Music During Wartime: The Art of Programming

October 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

There is a true art to crafting a memorable program, finding the right balance of works that will provide the concertgoer with a complete experience from start to finish. I came across an excellent example of this while working at the Grant Park Music Festival over the summer. In June, a column by Alex Ross ran in the New Yorker about a performance in Carnegie Hall by the Oregon Symphony, whose music director, Carlos Kalmar, also serves as the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor at Grant Park. Since the article was about our music director, we highlighted it in one of our e-newsletters.

The performance was part of Spring for Music, an orchestral festival that showcases adventurous programming. The program was entitled “Music for a Time of War,” and featured performances of works by Ives, Adams, Britten and Vaughn Williams. All the works were either influenced in some way by war (i.e. Adams’ The Wound Dresser), or had a reflective quality that was appropriate for the context (The Unanswered Question by Ives). While themed concerts are certainly nothing new, I found it striking that the program seemed to be so well thought out with a clear artistic intent.

The context in which an audience experiences music is important, and a concert of music about war, which has regrettably always been a part of human life (not to mention that fact that our country is currently embroiled in at least two), brings relevancy to the concert hall and connects with the audience in a way that merely pairing Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem with a famous masterwork probably would not. Of course, how well a concert with such a dark theme would sell as part of a subscription series is another question entirely. However, I think that if orchestras truly want to expose audiences to both new and under-performed music, they should consider different ways to engage their audiences, and perhaps creative programs like Kalmar’s are one way to make this connection.

-Taj

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§ One Response to Music During Wartime: The Art of Programming

  • Helene says:

    Taj, I found this in the NY Times today and thought of your post:

    KRONOS QUARTET This group has long been recognized as much for its pioneering social and internationalist mission as for its music-making, so a program addressing the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 comes as no surprise. “Awakening,” originally presented in San Francisco for the fifth anniversary in 2006 and described as a musical meditation, has its New York premiere here. Composers represented include Michael Gordon, Terry Riley and Osvaldo Golijov, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus joins in arrangements of traditional songs of various cultures. Wednesday-Saturday. BAM Harvey Theater.

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