Connections

One thing I like about blogging is that I can feel free to contradict myself. 

Concerts matter.   We’ve got to deliver. The best way to advance classical music is to give better concerts.” 

Thus spake me…. 

I still believe that, but there are many examples of conductors of great skill who were beloved by their musicians, yet who were unable to translate their great artistic gifts into a vibrant organization. 

I recently had the chance to visit with an elderly relative, someone who’s intelligence I’ve always admired since I was a young child. During our visit, I was more than a little surprised to discover that she has become a regular watcher of a TV pundit/screaming-head, who’s views and approach I find (and I would have expected her to find) despicable. 

As we discussed the issue, it became clear that what drew her to this particular personality was his very direct way of speaking to his audience, as if he were having a conversation with them every day. What to me looks like rather ham-fisted manipulation techniques can be quite effective over time with an audience. Why? 

I can’t help believe that our current social structure has created a very profound sense of alienation and isolation for many citizens- few things are more appealing to audiences than a sense of connection. 

Orchestras can offer immediacy by the bucket full, and yet, sometimes, we don’t connect. Our marketing is often a problem- we tend to advertise via platitude. I personally loathe “adjective advertising,” including such misleading ads (real ones) as “Tchaikovsky’s thrilling 6th” and “Mahler’s Exultant 6th.” Truth in advertising??? 

Artistically, we have to accept that part of what makes a great concert is the impact it has on the audience- musicians, conductor… we all have to connect. A performance is more than just the execution of musical instructions, it is a communicative act, and we have to all be ready to get our hands a little dirty to help make that communication happen.

Making that connection is a powerful tool. Once an audience member feels that there is a bond between them and the orchestra, they can be fiercely loyal friends, but just as with our personal friends, we should always remember to treat there friendship as something of great value, not to be violated. 

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

2 comments on “Connections”

  1. radiowilson

    A couple of weeks ago Ken Woods said, “Artistically, we have to accept that part of what makes a great concert is the impact it has on the audience- musicians, conductor… we all have to connect.”

    “Making that connection is a powerful tool. Once an audience member feels that there is a bond between them and the orchestra, they can be fiercely loyal friends, but just as with our personal friends, we should always remember to treat there friendship as something of great value, not to be violated.”

    I am occasionally tempted to comment on the blog but find my musical experience a bit lacking to meaningfully contribute. Here, however, I think is a key issue where we all can strive to be better members of our performance groups – and meaningfully contribute to their success.

    In my section I often have free moments to gauge audience reaction to our performances (sometimes whole movements – sometimes whole pieces – occasionally whole concerts). I enjoy seeing people in the seats react to our playing. In our city this is obviously seen when we play common and familiar passages of famous pieces (easily understood – I like those pieces too) …but it can also occur when we play a new piece that no one yet knows. It is perhaps a subtle thing, but as I watch a patron smile and follow a musical idea through a passage I see the connections being formed – but are we an ACTIVE partner in the CONVERSATION?

    We as performers must make that extra effort to bring the music we create TO THE AUDIENCE, not simply create sound & send it off the front of the stage and hope it gets to our faithful concert goers. I don’t mean to suggest that the sound stops at the curtain line, but if we do not project the music outward with our instruments and motions – in effect it will stop and not reach the PEOPLE in the seats. This is obviously easily done with a virtuosic performance in a solo, but as an ensemble we must work to bring the idea, feeling, emotion, history and the essence of the STORY we are telling to those who have come to listen and make this musical journey WITH us.

    The job of keeping up the conversation after the concert is equally important. I have found that meeting our patrons afterwards can be just as fun as the performance. I have met some musicians that find this portion of the evening a bit uncomfortable, preferring to remain a little anonymous within their section, and that is certainly up to the individual. But these can be precious moments where one can continue to build the bonds made through the music – perhaps building into a patron who invites another friend to the next concert to share in our story.
    John

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi John

    Thanks for the comment- I think you’ve said absolutely perfectly, much better than I did.

    Hope all is well back in PDT- looking forward to a big year there.

    K

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