[This is partially an x-post from a discussion I've been having on another blog and multiple private conversations with a variety of people.]
Lately I've been going to a lot of experimental or avant-guard theatre in a variety of genres -- straight plays, musical theatre, dance, etc. And each time, I am struck by how absolutely retarded classical music is in its evolution. The most "radical" or "experimental" thing related to classical music or opera that I can think of here in NYC recently was maybe the production of Die Soldaten at the Armory and La Didone by the Wooster Group that I saw some months back.
Part of it is the old guard audience who are constantly reactionary to anything that could even be mildly perceived to be "new." See: the bitter anger, reactionary comments, and expressed desire to kill Mary Zimmerman over her recent Sonnambula production (and boy, that bit of reactionary nonsense still has my dander up).
However, I also think that that sort of conservative, "we must preserve this as a museum piece" attitude in the audience has been (at least in part) fostered and encouraged by the classical music industry, itself.
When media/technology began to change in the 70's, instead of adapting and embracing, the classical music community held on, kicking and screaming, to the "Good Old Days" and tried to sell itself as an elitist, separatist sport. I.E., only SPECIAL, really INTELLIGENT and DISCERNING people go to the opera, or whatever.
Which, of course, is death for an art form. The Met/Gelb has understood this, I think, and is trying to move forward without alienating the Old Guard, but even his very conservative movements forward receive such fury!
What it boils down to is this: this stuffy, we-must-hold-on-to-the-past attitude makes it extremely hard to get an audience for any sort of recital program here (the only exception being if you're a huge name doing it at Carnegie Hall, and then, it's still hard). Recitals are only attended out of a sense of duty, and the impression outsiders get is that recitals are dull and boring and a relic of the past. There's so many other art forms in NYC that are vibrant and exciting and forward thinking, so why WOULD someone want to come to a boring, snooze-fest of Schubert lieder?
So, even if you try (and I do!) to make something new and innovative, etc, it's nearly impossible to get an audience (outside of your friends, family and colleagues).
I was speaking about this with someone the other day -- I never do the "normal" concert or recital format, other than 2 acts and an intermission. I theme the recitals, use a combination of new, old, familiar, unfamiliar music, group them so that the concert has a story, or an arc, or SOMETHING other than me just standing there, aloof from the audience, parked and barked. And the people who do attend always tell me, oh, it was a great time! that was interesting music! this was fun!
And yet, I can't seem to move this out into the wider community. I don't know how to drag my art form kicking and screaming into this century. I don't know how to create something with my art that will grab people, grab an audience, like other experimental theatre does.
I have been thinking about this a lot. I am trying new things each time, learning from the experience, etc, but it's just me behind this effort. I don't have the resources to make a huge splash or rent out Zankel Hall or create splashy ads, currently.
I do perceive that this is two problems -- one of image and one of content.
Content is important. That's the foundation of anything. Still, you can have all the great content in the world, but image is what gets butts in seats. The days of people coming to your show just because it's there have long since past. You can't, as so many do, ignore marketing, image -- all the tedious promotion work. There are so many choices to fill our free time these days, you have to stand out from the herd to get peoples' interest.
So, what to do?