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Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008

Defining the Audience

Classical Review

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   Who is the audience? It is the most often recurring thought I have as a critic. The place of classical music in culture is central to the pondering, but the question also boils down to local issues. As someone who attends more than most, it is endlessly interesting to ponder why and how our top Milwaukee professional performing groups attract different audiences. Is it venue? Marketing? Is it the musical literature programmed? The performances? Are the reasons social? Is the answer about a comfort zone of familiarity that formed years ago for reasons long forgotten?

  For anyone only vaguely familiar with Early Music Now, a presenting organization of touring ensembles of pre-19th century music, I highly recommend investigation. The quality of the artists brought in has been almost infallibly top drawer, the programs interesting. EMN kicked off its 22nd season last Saturday night at the Zelazo Center at UW-Milwaukee with recorder soloist Marion Verbruggen and five members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco.

  The all Vivaldi program of seven concertos and a sonata featured evolved and lively style on period instruments. These musicians' attention to details in articulation, ornamentation, rhythm, clarity, phrasing and a buzzy "Baroque groove" gave the music urgency and polish. The mellow tone of the recorder, even in a player as good as Verbruggen, was sometimes overwhelmed by the ensemble, but that's the nature of the beast (and the reason the modern flute was invented). As vivid as it all was, I had had enough Vivaldi when it ended.

  The night before I heard Milwaukee Choral Artists in a concert of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist sacred works. This accomplished women's ensemble, conducted by Sharon Hansen, would have been more persuasive in a room with more spacious ring than the sanctuary of First Unitarian Society. A premiere, "The Congregator Has Said" by Dutch composer Bernard van Beurden, was one of the most ambitious and dissonant of the 22 pieces performed. Unfortunately, there was too much sameness in most of the rest of the program, with too many slow-ish pieces that were pretty but forgettable.
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