Rethinking the classics

Part of the perception of classical music is already in the word “classical” – something that is part of a unquestionable canon, a tradition, something lasting and timeless. Concerts also reinforce that slightly hermetic and superhuman aura of classical music by turning into rituals of uncritical worship and social distinction. I think it is our job as performers to constantly challenge and rethink the way, art music is presented. We are at the interface between music and public and our way of programming, presenting and performing music is affecting directly the way music is experienced.
What is this interface? It is the places we play, the visual presentation from our concert dress to the design of a brochures, websites and posters, the way music is discussed and consumed and also the performance in itself.
If I could, I would get rid of the “classical” in classical music. What does “classical” mean? Does it mean old? Does it mean important? I don’t think Harry Partch, who died in 1974 was a more “classical” composer than Shostakovich, who died in 1975. “Classical” refers to written music and to a set of certain historical conditions, like certain traditional forms or instruments that make a piece being considered “classical”.

But then, “classical” is also used to distinguish between something unimpeachable and impersonal, as opposed to something “contemporary” that hasn’t become classical, yet. I think this does a lot of damage, because if we and the public should ever feel that “classical” music has something fundamental and relevant to say to us, we have to feel that all music is contemporary music. Contemporary music of different times, but contemporary, nonetheless. All music was contemporary music, at some stage.

And I think it is important to regain some of this directness music has when you hear it first. There is a bond between a work and the public, something raw, at first contact. I remember hearing some of the great symphonic works for the first time and not be able to think straight, anymore, because you have no choice as to give yourself up to an experience you never had and can’t control. This unpredictability is a key factor in this direct approach to music.