Let’s Go Outside

Let’s Go Outside

Spiegel Tent
New music goes under the big top at the Spiegeltent!

I’m not the only one whose been kvetching about all that fastidiousness surrounding so-called proper concert hall etiquette and the unwelcoming vibe it imparts to the haplessly uninitiated. It appears our collective moans and groans aren’t falling upon deaf ears—good news for the intrepid that will soon leave their safety zone to attend a new music concert. Summertime usually signals an artistic hiatus, but this year, things are, dare I say, lively. Time to kiss assigned seating and those uniformed ushers goodbye.

The most promising alt-venue to hit New York this summer is Spiegel, a giant globetrotting tent fashioned from canvas, cut glass, teak, mirrors, and billowing velvet, complete with an adjacent beer garden. Along with acts like Diamanda Galás, the turn of the century styled setting, pitched at the site of the old Fulton Fish Market, will host the Darmstadt Festival—hijacked from its usual monthly slot at the bar-cum-performance space Galapagos and expanded to 6 almost-consecutive Monday evenings. I can’t wait to revel inside this festive environment to hear the S.E.M. Ensemble and ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) perform pieces by Xenakis and Cage. But this traveling pavilion, where Marlene Dietrich first sang “Falling in Love Again,” isn’t the only game in town this summer.

While Brooklyn’s favorite converted grain silo, Issue Project Room, has been hosting acts like Scanner and Francisco Lopez using their 16-channel sound diffusion array, another intriguing venue has landed on the shores of the Gowanus Canal. The Empty Vessel Project is a salvaged WWII rescue boat that sporadically presents performance art and music afloat the little-used waterway. And if that weren’t enough, the nearby Old American Can Factory, which provided an ethereal backdrop for Elisabeth Brown’s chamber opera Rural Electrification, welcomes live bands and hordes of film buffs during this summer’s Rooftop Films series.

Don’t expect to see me anywhere near Carnegie Hall this summer, or Avery Fisher Hall for that matter. I’ve already seen the New York Philharmonic play in Prospect Park. And believe me, they sound better while sitting on a blanket, sipping wine and nibbling cheese. So, what out-of-concert-hall experiences do you have planned?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Go Outside

  1. dannycdoubleb

    Why go out?
    If you are interested in sitting outside on blankets sipping wine and nibbling cheese with music in the background, why not just go sit in some romantic corner of the park with a small stereo? Part of the reason the regular concert hall performances are so formal is because formality inspires active listening (proof of this lies in the informality of movie theaters.) I do not go to concerts to hear my neighbor talking on a cell phone, munching on popcorn, or walking out of the beer garden singing along. I want to hear the music.

  2. marklimacher

    Perhaps the issue here isn’t so much that we should all begin attending concerts in an outdoor setting, but perhaps that alternative venues on a whole should truly begin to be explored (not to necessarily suggest that they aren’t).

    Also, I find with alot of contemporary composers, myself included, that consideration of the venue is given more thought, most likely that it rarely is simply “a concert hall”. More often than not I may be able to write not only for the ensemble, but to a certain extent the venue as well. Am i seeing a trend where there is none? You tell me.

    -Mark L

  3. randy

    Tis true
    Indeed I know many composers, myself included, creating site-specific work. And now that I really think about it, many months have passed since I’ve stepped foot in a “proper” concert hall. Just last week I had work performed in an art gallery and a venue that once housed a Chinese restaurant.

  4. Armando

    Venues, particularly for new music, are changing. I think that is one of the more exciting parts of being a composer and performer/presenter of new music. Unlike Randy I have set foot in a concert hall recently, but I’ve also been active in performing and pursuing performances in “alternative” venues like museums and art galleries, etc.

    And while formality can and does lead to attentive listening, it can also be alienating. Do musicians REALLY need to wear tuxes or always play in a “proper” concert venue in order to engage an audience?

  5. kpanoff

    Several years ago I read that the Metropolitan Musuem of Art is the #1 tourist attraction in NYC. I was stunned, but the more I thought about it and discussed it with my students I realized that that little factoid contained some valuable information: arts consumers, just like other consumers, value the opportunity to make their own choices. And that’s possible to a certain extent in the visual arts and less likely in the performing arts.

    Consider this: if I go to a museum, I can choose when I go and what I want to see among whatever collections are being exhibited. I can skip the stuff I don’t care for and see other things in any order I choose. While we can choose what we want to see and hear in the performing arts, we have little choice about when or in what order since performance times and program orders are generally set in stone.

    As an arts presenter, I have to ask, what can we do to make the concert experience more appealing to the new generation of self-selectors who even consider Starbucks a “venue?” Where can we be more flexible? The answer is not clear to me at this point, but we are experimenting with a few ideas on our campus. For the first time this season, we are offering a series of free lunchtime concerts at a variety of non-traditional spaces on campus including the library, the coffee shop, the dining hall, our art galleries and various outdoor spaces. We are also beginning to experiment with some late night offerings just for students since research tells us their highest daily activity time is 11pm-3am.

    This season, we are also recording and podcasting our post performance talk backs so that people who are unable to stay after concerts can hear this sessions at their convience.

    For the many concerts and performances in our traditional venues, I am trying hard not to be judgemental when patrons applaud between movements or leave at the interval. I am taking a more holistic approach to the experience and celebrating the fact that, at the very least, they are experiencing live performance.

    I am convinced there is no silver bullet in the process of discovering the new meaning of venue, but I commited to staying current with the change.

    Kathy Panoff

  6. brett

    I agree with Randy. I much prefer summer festivals (e.g. the Ojai and Cabrillo festivals) and other opportunities to hear music in a relaxed way — and I’m a veteran listener. For newbies, the archaic 19th century formality of classical presentation is the #2 barrier (after high ticket prices) to experiencing great music.

    The snooty attitude , or at least perception, that only the dressed up, sophisticated elite can experience classical music in the temples of high culture is what’s killing non-pop music by scaring away audiences. I’ve heard classical cellist Matt Haimovitz play Bach, Bartok and contemporary classical music in beer halls where all of us were wearing jeans or shorts and sipping beers — and the listeners were just as quiet and attentive as at the shows I’ve heard at Carnegie and Lincoln Center, maybe more so.

    I’d turn the first response around: as Evelyn Glennie once told me, if I want perfection, I’ll go listen to a CD at home. No flubs from live performance there! The electricity of live performance and the sense of sharing it with the community energizes the concert experience.

    There are degrees of formality. There’s a middle ground between the full Carnegie (audience as pasive recipient, performers on distant stage) experience and sitting in the park. Anyone who thinks that you have to dress in a suit (and musicians have to dress in tuxes) in order to force yourself to pay attention should try going to a serious folk or jazz club, where proletarians in jeans and sandals sip beers and concentrate mightily on the music; anyone who talks does so in a whisper or receives withering glares that quickly shush them.

    Of course with any music that demands serious listening — rock, jazz, folk, classical, world — we don’t want audience members rudely talking loud on the cell phone or to their neighbors. But if necessary, promoters and even performers can announce those expectations from the stage and my experience is that it works.

    What should make listeners pay attention isn’t the way they or the performers dress — but the power of the music on stage. If it’s compelling enough, listeners will shut up and listen. If they’re not listening, maybe the music is just too boring to compel attention.


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