Issue 12: Taking The Concert Hall Out Of Contemporary Music

By Victoria Cheah

Is a traditional concert the best way to hear contemporary music? For most classical musicians, the 19th century style concert in a concert hall is the default. However, we are no longer living in the 19th century, and our relationship with music listening has evolved. We hear music while shopping, while driving, in television advertisements, through headphones while we commute and other situations in which we do not choose to direct concentrated attention to live performers playing music. Some in the new music world have explored other ways to engage with "contemporary music," leading, perhaps, to an evolution of what we consider to be music.

This year's impuls festival had several programs that explicitly consider different contexts for new music. Briefly, impuls is a short academy and festival that takes place every other year, dedicated to contemporary music with international participants in composition and performance programs. The faculty is some of the best in the world at what they do, as are the people who run it.

Lost in the city

My visit to impuls began the morning I arrived in Austria, with a marathon of "minute concerts" on Saturday, February 21, from 10am to 11pm throughout the city of Graz. These brief concerts took place at various art spaces throughout Graz. Audience members used clearly marked maps to get from one location to the next and the route was a well planned tour of Graz. The programs were varied solo and small chamber pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries, performed by the instrumentalists of the impuls Academy 2015.

The minute concerts were my introduction to Graz. Walking to each of the seven concert locations became important interludes for me, between musical appointments, and he distances made me more aware of space during each concert.

At the first concert at Gebhart Blazek, a carpet and textile gallery, there were multiple setups in a room divided by walls, with chairs set out in several directions. No one had the same view. Similarly, the second concert at Galerie Lendl packed in a standing audience that moved around as different performers took the stage.

Privileged viewpoints created tension and interest that enlivened these (for the most part) well-known works (e.g., Aperghis Recitations no. 11, Berio Sequenzas, etc). At a certain point, I stopped moving around and just listened from one position.

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