It was a big project. Self produce an evening long concert of new music, all written by myself. It seemed like the entrepreneurial thing for a fledgling composer to do.
For those of you that don’t know, self-production is a lot of work. Assembling the artists, coordinating schedules, finding venues… not to mention marketing and publicity, with a few grant applications on the side (all skills that have very little to do with composition). And then there’s the nitty gritty bits like laying out a program, distributing flyers around town, and buying the right amount of crackers for the post concert reception. And, of course, there’s the small matter of getting the music to sound right.
This could easily be applied to classical music with just a bit of media synergy. Imagine a couple finishing a candle lit dinner, staring into each other’s eyes:
“Thanks for the dinner. The chicken was delicious.”
“It’s the least I could do after you saved my family’s fortune. You’ve become so much more to me than just another corporate lawyer.”
“Well. It’s all I can do. I didn’t want to see another mom and pop surgery facility put out of business by the big medical corporations. And you’re much more to me than just another beautiful brain surgeon. Say… what’s this music playing?”
“It’s Hilary Hahn’s new recording of the Higdon and Tchaikovsky concertos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Jennifer Higdon won the Pulitzer Prize for this piece. It’s available on iTunes and Amazon.”
“It’s so… intense. Passionate. I didn’t think classical music could make me feel like this.”
“The San Francisco Chronicle called the concerto a knockout.”
“That makes two knockouts in the room…”
Music swells. Close up on suggestive looks. Fade to black…
Apparently, when Tobias Picker eats, broadway listens. Mere weeks after Mr. Picker was spotted at a Petaluma Applebee’s, broadway heart-throb Hunter Ryan Herdlicka told Playbill magazine that Applebee’s was the perfect spot to catch a post-show snack. He even singled out the spinach and artichoke dip!
Maybe the New York Times will send a critic to Taste of Petaluma this year to spot next year’s trends…
The string quartet is DONE! Actually, it was done a year ago, but now it’s been premiered, recorded, annotated, and released to the public.
The third movement Off the Rails is finally available for listening and downloading and reading about and whatnot.
So what happens now? Hmm. Good question. I’ve already submitted it to several competitions to little effect, but those are pretty much crapshoots (and the only recording at the time was a sub-optimal midi realization).
Well, what do composers really want? To create music and to have people hear the music they’ve created. So, in no particular order, here are things I can actively do to try to further these goals:
There’s a fine line between a practical joke and engaging theater.
This video (courtesy of the always entertaining Mind the Gap blog) documents an elaborate prank the likes of which could only be organized in the name of global commerce and fermented barley beverages. 1,000 soccer fans were forced to miss a championship game by their bosses or girlfriends, and instead attend (i.e. suffer) a concert of classical music.
It pains me to see classical music as the butt of the joke, and the enthusiasm of the crowd when the match starts up makes me squirm a little. How must the poor string quartet have felt, hearing a crowd start cheering at the realization that they’re about to shut the hell up?
But what a divine bit of experiential theater. I wish the video did a more accurate job of portraying how things actually went down when the reveal was made (I sense a pretty heavy editorial hand in this clip). How quickly did different members of the audience catch on? How quickly did they start abandoning expected concert protocol? When did the beer start pouring?
I can think of some other examples of such extreme context switching in real performance situations. John Fisher’s Medea the Musical starts out as an ultra campy gay rendition of the Euripides yarn for a good 15 minutes before the director stops the show and you realize that you’re actually watching a play within a play about a gay theater company’s campy production of the Euripides yarn. Similar hijinks occur in Noises Off.
A lot of great theater is about the setting up of expectations and the twist, the surprise, the sudden reveal that makes you reconsider and reevaluate everything you had experienced up until then. But these are examples of a special kind of twist. This isn’t the story twist that you’ll often find in thrillers (Hannibal Lecter’s amazing escape scene in Silence of the Lambs is a great example), but an experiential twist. A twist that isn’t contained in the character’s world, but leaks into the audience’s world and their understanding of what they’re actually experiencing.
But if theater depends on a series of lies, an elaborate ruse, perhaps events that create disorienting moments when the “joke” is revealed are more honest than the ones that never acknowledge the lie.
Either way, Theater definitely kicked the stuffing out of Music in this video. But I’m pretty sure Music was payed good money to take a dive.
ps – My soccer hooligan friend Shona just informed me that the reveal is actually in the music. The quartet starts playing the “Champion League Anthem”, which is apparently recognizable by any fan. There’s a surge of applause in there that doesn’t really make sense unless you recognize the song.
Disclaimer – this essay doesn’t have a lot to do with nudity or sex. The title and photo are there to draw your attention to a topic that you may otherwise find fairly dry and uninteresting, even though I happen to care about it a lot. Specifically this is an essay about how opera survives drastic restagings and reinterpretations, and the dichotomy of form and content. While sex and nudity are discussed, this is still a bait and switch technique, and as much as I resent such marketing tricks and believe they cheapen the content they try to promote, those sensationalistic tricks really do work. At least in the short term. (Just ask Calixto Bieito. Or the folks who market his productions. More on him in a bit.)
Hilary Hahn is one of the most successful classical music artists alive. Debuted with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12, finished her bachelor requirements at Curtis at 16, signed with Sony at 17, and was named “America’s Best” young classical musician by Time Magazine at 22. She recently turned 30, and like any good generation Y-er, she has a Twitter account. Or, at least, her violin case has one. (Take some time and click the link. It’s ridiculously adorable. But do come back.)
A few years ago I was torn between seeing her play a brief free show at Amoeba Records on Haight and seeing the a Blood Brothers opening for …And You will Know Us by the Trail of Dead at the Fillmore. It was a tough call. I opted for the post-hardcore screamfest, figuring that Hilary was much less likely to flame out (or overdose) in the next five years. The Blood Brothers were amazing, but the highlight of the evening was when Trail Of Dead announced a very special guest. Out of nowhere, Hilary Hahn joined them on stage to play “To Russia My Homeland”, a song she recorded with them on their latest album, cuz that’s just how she rolls. I had no idea.
Some things about Hilary.
She likes defying genres (see above).
She likes communicating directly with her audience (see further above)
She’s a big proponent of new music.
Which brings me to my point. (Almost.)
Hilary Hahn has a youtube channel where she keeps her fans up to date as she travels and tours. As part of this channel, in conjunction with the new music blog Sequenza 21, she has a series of interviews withemerging composers. What a great idea! Here’s a popular and engaging classical violinist trying to get some traction for some folks making new music.
But wait. How many views does that have? A little over 1,300? Heck, The Richter Scales latest animation has more views than that and that’s our least successful video by far. This is a truly world class musician talking to a composer who is no slouch herself. And we’re getting more views with cutout animation, archival footage, and a dick joke? Actually, our video is kinda cute, but come on, this is HILARY HAHN!
So my point? Actually, I can’t remember. But it has something to do with the rewards for this new music thing being fairly meager. It’s a pretty small pie we’re fighting for. And you should all go subscribe to Hilary’s youtube channel and follow her tweets. And if nothing else you should go take a few minutes to listen to her rock the hell out of the fourth movement of Stravinsky’s violin concerto. Especially the end. The Blood Brothers would be proud.
File this under “things I’m required to do when I really should be composing or at least practicing for the workshop.”
I got an email last night asking me to supply some marketing material for the Solo Sundays gig, including a fifteen word description of my piece for the ticketing website. Fifteen words! The full title of the piece is five words and my full name is another three! That’s over half the real estate right there. There’s just enough room for:
Brian M Rosen’s “Failing That: A Minor Tragedy” is an opera. Look! Three more words!
Somehow I don’t think that would get butts in seats.
After a surprising amount of time I was able come up with both 20 and 30 word descriptions of what audiences will actually be seeing at StageWerx in ten days (assuming I find time to actually start rehearsing this stuff).
Brian M Rosen sings an excerpt from his original opera “Failing That”, in which a college student hallucinates his way through a final exam, encountering his inner demons, Einstein, and his ex-girlfriend.
That’ll have to do for now. Hopefully the 270 words worth of program notes will be easier.
Note to readers: So far this blog has a bit too much in the “Stuff About Me” category for my taste. In the next few days I hope to write up a few posts about music and theater. You know, the title of the blog.
Update: They actually decided to go with this alternative blurb that I included, even though I thought it was less interesting. Go figure.
Brian M Rosen’s sings an excerpt from his original opera “Failing That,” in which a college student, utterly unprepared for his final exam, turns to self medication with deliriously unexpected results.
Brian M. Rosen loves music and theater and wants you to love music and theater too (especially if it happens to be music or theater that he's written). Read about the stuff he likes and why he likes it.