Now that I’m getting down to my last few months in Europe, I’m keeping an eye out for must-attend performances and trying to decide how far I’m willing to travel. Sussex for UK MicroFest 3? Maybe. Brussels for Ars Musica? It’s possible. Norwich for Garth Knox? I might just have to. After my thoroughly world-rocking experience in Huddersfield, not to mention many excellent concerts here in London, it’s clear to me that these opportunities have to be seized. But it’s also clear that if I want to keep hearing contemporary music of the sort I’ve enjoyed so much over here, I have to bring some of the lessons I’ve learned back home with me. I have seen the light, and the light is as follows:
- Contemporary music is international. It is imperative that you have an accurate picture of new music all over the world—or, rather, that you strive constantly to develop such a picture, because it’s a moving target. At any rate, it’s very easy to think you know the score without having a clue, I’ve found.
- Contemporary music is local. Engage the community without compromising the content you’re presenting. Incorporate or develop a regional flavor that makes your event unique but doesn’t stifle your possibility-space.
- Get the best performers you can afford. A lackluster rendition of great music is a lackluster experience; a great rendition of great music is worth whatever you paid to get in the door. They’re the people we see and hear. Aim high.
- Save some space for student and amateur performers. This is how they get better, especially if they have a chance to play alongside the pros. Even if they don’t get paid, it should be a rewarding, enriching experience for them too.
- Don’t be nepotistic. It corrupts what ought to be a porous but firm meritocracy. There are already plenty of prejudices and biases in our line of work without adding this more or less arbitrary one to the list.
One American festival that takes these ideals to heart is Spark, which will have just ended by the time this post goes live. I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve picked up this year when it comes time to help out next February. There are other concert series, festivals, conferences, etc. in the States that are already following some or all of the above guidelines. But I’d love to be faced with tough decisions on a regular basis about how far I’m willing to travel— Seattle? Detroit? Kansas City?—to hear world-class contemporary music in the U.S. of A.