Judith de Haas, violinist, challenges us as artists to open up to changing societies, at the same time keeping the core values and qualities of a discipline. Please add your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box below.
A changing artistic world: finding balance
We have probably all noticed it: the artistic world is changing in its discourse. Around us, we can find all kinds of new types of performance and innovative projects, all showing the importance of culture. It makes one very curious about what artistic performance will look like in 2020 and beyond. What should we, as musicians, change or adapt to? Even more important: what do we have to watch out for? As a musician and European Studies-undergraduate, I would like to share some of my thoughts and ideas about the development of artistic performance.
I think one of the key things to achieve in boosting artistic performance is to create more openings into classical music. Initially this might just mean being aware of what is happening and developing in the world around us. We need to be open and willing to go with changing times. From this position, reaching new audiences is possible in several different ways. A few concepts that have so far been seen are: co-operation with other artistic disciplines, creating new performance styles, launching new culture-programs and sharing the work we do by talking and approaching the audience personally.
We have seen all this starting to happen already. There is a big danger though in how far we go with it. We can ask musicians to broaden their vision of the world and society, but we cannot expect them to be less committed to their work and passion by pushing them to study other disciplines such as management and social sciences. We must let musicians be musicians, for the sake of the quality of classical music. My point is that we don’t have to reduce our professionalism in order to reach more people: it is just about adding something to this, which involves opening up and looking around you. This not only enriches musicians as individuals and as performers, it also contributes to the future of classical music and artistic performance by connecting classical music to more than just ourselves and to the audience we already have.
Another danger in making classical music more universal and accessible is that we go too far and start to simplify it. This musn’t happen. It is important to reach as many people as possible and to keep classical music alive, while also taking care of the integrity and quality of what we do, and ensuring that artistic standards are preserved.
It is all about finding balance. While looking for appropriate ways forward we can only learn by trying and reflecting on new initiatives in artistic performance. These new ideas also need a chance to become successful. Sometimes new projects need time to really work. We have to be patient while being initiators.
So what should we be working on now for the future? That will continue to be a key question, as the world keeps changing. I would like to mention a few performances that have impressed me before offering my conclusion.
Shos’ string quartet in a pop-up store
Isn’t it wonderful that we can present the eighth string quartet by Shostakovich in a pop-up store of a well-known fashion brand to a crowd of young and hip people? By connecting to their style of music afterwards – by making a cooperation between a very successful upcoming DJ and well-know string quartet – we introduce them to ways in which professional musicians can enrich their lives and styles. I think that reaching these kind of audiences is more valuable than focusing simply on certain audience-members we already have, who don’t really connect to the music itself.
There is a role for concert-fans
Attending a Christmas concert in December 2014 in a big hangar that normally hosts electronic music parties, I took my roommate and her boyfriend, who had never been to a classical concert. The Camerata RCO was playing Mahler’s fourth symphony arranged for small orchestra. Next to me there was a big fan of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. But remarkably enough, I was more annoyed by him during the concert: he was looking quite disturbed in our direction every time my roommate quietly discussed her spontaneous concert experiences with her boyfriend, and making annoyed noises when people would clap during the different movements of the symphony. Of course this behaviour doesn’t conform to conventional classical concert etiquettes, but making people feel uncomfortable in their first concert is worse! This is exactly how to chase away new audiences instead of attracting them. This is not only the responsibility of the musicians. Their ‘fans’ must take care of welcoming new audience-members and music-lovers as well.
Interdisciplinary work in the arts
In the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) we work a lot on individual and collective energy and creating a flow within the orchestra. Communication and sharing emotions with your colleagues improves the performance. Moving is so important for this energy. I feel that connecting to other artistic disciplines is an important way for us to learn how to do this better. Musicians can learn so much from dancers and actors, and there is exchange possible in the other direction too. This is one of the most valuable things about interdisciplinary work in the arts.
This is an orchestra which consists of musicians who all have interdisciplinary interests. They all learn the scores of repertoire by engaging with particular different influences on the composer. Performances include dance and theatrical elements arising from this preparation of the scores. They impress their audiences by the way they breathe, play, interact and share the music together. Spira Mirabilis is an orchestra that gives people energy just by their performance, and enthuse people about classical music. And they do the “opening-up” thing: they talk to the audience after every performance they do. They let people ask questions about their concept, and answer them with great attention. They explain and make it possible for people to imagine the work we do as musicians and why. They make their work somehow understandable, without reducing the high level of quality that classical music needs.
To conclude: sharing our work by creating energetic flows and explaining what we do in after-concert interviews or late-night lounges appears to be very important while connecting to people. There are various ways to work on broadening and intensifying the artistic performance. By showing the energy in our work and enabling audiences to get inside what it is we do as performing artists, we can attain enthusiasm and respect for the profession. By investigating innovative stage-concepts and co-operating with other artistic disciplines, we can discover more pathways to reach new audiences. This doesn’t require us to simplify, dumb down classical music. But it does require that we open up towards a changing society. If we ask for respect towards professional musicians, audiences in their turn must be able to connect to classical music through their world, and using the channels where they are comfortable communicating. The arts are a mind-freeing set of disciplines, but they can only work as such if individuals are free to discover and live their own interpretation. If that means showing enthusiasm by clapping between the movements, it should be fine. Everyone with a connection to classical music is responsible for the future of it. We have to preserve the value in our traditions, but we also have to let go of traditions that are ineffectual, a barrier to the future of classical music. Go with the changing flow, rather than try to beat it off.
Judith de Haas is a 23-year-old violinist from the Netherlands, where she currently is following a European Studies undergraduate at the University of Amsterdam and studying for the Master of Music at the Fontys Conservatorium with Carolin Widmann as her violin teacher. Judith has been a member of the European Union Youth Orchestra since 2012, and has won prizes in the Prinses Christina Concours and Davina van Wely Violin-Competetions.