Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Repertoire analysis -- how the sausage gets made (or conducted, rather)

One of the great things about the Internet, in my opinion, is that it's very easy to publish online -- especially in blogs. Take this one, for instance. There's no money in our budget for a hard copy newsletter, but online? It's free to us (and to you) and we can embed videos!

Kenneth Woods is a conductor and cellist who has recently completed an interesting self-study of the works he's conducted during the 2009-2010 season, entitled "Which Composers Are Getting Played?" I find it an interesting read for a a number of reasons:

1) It's an interesting balance of basic repertoire, unusual works, and modern composers -- which goes against my perception that conductors only want to do works by dead white Europeans.

2) Woods talks about the process of working with orchestra and orchestra boards, which explains in part why certain works get done infrequently, or not at all.

3) It's thought-provoking. If you had to learn 75-125 works to conduct in a season, which ones would you choose? How many would you be willing to learn that you might not like very much, but orchestras expect you to perform? How much new music would you program, and how new is new?

That last question's not irrelevant. As Woods says as he goes through his list,

Other composers dear to me, however, have not been lucky. Bartók has been completely absent. This makes me crazy, but I get tremendous (and completely incomprehensible) resistance when trying to program his music. 

Incomprehensible is right! Bartók is an acknowledged master, whose works are mainstays of the repertoire (at least among musicians). Modern? Well, maybe for 1948 -- but that was over a half century ago. Could we please move him to the dead white European male category so we can get his music performed more often? (if that's what it takes)

Just asking...


  1. I don't know a whole lot about Woods, but I'm guessing many of his performances are in major world cities. It would be interesting to compare his analysis with the repertoire being performed in smaller markets such as Charlottesville, Raleigh/Durham, etc. My feeling is there's probably less variety and more allegiance to dead white Europeans where the pool of potential audience members is smaller. But I'm hoping the variety in Woods' repertoire eventually trickles down this way, since I think more new-ish works is what will attract my (younger) generation to classical music. I'm particularly excited by cross-genre collaborations like this one.

  2. Colin:

    Thanks for the link! I think you have a good point. I think our local symphony does a pretty good job pushing the repertoire envelope. I was really excited to hear them perform Panufnik last year (the folks sitting next to me, not so much).