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Classical Music for a Pop Generation

June 14, 2010

  There’s something hot going on in Atlanta, GA these days and it ain’t the sun or the southern charm.  In a city better known as the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the setting for “Gone with the Wind”, classical music isn’t the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Atlanta’s name.  But the Fringe Classical Music Series is working on changing all that.

Touted as a “multi-media classical concert with the volume turned up”, a typical Fringe event includes chamber music, DJ spun electronica, and live visual elements.  And yes, applause between movements is allowed, as are beer and wine in the concert hall, discarding the stuffy decorum your parents grew up with.  All this with the idea of building a bridge where there is an alarmingly growing disconnect.

Formed in 2007 by two couples (friends José and Nikolle Reyes, and Dana and Fia Durrett), “Fringe’s aim is to present tried-and-true classical music in what might be called MTV-generation attitudes to entertainment.” (AJC Music Critic, Pierre Ruhe)  

This excerpt from the Fringe website summarizes:
Fringe is about art—about crossing social, cultural, and ethnic divides through music by purposely melding worlds to create something entirely new. Fringe puts gifted composers, musicians, and visual artists together to showcase their talent in a fresh experience of the arts unlike any Atlanta has ever seen. It blends a cocktail of music and visual arts that brings back the original, intimate experience of chamber music in an approachable, exciting way—especially for younger audiences weaned on pop music and even poppier culture.

The concerts feature live chamber music (classical music played by small groups of musicians), with performances of some of the most virtuosic music compositions ever written, performed by the best musicians in Atlanta and throughout the country. Unlike the iconic classical music experience of sitting, listening, yawning, and then leaving, each interactive concert is a blend of live music performances, an art gallery, a DJ spinning ambient electronica, short films, and the much-acclaimed documentaries of that evening’s performers.

This blending of art is radically different from what has come before, and we hope it begins to usher in a new era of the classical concert experience—not by talking down to its audience and expecting them to be quiet and behave—but by inviting them in to get dirty and truly experience this great art anew.
http://www.fringeatlanta.org/

All this begs the question: why is this not happening in more places?  All you have to do is go to a concert hall to see that the future of classical music is in jeopardy unless orchestras, or grass-roots organizations… or you and I, are willing to take steps – risky, paradigm-shattering steps – to create a venue for interaction and connection to form between the music and an untapped generation of listeners.

It’s encouraging and hope-inspiring to see that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is finishing off their 2009/2010 season on June 19th with a Late-Night (11pm) performance of Beethoven’s Ninth (“lights, music, drinks in the hall AND a party afterwards”), preceded by a Young Professionals event limited to people ages 21-40.  Go to www.tso.ca/latenight for more information.

Similarly, London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has been doing late night concerts, called “The Night Shift”, since 2006 to much ongoing success.  http://www.oae.co.uk/thenightshift/    

Naturally, it’s challenging to keep up with a world that changes as rapidly as ours does nowadays.  But as society becomes increasingly technologically interactive, we are facing a massive shift in how people connect with and respond to classical music.  Concert halls will always have their place, simply because we are communal people – we need places to engage with and process and collectively enjoy the experiences that music (and all performing arts for that matter) offers. 
However, the classical music experience we’re familiar with (generally regarded by younger generations as staid, uptight, and inhibited) must be held very loosely.  The traditions of old might need to be modified, or (wait for it…) maybe even dismissed if we want to ensure that future generations have access to and understanding of this music we love.  And that’s okay.  Afterall, isn’t it really all about the music?

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