Firstly there is the idea that audiences might want to go and hear difficult modernist music (I hesitate to use 'contemporary' as a post-war catch-all) as a challenge or even as a purge. 'Contemporary' vocalist Barbara Hannigan (watch her performing Ligeti) suggests that audiences may undertake to attend a concert as
It's almost violent – but you know you're going to come out of it feeling a sense of release... [the audience] come out with a feeling of being changed, of accomplishmentQuite apart from the idea of putting one's self on trial physically, this also tallies with the sense of the event. The article quotes Jurowski
I came out of Pli Selon Pli very deeply fired up and inspired by it, but it only gets played once or twice a decade in the UK. Even more so than film or visual arts, we have to have not only promoters but performers who are willing to pay the extra expense of rehearsing new pieces and of taking a risk and knowing how to conduct these very difficult worksThe idea that a piece is sufficiently difficult and rare to demand only the best performers increases the sense that it demands a level of endurance. It also brings me to my second point.
In a world of post-modernity in which aesthetic parameters have been dissolved (see this recent article by Alain de Botton) audiences need a new framework in which to make decisions about the authenticity and worth of art. The paradigm has shifted, and rather radically. In the absence of a majority opinion or mainstream criteria there is the scarcity or uniqueness of an event: think of the difference in commercial worth of an original artwork or one of a set of its print editions. More than this - the digitisation of media and the convenience and quality with which this can now be delivered means that people are once again seeking out the event, not only as a unique phenomenon but also as something removed from the (media-saturated) usual.
Mounting pieces that challenge an audience not to walk out in disgust, self-respect, boredom or protest is one thing. A more difficult - a more constructive proposition requires mounting work that doesn't confront but has its own appeal. It requires good music that has an intrinsic appeal. The issue with so much contemporary music is that the issue of the music doesn't exist at all. Rather the issue that the performance instigates is outside the music.
Take this small list. I'm thinking of
- disgust - an reaction to atonality in music written using rigorous systems. The self-discipline of the composer may be admired at the same time as (because) the music is aesthetically confrontational
- self-respect and boredom - works like Cage's 4'33", which are valid, even useful philosophical statements but hardly intrinsically beautiful compositions, and may give the impression of condescention or playing with the audience
- protest - where the subject matter is overwhelming the focus. The Death Of Klinghoffer at ENO will be scrutinised during the press lead-in not because of Adams' score but because of its still-current political ramifications (the Middle East). Coverage of the Greer/Wallen opera Yes at the Royal Opera's Linbury is another example, in which the press had next to nothing to say about Wallen's score but plenty to say about Greer and the political subject matter of which she was an inextricable part
People are interested in what's happening right now.we aren't being presented with music that's happening right now but music that forms the post-war avant garde - music of reaction rather than pure invention. That's an unresolved problem with which the article ties itself up.