Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another Take on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra

Writing for the Financial Times yesterday, Andrew Clark seemed to share my position that the YouTube Symphony Orchestra is best viewed as an experiment that may inform us about the future of classical music. Indeed, writing from London, where "Thousands of people of all ages thronged the [Southbank] arts centre to hear Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra under its charismatic 28-year-old conductor, Gustavo Dudamel," he also seemed to reflect my view of the Venezuelan El Systema program as a comparable experiment. He then added one more data point:

Coincidentally, the gifted Chinese pianist Lang Lang, 26, is also in London. As a taster for his upcoming Barbican concerts he is leading a piano extravaganza this Sunday, during which he will coach hundreds of pianists of all ages and abilities – minimum qualification: aspiration – in the language of the keyboard.

The common theme in his report seems to be that the future of classical music depends on current and future generations coming to concert halls with the same (if not more) enthusiasm, attention, and (of course) purchasing power that their ancestors brought. This puts him in the same league as Southbank's Head of Music, Marshall Marcus, who needs to be as concerned about his customer base as he is about the quality of product being offered to those customers.

I cite this in the context of my post yesterday in which I accused the YouTube platform itself as being "no way to listen to a concert." There are others concerned with how the concert can come to the audience, as an alternative to the traditional practice of the audience coming to the concert; and, as I wrote yesterday, the Digital Concert Hall created for the Berliner Philharmoniker is probably the best example of thinking outside of that traditional box. However, I agree with Clark (and probably Marcus) that the future of classical music will only be as good as the desire that people will have to be a "live" audience at a "live" performance; and, whatever the Web 2.0 evangelists may promise, the virtual world will never do justice to that kind of physical experience. Yesterday I experienced another strategy for audience-building when Jonathan Biss gave a preview event for a recital he will be giving this evening at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The event took place in the modest setting of the Community Music Center at 544 Capp Street in the Mission District; and I see this of a way in which the concert can come to the audience without resorting to the virtual world.

The point is that, between the examples that Clark cites and the Biss event (sponsored by San Francisco Performances, which is also hosting tonight's recital) there are any number of audience-building strategies that can be pursued and targeted as much at the future as at the present. Different strategies will work in different settings, while the virtual world will continue to provide opportunities for interested audiences to build up experiences that make them better listeners. The fact that such strategies are surfacing (and succeeding) at all is likely to be more important than whether or not YouTube is doing justice to virtual attendance of last Wednesday's Carnegie Hall event.

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