The discovery of proximity. Upon a report by Heather Roche.

It’s interesting to note that many of the more succesful „alternative“ concert ideas of the last years always seem to involve a newly found proximity with and an increased interest in the audience itself. The clarinetist Heather Roche – who was also involved in the „Manufaktur fuer aktuelle Musik“ concert in Dusseldorf I reviewed the other day – describes for example a project by the Ensemble Chronophonie, in which she was involved as a performer:

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Approaches to the performer/audience relationship: a case study (in English)

This in-depth report with pictures shows how the usual barriers and inhibitions that usually are involved when presenting contemporary music (or any music, for that matter) to audiences can be succesfully overcome…simply by playing for individual audience members… and by personal request! The project described here was not Heather’s idea, but a succesful concept developed by Ensemble Chronophonie years ago. But she obviously found the experience enlightening and enjoyable.

I was also performing in a similar project by the Schumannfest in Dusseldorf once. As a pianist I was hired for a marathon concert where I was playing a series of 5-minute concerts for 1 single person each. The whole ambience was that of a normal concert: I played in a nice little theatre that was beautifully lit, on a very good Grand Piano. In the hall there was just one single chair, for one listener. This single person was given a ticket, led into the theatre by an usher in livree and then seated on the single chair. Then I came in, bowed, and then proceeded to play a 5-minute piece. The situation became very intimate – some people began to cry because they never had somebody play for them alone in their whole life. Others thanked me personally when they got up. Also for me it was very different from a normal concert – it felt like entering an intimate relationship with an absolute foreigner. Even Heather’s report has some ironic hints at practices of prostitution – she describes how she felt signaling she was „open for business“ when opening the door, and playing by request also promotes the „service“ status of the performer.

Whatever the pros and cons of such ideas (of course the energy created by a large audience is also something that can boost the performance of musicians) – one thing is clear: they are far removed from the prevalent snobbery of composers‘ attitudes in the last century, where the basic stance was to not care about the audience at all. Any attempts at „Vermittlung“ (mediation) were considered bourgeois. But times have changed completely now – in fact most new concepts woo the audience in ways that were considered an absolute no-go in earlier times.

It remains to be seen where this newly found interest in „the audience“ will lead us in the coming years, and if some of these performance concepts can become common fixtures in the concert life of the future. Some might criticize these attempts as some kind of desperate measure, but on the other hand it should be obvious that the audience of classical music has been dwindling more than the audience for contemporary music – the latter seems to have grown or at least been stable actually, as it is less dependent on ancient rituals.

Whatever may be the case – that experiments like these continue to happen prove the urge for a different form of concert that is more in tune with our times. And that cannot be a bad thing.

Moritz Eggert

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