I decided I need to add some sort of regularity to this blog, and instead of feeding it a Jamie Lee Curtis-promoted yogurt, I came up with Thirsty Thursdays. On Thursdays I will post any interesting blog posts, tweets, articles, or anything else that people thirsty for marketing/PR insights would (hopefully) be interested in reading.
Again I apologize for being so absent the past few Thursdays. Today I thought I’d write about the CSO and my mother.
This past Saturday my mother and I went to the CSO for Mahler’s 6th. First off, kudos to the CSO’s call center team for convincing me to buy a 5-concert subscription for seats on the ground floor F 15 &17. I knew I was doomed when as he cheerfully chatted me up the salesman asked “So Kathryn, you’ve been to a lot of great performances with us, have you ever sat on the ‘Ground Floor’?” What made their scheming ways more complete was the fact that the tickets left where I wanted them are in different seating sections. So my seat costs about $15 more a concert than my mother’s (since I bought them, it’s my seat). This was our second concert in the series and we’re still adjusting to life in the front.
We noticed that the lights never dim on us where we’re sitting. It’s a little strange when they start the concert or come back from intermission because it feels like they just jump right in. We’re also enjoying being able to see the side of the conductor’s face and debating how old some of the cello player’s tuxedos might be.
A favorite to watch on this trip was the aging Jewish grandma playing the Celesta. Leading up to both hammer blows she would sit there with her sheet music on her lap avidly counting rests and a few measures before would take time to plug up both her ears and wince so that even if you weren’t very familiar with the piece, you knew something was coming. Even more amusing was the fact that the hammer was played by Cynthia Yeh, principal percussionist who is maybe 4 feet tall wielding, as you can see in the video, a 6-foot hammer. She did it pretty well but the bounce back from the hammer nearly knocked her down.
Theatrics aside, the concert was spectacular and I was especially struck (uh oh, a hammer pun), by James Matheson’s Violin Concerto. The work was co-commissioned by the CSO and the LA Philharmonic and was composed specifically for the CSO’s principal second violin, Baird Dodge, Matheson’s former college roommate and longtime friend. I won’t get too into the musical aspects of it since this is an arts marketing blog, not a music critiquing blog, but in the beginning of the program book they did a “Behind the Scenes” feature on Dodge and Matheson and there was a quote in it from Matheson that I think is so very important to the arts if they want to survive the digital age and the challenge of competing with pop music.
“Without new works entering the repertoire we run the danger that audiences will eventually lose interest in what we, as classical musicians, do. So continuously revitalizing the orchestral repertoire with new works is actually essential to drawing in new audiences and keeping orchestras alive as fully living, breathing organisms. ” -James Matheson.
Those two sentences may not seem like much to someone who doesn’t understand classical music culture. But they’re really important. When an orchestra is planning their season, it’s so tempting to just put all heavy hitters (Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, etc) and works that everyone knows and loves because they guarantee that the seats will get filled. But if everyone did that every season, orchestras would very rapidly decay. I admit even I looked at this program and thought “oooo Mahler. Oh, but first we have to listen to some crummy new music before the Mahler.” I ended up however, really enjoying the ties that the piece had back to Mahler along with the aspects that made it new and modern. It’s in our nature to be drawn to music that we are familiar and comfortable with, and it is the job of the orchestra to force us to discover new things and to leave our comfort zone.
If you want a little more information on the musical aspects of the Matheson piece then you can read John von Rhein’s review here.