Lectures, family concerts help audiences learn about music
One thing classical music organizations like Rockport Music have learned is that educating an audience — especially younger audiences — is as important as getting them to buy tickets.
With cutbacks in public school music education stretching back decades, more and more people need to learn the basics of what makes music great. And audiences that already love the music are always hungry to learn more about their favorite artists and repertory.
In conjunction with the monthlong Rockport Chamber Music Festival, Rockport Music is offering almost a dozen events that appeal to families and friends of chamber music. Many are free, and all are welcoming.
Stephanie Woolf, education coordinator for the organization, is in the thick of it, scheduling programs and outreach all year long, many in the Rockport schools, and organizing events in June that have a particular focus on the music being performed.
“We like to introduce, interact and inspire,” she says. “Those are our unofficial goals. We never talk down to people, especially not children, but we are always trying to enhance the concertgoing experience.
“It used to be that the program notes were the sole thing that filled that need,” she says. “But that’s changed. And we’re not always doing ‘Music 101,’ even though I get asked for that quite a bit. Our audience is already committed for the most part, they are focused and engaged, and they want to know more. They realize that knowledge can enhance the concert-going experience.”
There is a wide variety of offerings this month, some aimed at families, some specific to a given concert, and some more general presentations about music or music history. As part of the four preconcert dinner conversations, Boston Conservatory musicologist Elizabeth Seitz, a regular lecturer before Boston Symphony Orchestra audiences, will discuss that evening’s program on Friday, June 5, focusing on the music of Beethoven, Brahms and little-known Russian composer Reinhold Gliere.
“The most important thing is to meet the audience halfway,” Seitz says. “I’m trying to create a map of what you’re going to hear and what to listen for. If people have just a few signposts of what to expect, they can have what I called a ‘guided listening’ experience.
“I do like to start out with some historical context,” she says, “but more importantly, to find out how people reacted to the music at that particular time. And I love the give-and-take with listeners — it takes me on paths that I had not thought to go. One of the most frustrating things for me at the BSO is after my lectures, when they’re chasing me off the stage, and these people come up to me with all these interesting observations and comments.”
The Biava Quartet performs during week three of the festival, and group members figure prominently in the extra-musical activities as well. The ensemble repeats its very popular interactive family program on Saturday, June 27. “Music in Opposites” takes the universal understanding of principles like fast/slow and loud/soft to explore the deeper concepts that underlie musical works.
And on Wednesday evening, June 24, the group’s cellist, Jason Calloway, will discuss the music of Mendelssohn, particularly that composer’s controversial reception in the music world. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth, and like many organizations, RCMF has programmed a substantial amount of his music. For Calloway, it’s about time.
“It’s really only in my lifetime that his music has begun getting the recognition it deserves,” he says. “During his lifetime, Mendelssohn was — bar none — the most acclaimed composer in the German speaking world, if not all of Europe. It was well known that his family was Jewish — his grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was one of the most famous philosophers of the time — but really it wasn’t that important to him or to his music.
“But then Wagner came along, and when he penned his essay ‘Judaism in Music’ he defamed Mendelssohn. I know Wagner was an anti-Semite, but it was also a career ploy. And then eventually came the Third Reich, and Mendelssohn’s music was officially banned in Germany. It’s only been recently that his reputation is being reassigned.”
Calloway might play some musical excerpts during his talk, and he will certainly connect it to works being performed that week. “When you listen to the A minor quartet, which we’re playing in Friday’s concert, or the B-flat minor string quintet on Thursday’s program, you realize this is music with some of the greatest depth that was ever written.”
For more details, visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.