Making Musical Dreams a Reality: A Tale of 3 Concerts and a Poet

This is a tale of one week in New York city involving 3 concerts, a 19th Century visionary poet and the importance of making dreams a reality. In today’s world where the paradigms of classical music are changing and we are experimenting with different models of success, these concerts make me feel a lot better about the state of our art.

Let’s start with the concerts.

1. The Concerts

In the past week or so in New York, I attended 3 concerts in 3 very different venues with 3 very different audiences.

The first was So Percussion’s International Night of Awesomeness at Le Poisson Rouge, the über-cool venue where music of all types including classical music is performed in a nightclub atmosphere, replete with table and bar seating, food and drinks and an easy interchange between audience and performers.  This particular event featured a marathon of 7 different percussion groups playing to a packed and cheering house of mostly young and enthusiastic fans who were transfixed by the variety and magic of the percussion music.

Next was Oceanic Verses, a multi-media folk opera which took place downtown at the Schimmel Center of Pace University as part of the River-to-River Festival.  This collaborative work involved the music of Paola Prestini, who blended antique Italian songs with her own compositions, using singers representing variety of styles (2 opera singers, an Italian folk singer and a jazz/pop artist together with a full chorus and a youth chorus), on top of which was layered a film. Produced by Beth Morrison, a champion of emerging composers and collaborators who, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, may be “the 21st century Diaghilev”, the work attracted a mixed audience of the young and the less young who embraced this ambitious, sprawling work.

The next night, I was Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall for a  concert devoted to the works of Henri Dutilleux, the Inaugural Recipient of the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music consisting of 2 parts: a $200,000 prize awarded every other year to a significant contemporary composer and in the intervening years, a $50,000 prize to an emerging composer. I was thrilled that a prominent philanthropist like Mrs. Kravis is demonstrating a serious commitment to new music, that an established music organization like the New York Philharmonic, with Maestro Alan Gilbert at the helm, is honoring new music and that audience enthusiastically embraced the wonderful performances.

 I was particularly taken with the last piece on the program, Dutilleux’ gorgeous cello concerto played by Yo-Yo Ma, entitled Tout un monde lointain…. (“A Whole Distant World…).  The words come from the 19th Century French poet Charles Baudelaire in his visionary work Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).  Dutilleux. after composing the concerto, added quotations from Baudelaire to each of the 7 sections of the piece and at the concert, the words were projected onto the supertitle screen so that the audience could follow along. Imagine my surprise when the last section of the piece was accompanied by these words:

 “Hold onto your dreams:
Wise men have not such beautiful ones as do fools.”

What a fitting capstone to my rather amazing week of musical variety during which I went from hanging at LPR with a room full of percussion enthusiasts crowded into a nightclub to a mid-size downtown venue with a mixed-age audience to the formal and equally enthusiastic audience in Avery Fisher Hall.

2.  The Poem

These words come from the poem “La Voix” (The Voice) that charts the poet’s lifelong journey of and devotion to his creativity—often defying conventional wisdom.  These words reminded me of how important it is to dream the dream and defy the conventional wisdom.  My one quibble with Monsieur Baudelaire would be not to apologize for dreaming those dreams.  After all, you defied the 19th century conventions and we are still reading your poetry nearly 150 years after your death!  So who is the fool and who is the wise man in this equation?

Baudelaire’s ironic words tell me that the imperative of the creative impulse pushes the artist to keep dreaming his dream, no matter what.

3.  Making The Dreams Happen

Not only is it important to keep dreaming those dreams:   I would add that for today’s musicians, it is critical to devote oneself to making those dreams happen. Having a vision, believing in that vision and doing what it takes to make that vision a reality are at the heart of music entrepreneurship. Each of the three concerts that I attended this week bears out this proposition.

As my friends at So Percussion told the students at Yale when they visited us this spring, they defied the conventional wisdom when they created a percussion quartet in 1999 even though pretty much everyone told them that they were crazy.  And now, after years of hard work and single-minded devotion to making their ensemble a success, they are hotter than hot, with a loyal fan following and they are spawning the next generation of percussionists through their work at Bard and their Summer Institute.

Paola Prestini created Oceanic Verses through a collaborative process that started with a dream, growing from a workshop at Carnegie Hall in 2009 to the New York City Vox a year later to this full-scale version of her work. Teaming up with Beth Morrison and the many artistic collaborators, they too have worked tirelessly to realize a vision.

And now the Kravis Prize is rewarding contemporary composers, enabling today’s composers to make their dreams a reality.  What’s more, Monsieur Dutilleux has donated the proceeds of his $200,000 prize to three younger composers, increasing the impact of this prize into the next generation of creators.

It’s also most rewarding to see the variety in the audiences that are coming out for these events.  The dedication of the creative teams here is being rewarded.

I am feeling a lot better about the state of music today.