All of us music lovers have at one point imagined the perfect concert; a performance comprising the greatest works and heralded as the ultimate musical experience. In their recent Fantasy Program Contest, Spring for Music has come as close as you can get to making this come true – for one lucky submitter. There are a number of suggested programs (a journey of depression, a Williams-Strauss mashup, and a blitzkrieg of concerti just to name a few). Many of the pieces on these programs are extraordinary mammoths of the repertoire and it’s not everyday we can seriously consider putting them on the same piece of paper. For all their gumption, there is, however, a phantom hovering above many of these submitters, bringing their proposals into close proximity of rolling eyes.
The curse of a Top 40 program is not that it makes all other programs seem bad, it’s that its impracticality breeds intolerance for lesser-known works. There is no room for the great “underground” compositions that people don’t know about or have forgotten. This is seen today in the audience feedback from most professional orchestra performances. “Why play [insert “bad” piece here] when you could play [insert “good” piece here]?” is a mentality all too familiar with anyone frequenting the concert circuit. The question seems trivial if you regard the betterment of the experience relying solely on taste. However, I’d argue, for the flourishing of society and the ever-changing culture of art, the idea of %100 satisfaction shouldn’t dictate the course of performances. Don’t get me wrong, concerts should be enjoyable. A concertgoer should leave feeling good about his/her decision to attend a performance. But hearing the popular tunes over and over again doesn’t facilitate the need for composition today. Furthermore, a new piece of music (perhaps one that is quite inaccessible) gives food for thought. It inspires new ways of thinking and opens up discussion. It may even drive a specific audience in the direction of new works that are more appealing.
This is a game; one artistic directors must play very carefully. At the time of this writing, a program consisting of Also sprach Zarathustra and music to the Superman score (by John Williams) leads the herd. For however beautiful one may find this music, no effort is made to promote new or rarely-heard works. The best fantasy program is one of practicality. It contains a recognizable piece (the hook) placed immediately after intermission. This way, a concertgoer who is only interested in that piece will come to the concert and stay for its entirety because, “Hey, there’s only one piece left and I’m here anyway…” Also, the piece they came for is probably too good to pass up. I should mention the winner’s program will be played on Performance Today, not performed live. Considering this, I think it’s still best to think of this contest in practical terms (even with a name like Fantasy Program Contest). It’s not just a fantasy; it’s an exercise in promoting the future of art.
Oh, and vote for my program.