The Filene Center has 7,028 seats (including the ones on the lawn where you get grass stains on your bottom and get to snack on wine and cheese all night). My Wolf Trap colleagues who deal with bookings on the pop/rock/jazz/blues/etc (let's just use the common if slightly misleading "non-classical") side often cite the smallness of our venue. Hahahahaha. Yes, I know it's tough to compete with huge arenas for the the attentions of huge pop culture phenoms. But dealing with roughly three times the number of seats in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for each night? See, my heart skips a beat just thinking about it.The "&" Part of My JobYes, I run the WTOC. But here's my whole job title: "Director, Wolf Trap Opera & Classical Programming." It's the ampersand that gets you all the time. I book our chamber music series, and I also work with the National Symphony Orchestra on the shows they bring out here each summer. And that's why Tim Smith's blog entry made me do a little happy dance.Especially in these crazy times, it's tough to program "legit" (not my word) stuff in a 7,000-seat theatre. In the summer. Outside. There's no doubt that it's fun to hear the NSO play the lush score to Wizard of Oz with the moving towering two stories above you. And gamers of all ages will meet the orchestra for the first time, courtesy of Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends at Video Games Live. But here's the thing: it'll be every bit as magical to hear Sarah Chang dig into Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto or the Washington Chorus sink their teeth into Carmina. Not to mention the awesomeness that is going to be our Bohème, complete with the lush sounds of the NSO and some cutting-edge video projection design.OK, the commercial is over. But it came from a good place. I didn't intend to proselytize today, but I was so pumped from the fact that someone noticed that we weren't doing Opera/Symphony Lite all summer. (Nothing that there's anything wrong with that:))
Some unfinished thoughts for a Monday.
Ever since Seth Godin wrote about the "Passion Pop Gulf" (almost a year ago!), I've not been able to get it out of my head. The Gulf is a no-man's-land, and I'm obsessed with how to stay out of it. Read the original post (it'll only take you a minute; it's short), then look at the graph below (I tried to link to Seth's original image, but the URL won't take.)
Working as I do for a marvelously messy and uncategorizable musical organization, I'm well aware of the Pop apex toward the right side of this graph - where the entertainment value and box office numbers are high. In our large amphitheatre, we provide lots of easy, free-wheeling musical fun. Hundreds of thousands of patrons depend on these shows for summer recreation.
I'm also well aware of (and slightly envious of, truth be told) the Passion apex on the left... the box-office-be-damned, bleeding edge, creatively brilliant and unbridled indie work that's done in almost every genre. At its worst (the extreme left edge), it can be self-indulgent and narrow-minded. But at its best, there are people drawn to it because it's not pop culture. (I love Seth's graph, but from a purely mathematical perspective, I think the hump on the left is just a tad optimistic...)
We do seem to be getting to a point in our long-tail age that a place at the very top of the Pop curve seems to guarantee a lack of authenticity. By the time someone gets that popular, that much of a phenom, it's almost taken for granted that they're a product of a popular music machine that somehow weeds out the truly creative and reinforces homogeneity.
I'm rambling. The WTOC will never have to content with any of the small liabilities (real or perceived) of climbing to the top of the Pop curve. Opera lives on the passion curve. The point here is that in pursuit of butts in seats, I fear sliding down the passion curve into the dreaded Gulf. Shaving down the rough edges in an attempt to be more palatable to more people, and in the process becoming a sad pale imitation of the folks who successfully ride the popular culture machine.
Yes, let's rid ourselves of the dysfunctional, old-fashioned, alienating trappings of classical music performances. All that does is clear the path for for anyone who wants to embrace the passion. But if we go too far - trying to be something we're not, glomming onto pop music trappings that really don't fit - all we do is dilute.
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