First things first–my heart beat a little faster when Maestra Alsop took her place on the podium. And I doubt her comments regarding “being different” were lost on the audience (at least I’m hoping). Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I found her handling of the MacMillan to be charged somehow. I loved every minute of it.
That said, I’m fairly certain I would’ve enjoyed the piece anyhow. So now comes a bit of a confession – I’m an Ives scholar. This would explain my penchant for pieces that force you sit up and listen and why I think a little (repeat – a little) audience discomfort can be a good thing. It also explains why, as Alsop was addressing the audience, I was reminded of the following:
In the summer of 1959, the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, performed for a Soviet audience at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Moscow. The concert was historic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra and The Rite of Spring – two works long banned in the Soviet Union. Bernstein also chose to perform Ives’s The Unanswered Question. The audience loved it and even demanded an encore (not bad for an unknown chamber piece by an altogether unfamiliar American composer). Before the piece began, however, Bernstein broke tradition and spoke directly to the audience, introducing Ives and explaining his creative philosophies. This did not sit well with critics who thought the move immodest and conceited. One went so far as to say that Bernstein “had violated all tradition by presuming to instruct the Russian audience in music from the podium.”
Now I realize that Saturday’s performance was far removed from the one I just described, but I wonder how audiences today feel about this kind of stage/seat interaction. I, of course, have my own opinions, but I’m interested to know what others might think. I also can’t help but note that only the MacMillan (like the Ives) needed an on-stage explanation. Is it that Beethoven and Tchaikovsky need no introduction? Again, I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.