Music communication Come and Listen!

Not only classical festivals are searching for new ways of presenting music. The experimental piano player Matthew Bourne for example performed in the contemporary art exhibition of the Museion at the Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015.
Not only classical festivals are searching for new ways of presenting music. The experimental piano player Matthew Bourne for example performed in the contemporary art exhibition of the Museion at the Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015. | Photo: Ralf Dombrowski

Music that does not explain itself is a problem, because it needs specialists who assume this task. Music that does not automatically attract an audience is a still greater challenge, because without listeners it remains isolated. Thus at present much is being discussed and tried out. A survey.

That what is called “classical music” is in crisis has been the broad consensus for some time in the music world, as has also the further statement that the crisis concerns not the music itself but above all the performance form of the concert. The search for a solution to the crisis therefore has to begin with a change in the practice of performance. In the music world this diagnosis has already led to a variety of initiatives, publications and more or less far-reaching innovations in the design of the concert situation. And here and there also to surfeit and aversion. Fundamental doubts culminate in the fear that the escalating efforts at communication could change music itself (“music communication music”), and that the over-emphasis on communication debases complex music, coating it with a “lightness lie” (Holger Noltze).

Crisis in the concert hall

Such doubts are not to be dismissed out of hand inasmuch as music, as the music journalist Martin Hufner has noted, is itself a sui generis organ of communication and the separation of “communication” from “music”, and their subsequent educational or didactic reunification, points to a problem, but fails to solve it. Yet obviously the problem consists not only in the general stagnation of the concert situation in the ritualistic practices of the late nineteenth century. Leaving aside the dress code, which has been greatly liberalized in recent years, there remains the spatial arrangement of the concert, which has its place in a hall and is designed frontally and statically. About this a preceding (educational) introductory event alters nothing.

Composers’ responses

At the same time the classical concert, with its ritual, spatial and social components, has also come under criticism. And this criticism comes by no means always from outside, that is, from, for example, educationalists who import their own interests into the music world, but has been articulated within this world itself. Since the mid-twentieth century more and more composers have designed their works for alternative performance situations. They have chosen or even constructed alternative spaces, as did Iannis Xenakis at the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. They have had works performed in outdoor spaces and places strange to concerts, as did probably most radically Karlheinz Stockhausen with his Helicopter String Quartet (1996). They have transformed the confrontational arrangement between podium/stage and audience in the concert hall, surrounding the audience with the musicians, as did Luigi Nono in the 1980's in his Prometeo – Tragedia dell’ascolto. They have designed concerts in which the performance of the music itself becomes a scenic or music theatrical event, as did probably most emphatically Heiner Goebbels, who in this can appeal to models such as the American composer Harry Partch.

Education helps

Common to all these changes of the ritual concert situation is that none were conceived to advertise music, to lower the audience’s fear of entering a concert hall or to make the reception of music easier and more accessible for a wider public. In each of the cited examples, as in many others, the change in the concert situation is an integral part of the music itself. The current music and concert world, however, often has other than artistic criteria in mind. It proceeds from the typical operating cost need to do something about the decreasing audience, or positively put, to open music to new segments of the public, thus representing in the narrower sense professional interests and in the broader sense social ones. This sometimes leads to amazingly successful and noteworthy processes and events, for which the education department of the Berlin Philharmonic and its project Rhythm is it!, or the socially enormously enterprising and imaginative work of the Opéra de Lyon under its artistic director Serge Dorny, are examples.

Everyone for everyone

In choosing their means, the concert world and the growing number of music communication initiatives have learned much from composers themselves. With increasing frequency the classical concert situation has been broken open. Sound installations stage spaces and landscape segments, changing modes of experience. The audience’s need to communicate and be informed about music verbally is now met by a variety of event series and lecture-concerts, where, for example, composers answer questions before or after the performance of their works; pioneers here could be the Ensemble Modern with its series Happy New Ears, which it organizes in cooperation with the Frankfurt Opera since 1993. The search for new performance spaces and contexts is everywhere in progress, and increasingly sought are contexts with current pop music. The contemporary music world is on the move, with diverse motives and in many directions.

More to read

Holger Noltze, Die Leichtigkeitslüge. Über Musik, Medien und Komplexität. Hamburg (edition Körber-Stiftung) 2010

Martin Tröndle (Hg.): Das Konzert. Neue Aufführungskonzepte für eine klassische Form. Bielefeld (transcript) 2009

Julia Schröder: Zur Position der Musikhörenden. Konzeptionen ästhetischer Erfahrung im Konzert. Wolke-Verlag (Hofheim a.T.) 2014

Eleonore Büning/Kai Lührs-Kaiser: Das Konzert der Zukunft – die Zukunft des Konzerts. Ludwigshafener Dramaturgien, Band I. Bonn (Weidle Verlag) 2015