This week, Peter Culshaw of the Telegraph discussed the use of images in classical concerts – in relation to one concert in particular, ‘The Planets – An HD Odyssey’ performed by the Houston Symphony. Its seven sections are accompanied by stunning high definition pictures of the corresponding planets, in all their glory. Is this the way classical music concerts are going? The Houston Symphony are by no means the only ones heading down this route, and many of the concerts I’ve attended utilise multimedia in some way to engage the audience. At my own MMus recital, I used imagery throughout a number pieces. Is this what we must do to engage the contemporary audiences?
This all boils down, once again, to the ongoing debates about contemporary music, and the huge array of sound worlds labelled by that one term. While some audiences would be happy to go to the BBC Proms featuring Murray Gold’s music from Doctor Who played without any additional media, they may feel differently about a Birtwistle concert. The difference is familiarity; they can place and relate to Murray Gold’s music, as it comes from a sound world they are familiar with (and in most cases, enjoy – certainly in the cases of those who chose to attend that prom!), whereas they may have considerable difficulty relating to a composer whose music they cannot understand to the same level.
Of course, there then follows the argument “Who cares about the audience?”. The reality is that, with the economy as it is, artists (in any field) must strive to present their works in new, accessible ways in order to generate any form of income. While grants and funding used to be a reality, they are now disappearing, and alternative sources of income must be sought, which may involve the gathering of new audiences.
Composers who write high brow, incredibly atonal ‘art’ music may be offended at the concept of utilising media to help engage the audience, perhaps thinking it may contribute to the ‘dumbing down’ of contemporary classical music. On the other hand, the use of media may help encourage new audiences to venture into such concerts. After all, the current biggest audience of contemporary classical music is found through its uses in film and television.
Personally, I think the integration of classical music with media can only be a good thing. However, it should be approached with caution – poor use of media just to try and attract a wider audience can be a fatal error. However, to integrate it as a core part of your music – as many are now doing – can be an innovative and exciting way of producing music, and of introducing it to new ears.