brilliant future, devised innovative ways to recruit new audiences, such as a “Pay What You Can” concert series (à la Panera Bread or Radiohead).
Tonight we meet for our third roundtable discussion. But, first, the update from last week's conversation!
The fellows met on June 12 to examine the rituals of the concert hall and their relation to audience engagement. We considered two columns, one by Alex Ross and the other by Isaac Schankler. Both thinkers asked for a more flexible, less rigorous application of concert rituals (e.g. The No Applause Rule). The Chamber Music Campania fellows concur with Ross and Schankler: concert rituals, whether flexible or rigid, should not be systematically applied, but rather determined by the particular situation, the venue, the nature of the musical material, the audience, etc. The fellows also built upon Ross and Schankler’s observations, pointing to the interconnection between audience etiquette and the (somewhat) out-dated notion of the multi-movement work. Such an idea led nicely into a dialogue about non-linear art, and our NYC-based fellows suggested an application of “Sleep No More” to the musical arts, i.e. several chamber ensembles performing contrasting but complementary pieces in a multi-room or multi-level space.
The fellows also discussed the decorum of performers, during and after a concert. The fellows challenged the common practice of affect-less performance (i.e. the total absence of physical gesture) and the self-deprecating musician (e.g. the flautist who refuses compliments: “Bravo!” “NO. It was terrible”). As our fellows argued, in the aftermath of a concert performers should aim for a demonstration of gratitude, rather than humility; and the conscious use of visuals encourages the audience to be emotive and demonstrative, hence strengthening the audience-performer rapport.
I've been in Varano for three days now, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. A few things things to note: 1) I can see the stars again! 2) It's terrifying to cross the street in southern Italy, and more pedestrians must be struck down here than anywhere I've ever visited, 3) I still derive immense pleasure from listening to woodwind quintets, whether in performance, in rehearsal, through a wall while I'm napping... it's all enjoyable, 4) All southern Italians are friendly and helpful (based on a sample size of ~12, including a man named Gianfranco, who bought a round of beer for me and Scott when we were stuck at a random train station after experiencing an apparently typical mishap of the railway system).
Last Saturday I enjoyed an intimate performance by our quintet at C'era una volta. Italian visitors from as far as Salerno came to hear the program and share a lavish dinner prepared by our host, Tonino. The energy in the room was thrilling, and after the performance, Regina told me that some of the din from the audience was actually fascination about the bassoon!
Here's a shot of Ben and Christina during the performance, and one of Regina holding a sign.
The fellows participated in the first of six roundtable discussions last night. Though the dialogue evolved organically, without prompting or overture, Richard Dare's recent Huffington post column acted as the foundational reading for the evening's discussion. In general, we rejected Dare's "thesis," in that his writing conflates lamentations about the failure of art and frustrations with broader social problems. Additionally, the fellows found his prose to be an example of sensationalism, further weakened by narrow-minded and under-informed ideas.
Several other themes developed throughout the course of the evening, such as, the social relevance of the musical arts, particularly the role of the orchestra and the function of the modern composer; and the relationship between the musical marketplace and music education––of both students (i.e. problems with a curriculum that perpetuates the glory and necessity of winning an orchestral job) and the audience (i.e. the need for outreach programs).
We look forward to several more energizing discussions!