Sunday, June 13, 2010

Engaging ears with eyes

Modern and contemporary works may rub listeners the wrong way in concerts, but they thrive in dance programs, as The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini notes in surveying the repertory – featuring scores of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Thomas Adès, Jay Greenberg and other living composers – in the Architecture of Dance festival of the New York City Ballet:

A similar story could be told with film music. From Carl Stalling and Bernard Herrmann to John Corigliano and Philip Glass, modern composers' harmonically, structurally or otherwise innovative music, likely to baffle concert audiences, immediately connects with moviegoers because it complements a visual element.

This has not gone unnoticed by contemporary music composers, performers and presenters. It's no coincidence that so much "alt-classical" repertory has a visual or theatrical element.

And it's not a recent phenomenon. Such seminal works of 20th-century modernism as Richard Strauss' "Salome" and "Elektra," Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" and Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé" – and, for that matter, Wagner's proto-modernist 19th-century scores – were composed for the theater.

When challenging the ears, it helps to engage the eyes.