'Your job is not to relax; your job is to inspire people,' composer tells National Youth Orchestra of Canada
Executive director Barbara Smith describes the National Youth Orchestra of Canada as a microcosm of the country's youth (the youngest members are 16). After spending time with them at "boot camp" on the pastoral University of Western Ontario campus in London, I realised that it was also a micricosm of the whole classical-music world, reflecting the broad range of opinion and belief in programming and teaching, as well.
I need to sit and think and distill the experience into something for the Star.
In the meantime, one rehearsal session is still rattling around in my poor little brain.
On Thursday, Toronto composer (and head of new-music performance at the Royal Conservatory of Music) Brian Current arrived to rehearse Soma, a new commission from the orchestra.
After plowing through the opening measures of his intense, deftly structured, often uncomfortably piercing evocation of a journey towards an exalted state, Current stopped the music to do some fixing with the players.
Part of his work involved getting the players to make "ugly" noises with instruments. Current said that we've been so culturally conditioned these days to think of art music as relaxing, and to make as beautiful sound as possible with our instruments that it's not easy to think of the act of making music as an act of provocation.
It takes only a moment of reflection to realize that a movie soundtrack, an opera, even a string quartet can be a stream of provocations -- to joy, to tears, to anger, to extasy. So much of the history of Western music is about new pieces -- from Gesualdo to Stravinsky to Adams -- provoking listeners into fits of dislike, with acceptance, even appreciation, coming much later.
"Your job is not to relax; your job is to inspire people," insisted Current. He later elaborated that each artist's real job is to reflect "what it is to be alive in this time and in this place."
How much of our daily classical music experience lives up to this ideal?
In the spirit of good, old-fashioned fun, which is very much a part of the experience, here's a clip of the brass and percussion sections of the National Youth Orchestra rehearsing a flash mob that they're going to surprise conductor Jonathan Darlington with tonight after dinner: