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Ring out the old, ring in the new...


Commentary: The importance of new plays vs. new productions of old plays

Playwright Gwydion Suilebhan, on his blog, 12/19/11

In a relatively recent opinion piece, Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks wrote the following:

"True lovers of the performing arts know that, as much as it's consoling to feel the powerful resonances of old works, the true measure of a nation's artistic vitality is what the art-makers are creating right now."

When I read that quote, my immediate response was an enthusiastic, heart-beating-out-of-my-chest "YES!" I loved the quote so much that I immediately shared it on Facebook and via email with several friends. I wanted to spread the joy. Not much later, however, I happened to tweet the same quote in response to a discussion I was having... and several of my Twitter friends immediately took issue. One is a Shakespeare-phile, so I could of course see why she'd find it frustrating... but she didn't actually dismiss the quote out of hand. She argued that by staging new productions, they ARE creating new work. I can, naturally, see where she's coming from... but I disagree. To me, the fundamental premise of theater is storytelling, not storyREtelling. Unless the story is new, the art isn't fully new. (The tellers are always, by definition, new, since theater is live in the present moment.) Old stories help us understand the past. They have relevance to the nature of humanity, of course, but human nature evolves -- the modern mind is in many ways different than the 17th-century mind -- and thus many old stories have a shelf-life. New work helps us understand human nature, too, but also lets us grapple with the present tense and imagine new futures. Without new art, we cannot fully comprehend the world in which we are living.  To be clear, I'm not advocating for any kind of doing-away-with the classics (especially not Shakespeare). I merely think we ought to preference new work far more heavily than we do, both as audience members and as art-makers.


Commentary: New music and the "museum culture" of mainstream classical orgs

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 12/9/11

We critics have long argued vehemently that if major musical institutions hope to be regarded as vital, modern institutions, they must keep their listeners (and performers) in touch with the ideas, trendy or otherwise, that excite the composers of their time. But truth be told, we are a little bipolar on that subject. Though we criticize the big organizations for fostering a museum culture, we actually value the museums they have become. [Meanwhile,] the world of young, inventive and often populist composers is exploding. The major institutions would no doubt love to tap into this world's energy, audience and of-the-moment cachet. But to do so they would have to rethink their repertories, ticket prices and performance styles radically, and it seems unlikely that their existing audiences and donors would stand for that. That said, some organizations have nothing to lose. New York City Opera, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the American Composers Orchestra, all venerable institutions that have fallen on hard times, are experimenting with genre-crossing orchestras and seeking new performance spaces. Whether they survive will tell us a lot about the power of this new approach and what it can mean for classical music generally. But it may mean nothing for classical music. Perhaps instead of being a shot in the arm, this movement will lead to an epochal splintering. This world may break away from traditional classical music much the way jazz split from blues in the 1920s; rock blossomed from rhythm and blues, country and soul in the 1950s; and hip-hop arose from within pop in the 1980s. It is not a matter of whether this is a good development or a bad one; it is evolution in action.


Related: Emboldened orchestras are embracing the new

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 12/9/11

Classical music audiences seem more curious than ever, and performers have been emboldened over the past decade or so to take more chances. Composers from the early and mid-20th century have been brought pretty well into the repertory. These days orchestras and ensembles trumpet their premieres. So should those who have campaigned for contemporary music declare victory?  Yes and no. Not that long ago the doomsayers were predicting the death of classical music. Yet during the 1990s the most innovative orchestras hired dynamic conductors with palpable enthusiasm for new music who had the capacity to excite their communities with fresh artistic vision. More recently, conductors like David Robertson, Marin Alsop and Gustavo Dudamel won their appointments to a considerable degree because of their abilities to entice new audiences by embracing new music, living composers and experimental programming. What about opera? In comparison with dance and theater, opera remains overwhelmingly involved with standard repertory. If plans hold, in the 2013-14 season the Metropolitan Opera will finally present the first premiere of a work commissioned by its general manager, Peter Gelb: Nico Muhly's "Two Boys." But give Mr. Gelb credit for bringing audiences seminal works from the 20th century, like Shostakovich's "The Nose," Janacek's "From the House of the Dead" and Philip Glass's "Satyagraha."  Over all, the forces for new music are advancing, but the campaign continues


Commentary: The website exhibition: old and new

Naina Singh, Technology in the Arts blog, 12/15/11

Open, explore, type to enter, and browse; ever notice how the Internet's functioning, even jargon, is quite similar to that of a museum, where websites appropriate the role of continuously changing exhibits. Moreover, with the Internet steadily acquiring a past, websites have become historical databases and locations where this past continues to surface, as long as it is deemedrelevantby Google or Bing. In the art world, this phenomenon of virtual longevity has led to the rise of online exhibitions. One of the best was created in late 2010. An online Monet exhibition takes us on a journey through an impressionistic world set against the backdrop of a canvas. In this journey, which begins with the spill of Monet's inkwell, we travel through the medium of color as it makes its way across a virtual albeit realistic canvas. A series of gradual and beautiful spreads of color transform before our eyes into changing land/cityscapes, where we see ink-cloud shaped sections of Monet's paintings. If impressionist artwork of the 19th century can be so wonderfully exhibited online, surely there are contemporary art mediums that can be displayed within the virtual bounds of a website. Art Micro-Patronage is an experimental online exhibition space featuring monthly curated shows of digital, new media, and intermedia work. A nice twist is that instead of simply liking an artwork, viewers can become micro-patrons by pledging a small sum of money (50 cents to 20 dollars) to a particular artwork. The use of crowd-funding to support an artist is not entirely novel but Art Micro-Patronage removes the intermediaries. Moreover, viewers may be more likely to pay for completed project rather than one that is still in the conception phase. In both exhibitions, the website format was employed in a manner that enhanced a visitor's interaction with the artwork. As the Monet exhibition continues to exist beyond the physical, tangible exhibition, it has become encased in the museum that is the World Wide Web, while Art-Micro Patronage is the latest gallery that raises money through the very act of a visitor opening, exploring, entering and browsing their space.

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