Would you go to a concert taking place in a new venue you have never heard of, performed by a pianist you have never heard of, playing music that has not yet been performed much less recorded, written by composers you have never heard of? That was often the challenge when I was producing concerts in the Netherlands. How do I get people to come to these concerts?
Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the unfamiliar. But the unfamiliar need not be uncomfortable. Without premieres of new works, we would never hear new compositions which challenge conventional repertoire and outlive the status quo to become masterpieces that pass the test of time.
Performers who premiere new works of composers go through a familiarization process while studying (practising) the pieces. Needless to say, composers are familiar with their own works. But the audience? It’s not like a gallery where you can stand in front of an unknown piece long enough to become familiar with it. Music, unlike visual art, is instant and real-time. You’d have to hear it several times to become familiar.
I decided to interview pianist Nicola Meecham about her upcoming concert “Voices of Night and Day” in which she will premiere new works of six British composers. I had gone to her March 2017 concert at Sutton House in Hackney and was hugely impressed by her musicianship.
One reason for the longevity of certain classical works is that people become familiar with them (through repeated performances etc). Along this line of reasoning, the composer and the performers are most familiar with new works and hence most receptive. How will audiences receive the works you will be playing?
Listening to any new music is challenging and requires a degree of concentration. Having said that, there is nothing like the excitement of hearing a work for the first time and evaluating and enjoying it based on all the other kinds of musical experiences one has had previously. I am hoping the music I perform will provoke reaction, generate discussion as well as being enjoyable.
Would you say it’s risky to program new works or is there a demand for them? In the presence of composers?
There is an appetite for new music together with one for more established works in the repertoire. I think increasingly there is less distinction between the “new” and the “established” than there was, say, 20 years ago. Younger audiences, in particular, experience music at face value, regardless of whether it is “new” or “old” and regardless of genre and style. The music I am performing has elements of all kinds of genres – Romanticism, expressionism, minimalism and jazz. I believe that many people unfamiliar with contemporary classical music need “a way in” to appreciate it. Talking about music and presenting it in ways an audience can relate to can help to break down barriers and engage listeners fully.
What is exciting about premiering a new work of a living composer?
The process of premiering a piece starts at the point of composition, with the first stage the completion of the written notes. The second stage is the collaboration between composer and artist. I have rehearsed all the pieces I am performing with the composers and their input has been invaluable in helping me shape the music and forge what I hope is a strong interpretation of it. Lastly, there is the performance of each piece, which represents a moment in the creative life of each composition.
What is challenging about studying a new work and premiering it?
The challenge as a performer is in not having a precedent for your interpretation. With a Beethoven sonata, for example, there have been many many performances, and the history of these performances has helped shape present day interpretations. With a new piece, no such performance history exists and so, as an artist, you are creating a performance template if you like. Another challenge is learning all the notes! When you are unfamiliar with a composer’s writing style, it can take a while to learn a piece, both from the point of view of the notes on the page, the “nuts and bolts” if you like, as well as finding out and conveying what the composer means to say with them.
As a member of the audience, when you listen to a new premiere, what are you motivated by? In other words, what incentives do you have to listen to a new work?
Any new work of art represents a thought process, an emotional response, expressed in a particular a moment of time and, as such, has inherent value. As a member of an audience listening to new music, I would say it’s important to be open-minded. Every work of art is an endeavor and I believe it’s important for any listener to give a new work of art, whether a piece of music or a piece of art, his or her due attention and consideration.
Facebook Event Page: I am hoping I can lure my friends to have an early dinner before the concert. There are Cuban and Spanish tapas restaurants in the vicinity, as well as a host of other delights to choose from. I hope the concert doesn’t sell out before I book it!