It happened again. I was in the break room and one of my co-workers said that her son and daughter in law had scored free tickets to the symphony last weekend. I got excited. It was a great concert. Karen Gomyo played the freaking daylights out of the Sibelius Concerto in D minor and Stravinsky’s Petrouchka Symphony was tight! Containing my excitement I asked how they liked it.
“I think they liked it. They did think it was a little long and they got uncomfortable.”
Yeah, I think to myself, I hate those damn chairs too but I suffer for the chance to hear the good stuff—live!
The main point is simply that most audiences are feeling physical pain after an hour of concentrated quiet attention. Especially audiences over the age of 50. (Which is most of them) My co-worker’s son had no excuse. He isn’t even 40 yet!
Most concerts are too long for 21st century audiences. We live in a 20 minute sit-com world. Give listeners a little and they’ll want to come back for more. Oversaturate them, test their limits and the experience becomes a grueling marathon of music they can’t appreciate anymore. Audiences can become mentally exhausted, even with a short intermission between halves.
Of course shorter concerts would completely upset the musicians union. Contracts are contracts. My answer to that is shorten the concerts and extend the educational outreach then pay the musicians the same. They don’t lose hours, the hours are just spread differently. The other option is program shorter concerts but program more of them. Every weekend? (DON’T SHOOT!)
In last weekends performance, the first piece, Finlandia by Sibelius wasn’t even necessary. It isn’t a long piece but it extended the concert just enough to make it feel long. One piece per half is plenty. Audiences can wrap their minds around the music, really focus on it. I often hear one piece per concert that just isn’t up to snuff- like it wasn’t rehearsed enough and got tossed on the program to lengthen it. I say, leave it off. Don’t take a chance and disappoint the listeners.
I recommend either two shorter halves or one long concert with no intermission. If some stretching needs to happen, have the conductor address the audience and give some verbal program notes.
Heck. since I’m dreaming how about this…get the night started right after work with a pre-concert “happy hour” of appetizers and drinks in the lobby from 5-6 pm, the concert from 6:30 to 7:30 with NO intermission and time at the end for the encore and still have time for a decent dinner. I’d still pay the same $ for a ticket. People who work Downtown would just walk to the hall and not have to kill so much time.
I wonder if
1. More older kids,teenagers and young adults would attend?
2. Elder patrons would “feel” better?
3. Patrons would leave refreshed and exhilarated with a “I can’t wait for the next concert” attitude?
A really naughty orchestra could even close the concert with a mini-”cliffhanger”. Let them preview the next concert by playing a 1 or 2 minute bit and not resolving the final chord. (Come back to find out how it ends.)
I guess the main point for me (as blasphemous as this will sound to aficionados) is for orchestras to enable audiences to make art music a natural and fun extension of their lives by getting started earlier and programing one less piece. Good music should be accessible to everyone not just those stoic individuals with the ability to sit motionless for 2 and 1/2 hours.
NOTE TO READER: You may now rip my argument to shreds by posting your comment.