In the first part of Is it necessary to give Classical Music a facelift?, we talked about dress at concerts. Today, I would like to share with you my thoughts on concert programming. A good programming is indeed essential. However, isn’t it tiring to hear the same works every year, everywhere in the world? “It’s the law of the market!”, organizers and agents say, “you must play what the audience wants to listen to”. But if no one introduces anything new to the audience, they won’t ever want anything else. And, as the audience cannot know all the repertoire, one always finds the same works in most programs.
I would like to begin with a quote from Maurizio Pollini: “People who go to concerts are occupied during the day with completely different things than music. It is therefore not for them to decide what one plays or not”.
Is it necessary to play what the audience wants to hear? No, it is not. Building a program is an art and a science. A program, by letting the “law of the market” operate, looks more like a medley of classical music endless hits than a program which has been coherently drawn up.
To attract a new audience, nowadays, there are crossover concerts, combining different styles within the same concert. Let’s take, for example, a great singer and make her/him sing Haendel, Fauré with some arrangements of Norah Jones or The Beatles in between. This is quite simply stupid: you might as well be asking your plumber to fix the roof. As classical musicians, we are not trained for this and are only able to give ridiculous or pompous versions of these music genres.
Instead of making us perform what we are not able to do, or lobotomize our programs, it would be interesting to notice that the programming of contemporary works is always a success with audiences which are not much or not at all used to classical concerts.
Could “broadening the audience” and “updating the programming” rhyme? Should we not, at last, for the greatest pleasure of all, commonly and durably combine Chopin with Boulez, Beethoven with Murail? The music of our times has often proved that it could attract young audiences!
There is a French idiom saying “One is only old in one’s mind”. Programming does not need a facelift, but it is necessary to stop making it voluntarily old. Classical music is alive and its forces are intact, but as a result of living too much in the past, it now seems old and moribund. It’s up to us, interpreters, to follow our artistic path and to refuse to be confined, without trying to make programming a tool to reach an ephemeral glory.