There can be a lot of hand-wringing about what we can do to get more young people to come out to classical concerts–and not just Chamber Music Northwest. I noticed at their latest New@Night concert, last Wednesday in the Armory Lobby, how many more young people were in attendance. While “about a dozen”–up from “two or three”–may not sound that impressive, it still felt nice, like I wasn’t the youngest person in the room (quite a different feeling from seeing Kendrick Lamar or 100 Gecs where I feel like the oldest person in the room). That shows that what attracts young people to classical shows more than anything is great music that feels vital and relevant.
Because, speaking as one of those so-called young people who does go to classical concerts, one impediment I see is ticket prices: a forty or fifty-dollar concert ticket is worth about three hours of minimum wage work, and it’s hardly the most necessary expense compared with rent and student loan repayments. When money is tight every decision comes down to a personal cost-benefit analysis: is it worth it to me to spend this money when it could go towards these other things that are more necessary? I’ve heard the Mozart and Brahms string quartets enough times to be bored by them–why would I give up so much of my money to hear them again?
Supporting the economic and social policies the young people believe in would give us the chance to afford it–but that’s hardly an immediate solution. For now, how about playing music that younger people are interested in hearing? How about concerts featuring living composers, twentieth-century greats, multimedia concerts, and features of film and video game music? How about music that reflects these economic and social concerns?
Tastes vary among younger people, though people like myself who went to music school and are musicians themselves are prime targets for getting new blood into concert seats. One composer who immediately raises my interest in a concert program is Magnus Lindberg, who we heard first thing last Wednesday night, performed by Soovin Kim.
Lindberg is a Finnish composer from the same generation as the recently deceased Kaija Saariaho and composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Despite the chromaticism and difficult rhythms, his music often finds a way to return to some quasi-tonal stability. Lindberg holds a lot of reverence for the classical greats, working within older forms with a more contemporary language (a lot like Stravinsky or Mahler).
All this sounds extremely dry and grad-school-esque, which hides the true greatness of Lindberg’s music: it is thrilling and dramatic. The Caprice is rhythmically dense and full of a twitchy energy. Kim handled the music like an expert taming a wild horse, remaining poised while the music careens forward. I thought the way he removed a broken bow hair during a short pause in the music was particularly graceful.
Up next was the world premiere of Patrick Castillo’s ephemera. The work for piano trio began back in 2020 as a commission from Castillo’s friend Jennifer Howard, and through the events of that year became an ode to the “fragility of what we have,” in his words. The performance commenced with a subset of the Third Sound pierrot ensemble, which we would hear in full ensemble later in the concert. Ephemera points towards a different sort of appeal to the under-forty crowd: consciousness of political and social issues.
Ephemera teetered on a balance between unease and repose. Phrases evaporate into noisy sul ponticello, and wistful C Major melodies are interjected with just enough sharps and flats to muddle things. The bookends of the piece were two highlights: the opening solo by Third Sound cellist Michael Nicolas, and the unexpected closing field recordings of what sounded like waves lapping against a shore. Given some of the recent news, I couldn’t help thinking of increasingly imminent climate change.
Up next was the full Third Sound ensemble on Lembit Beecher’s Stories from my Grandmother, based on excerpts from a larger documentary-oratorio called And Then I Remember. For that project Beecher spoke to his grandmother who lived through the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Estonia during World War Two. More of the political and social consciousness I mentioned above.
The piece was very nice, though it was perhaps my least favorite of the program (something has to be the least favorite). The first movement we heard was more energetic, the second more contemplative. The harmonies were fairly triadic but with added tone color coming from the woodwinds of the pierrot ensemble taking on what felt like a “speaking” role.
Beecher is also a talented stop-motion animator, and you can see and hear the final movement of And Then I Remember on his Youtube page.
The final work was the Rhapsody for Violin and Piano by Armenian composer Edvard Bagdasaryan, one of the most acclaimed composers from that country. The performance had a weight and intensity thanks to Diana Adamyan’s violin playing, which reminded me of the emotional heft of the best flamenco music. Adamyan suggested the piece, being from Armenia herself. The folk tunes hovered around B harmonic minor, with some impressionistic extended harmonies.
This Wednesday’s concert concludes the New@Night series, with a showcase of musicians from CMNW’s Protégé Project, including two West Coast premieres: Alistair Coleman’s Descendants and Aiden Kane’s Triptych for solo viola (with the composer herself on viola). Kian Ravaei’s The Little Things for the Viano String Quartet ends the series with a CMNW co-commission and world premiere from the young composer.