More good questions I left unanswered due to general slothfulness.
1) How does the orchestra react to doing an Orchestra premiere of a work only one time and after such a small amount of rehearsal?
2) Does the small ratio of new works/composers entering the repertoire (or canon) compared to number of new works premiered make it more discouraging to premiere a new work? How often do you get the sense of "We could end up playing this work 5 of the next 20 years."
It seemed (at the Saturday concert) that the Ambush From Ten Sides Silk Road work was extremely popular with the audience, but the orchestra looked like they wished people would stop clapping so they could start their break.
3) Is there a difference in what works or interpretations can be presented at a summer festival versus what you do in Orchestra Hall? It seems like Breaking the Silence would be good in Orchestra Hall, but not necessarily what someone would want while sitting outside on a summer night?
Sometimes once is more than enough. But seriously, at times it seems like a waste to learn a new piece and only play it once. At Ravinia, rehearsal time is indeed tight which puts pressure on the orchestra to give a good performance. Some conductors are better at pulling that sort of thing off than others, but more often than not, the results are not entirely satisfactory.
The orchestra reaction to almost anything new or unfamiliar tends towards the negative, no matter what. It is worse at Ravinia, but the reasons may be more valid. Summer audiences are possibly even less receptive to new things than those who come to concerts downtown – completely understandable, considering the venue – so musicians often wonder why we are force-feeding difficult material to an unwilling or indifferent public while so much ‘standard’ repertoire goes unplayed. Additionally, we possibly squander an opportunity to reach out to people only marginally interested in classical music, or those who have never heard it before, and maybe even chase some of them away with the programming.
The other side of that coin is the disappointment musicians feel when we pander to an audience, or present something that isn’t representative of what we do. Summer performances – Ravinia or Millennium Park – can be an excellent opportunity to reach out to a new audience, people who might not feel comfortable coming to Symphony Center to hear a concert. The tragedy is that often, rather than bringing a bit of what we do best to those people and selling them on it, we ‘tailor’ the programming to fit the audience, presenting them with popsy shows, or concerts where the orchestra is backing up some other kind of act. Usually we are playing music we don’t know, don’t care about, or have difficulty playing well in front of our largest audiences, which is a real letdown.
With new music, such as the Silk Road repertoire, there is not a clear line between what is ‘pop’ and what is ‘serious’ music. Your perceptive observation of orchestra members’ body language probably tells you as much as you need to know about what certain musicians thought about it.
The fact that very few new works we premier ever get played again is a disappointment for a number of reasons. For the majority of players who don’t want to play new music in the first place, there is a feeling we have wasted time and money putting on something that is going to simply gather dust on a library shelf somewhere. For those who support at least the idea of new music, it also seems a waste not to give some of these works a few hearings before declaring them duds or masterpieces. Accepting or rejecting a new work out of hand after one performance (or series) isn’t really giving that music its due, in my opinion. In fact, I think it might have the effect of forcing works to opposite ends of a spectrum – the immediately accessible versus the difficult and complex – with some composers actively courting instant public acceptance and others studiously avoiding it.