May 30, 2013

Classical:NEXT Keynote

To launch the 2013 Classical:NEXT Conference in Vienna, world-renowned violinist Daniel Hope was engaged to give a keynote speech.

The premise of holding such a conference is of course to address the "crisis" in the the classical music world regarding shrinking and aging audiences. Early in Maestro Hope's speech came my favourite moment when he said "To hell with doom and gloom!". This is very much in keeping with my own view on the situation; I'd rather focus on creating than on wringing my hands in worry. Not that I am (nor is Daniel Hope) complacent or in denial about the very real difficulties classical music organizations and classical musicians are dealing with. Daniel Hope pointed out that the root of the word "crisis" lies in the Greek word for "turning point", which means that this is a time of opportunity and (pardon the pun) hope.

He pointed out that much of the problem lies in the fact that "younger people have less and less chance to discover this music". In former times, more exposure to classical music would have been the norm through "Hausmusik"(music at home) and widespread music education in schools. Mr. Hope suggested that the crisis lies in how we as a society have disregarded this music in the last decades and that concert halls have lost their important role as social meeting points in our lives. He equated the need to get people back to concert halls with a "call to arms".

In Daniel Hope's own youth he doggedly pursued performing opportunities, and he encourages today's artists and the organizations who support them to do the same. He told of how he wrote to 2,000 music clubs while still a teenager and got only six gigs from the exercise. Clearly his determination paid off as he is now an artist with an international career. His other advice to artists is to avoid "milking" musical presenters for large fees without contributing to educating young artists and building audiences.

It is for the higher good of all when our communities are artistically vibrant. The arts are valuable from a financial point of view (he cites a 6:1 return on arts patrons'/donors' investments), but the real purpose of the arts and arts education is to produce complete human beings while fostering creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. As Daniel Hope stated, the "role of culture needs to go beyond the marketplace and focus on value".

Maestro Hope's address ended with further urging the audience to be proactive in promoting classical music; as with most people in attendance, music for Mr. Hope "defines his day". After the speech, the audience was treated to a performance by violinist Benjamin Schmid, who was then joined by Daniel Hope (who just happened to have his violin with him) in a duet; a very appreciated encore.

May 29, 2013

Classical:NEXT opening concert

Tonight was the opening of the 2nd "Classical: NEXT" conference, this time in Vienna, Austria.
I'm thrilled to be attending as it promises to be a great event of inspiration and connection regarding the present and future state of classical music.

The concert that opened the conference tonight featured keynote speaker, violinist Daniel Hope. I'll write about his wonderful speech in another post. The musical portions of the concert are what I'd like to refer to in this post.

I particularly enjoyed the performances of Chorus Sine Nomine and violinist Benjamin Schmid. The other performers were great but these were for me the stand-outs.

As this conference is in part about taking a close and analytical look at classical concerts in order to determine potential new directions for classical artists and organizations, I found myself reflecting upon what the characteristics of tonight's concert were that pleased me. To that end, I made a bit of a list (on which I welcome comments and additions):
  • surprise 
  • the use of space in creative ways
  • movement, and movement through space 
  • hidden performers 
  • theatricality 
  • humour 
  • re-arranged music (not necessarily in its original form) 
  • short pieces 
  • spontaneity  
  • fun, camaraderie
  • passion 
  • focus, energy 
  • most importantly, EXCELLENCE

May 27, 2013


Spending a few days in Berlin confirms for me this great city's reputation as a creative centre. I have long wanted to visit Berlin; amazingly in all my European travels of the past, the opportunity never presented itself.

This first stay in Berlin was only a few days, but even in that short time there were many chances to feel the creative energy and to experience some diverse musical events. Upon arrival, I of course took a little walk around the "Mitte" area just to get oriented. My timing was lucky, arriving at the Berliner Dom just in time for an Evensong service at which the Stuttgart Boy Choir "Knabenchor collegium iuvenum" sang. A very high level of music-making.

The next day was a trip to the outskirts of Berlin to the MoBe culture house, where Moving Poets Berlin is based. This is a space where artists of diverse fields have the opportunity to create interesting projects. The occasion for my visit was to watch a "Ha! man performance". The "Ha! man" performs on various instruments, and uses movement and visual projections as well to create a captivating experience for the audience. Beginning with simple mouth sounds into a microphone, he gradually moves through space towards his cello, keyboard, and laptop, from where the sounds expand into a musical collaboration with himself. Lots of pleasing sounds, musical textures and colours arise. A most exciting moment in his performance is when he offers a white plastic schoolchild's recorder to a randomly chosen audience member and invites her forward to improvise over the musical support he has crafted. 

I felt very drawn into Ha-man's creation in the first half of the evening and quite wish he had left it at that. The second half did not take the magic he created any further, so unfortunately the audience began to feel like they had had enough.  This affirms my current conviction in my own programming, that an hour or 70 minutes is an optimal length for a performance. It is very difficult to re-gather the audience and build the energy again after an intermission. 

That is, unless you are the Berlin Philharmonic. I attended a performance at the Philharmonie (which felt like a trip to Mecca) of the Beethoven 4th Symphony and the Nielsen 5th Symphony. Herbert Blomstedt conducted, and thrilled the audience. What a joy to be in the presence of this music, performed at the highest level.