Tuesday, March 01, 2005

a disjointed, pre-coffee, Early Music ramble

We are smothering in snow, so there is simply nothing to do today but make reeds. For an oboist in Easter season (Lent, of course, but "Easter season" in your average concert-goer's mind) I have been awfully underemployed. Between now and Easter day I have two paying musical jobs, which is ridiculous. I still need enough reeds to get me through the St. John Passion this week, but the labour is hardly justified by the job. Mind you, I did get a nice phone call yesterday about a job in Montreal in June, which pleased me terribly.

I have mused often about the future of the symphony orchestra, but what of the future of early music performance, which is still on a moderate upswing and draws so many young performers to its ranks?

Most early music ensembles today were formed in a great creative burst by the performers themselves, and are not dependent on our collective minds' expectation of the continuance of a tradition, like the symphony orchestra. It will require constant creativity to keep these ensembles alive for decades to come, and re-education of younger people to make them expect the presence of such ensembles in their musical lives, just as were were taught about the symphony orchestra.

Regarding today's professional early music ensembles, I think that the product is great enough to keep audiences coming for decades; I fear, though, that young audiences won't hear about it until it's too late! Blue hair still dominates the audience for that genre, as it does at the symphony, and its audience could easily dwindle as the symphony's has. With exceptions, the young people in today's audiences for both the traditional symphony orchestra and early music ensembles are typically music students who are hopeful of earning a living on the stage in front of them.

This is not to say that the product offered by the symphony orchestra is not worthy of perpetuation; it has simply run its course. New offerings by the symphony will never again draw the audiences that "new discoveries" of old works by early music ensembles shall bring in. Heaven knows that these discoveries are not necessarily of any great quality. Take, for example, "Le Mozart Noir": Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a contemporary of Mozart who led a fascinating life, was black, and a mediocre composer. Our local Baroque orchestra made a killing unearthing him, performing him, and filming a documentary about his extraordinary extra-musical life, while the musicians commented repeatedly, quietly, the music was simply no great hell. Having played it, I must agree.

Eventually, Early Music will run out of ideas. In the meantime, it's full of good performances and good yarns.

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