It’s an evergreen question for arts organizations in theater, music, visual arts, and dance: how to cultivate the next generation of patrons, both to solidify the financial bottom line and to fulfill the mission of fostering a love of culture? (And hey, let’s not put too fine a point on it: If we believe in the ennobling potential of the arts, let’s also stake, at least in part, the future and health or our society and civilization on the notion.) The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra anted up yesterday with an announcement that it would be offering free tickets to a variety of potential concertgoers under the age of 40.
The SPCO’s Next Generation Initiative offers unlimited free tickets to anyone aged 6-17, as well as unlimited freebies for students (which includes anyone with a student ID). These free tickets are available this week as advance orders; SPCO subscribers also received a pair of free passes to give to anyone under 40. The SPCO also announced a three-concert series at Eat Street’s Icehouse.
Next Generation comes on the heels of SPCO announcing a pretty ambitious and interesting 2016-17 season, including a new piano concerto as part of a five-year conversation between Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and new commissioned work; a May festival focusing on themes of immigration and cultural identity; works inspired by the horrible realities of war (including strong works by Bartok and Shostakovich, two aural recorders of the monumental depths and heights of the previous century); more world premieres; and musician-driven programs that seek to highlight the SPCO’s transformation to a largely conductor-free ensemble.
This is in addition to the frequently remarkable Liquid Music project and a truly robust streaming listening library. After seasons of the kind of internal upheaval endemic to orchestras these days (as well as theaters, music labels, and media companies), the SPCO feels as though it’s firing arrows aimed at solidifying its vitality and legitimacy.
And they’re doing a decent job of making the case that listening to classical music isn’t the equivalent of swallowing bitter medicine that’s supposed to be good for you. There’s a simple truth that’s as true about culture as it is about everything else: We don’t consistently do things we don’t really like. For a long time, cultural organizations operated on the implicit assumption that they could convince people to consume art because it was part of some higher plane . . . like homework. That’s missing the point: In the case of classical music, there are works that are amazing and powerfully moving, and others that are boring and uninspired (from anyone’s viewpoint).
In many ways, putting Beethoven and Berlioz in the came category is like lumping the Beatles and Hank Williams together because they both played guitars: it works as shorthand, but breaks down when you actually give both a listen. And that’s the deal with classical music: Actually listening to it breaks down notions that it’s somehow rarified and impenetrable. I’ve felt my heart go majorly bippety-bop in my chest with the opening minutes of Mahler’s Fourth, and my pulse also quicken to Dr. Dre, once I learned to open up to both (and it isn’t too difficult, they’re both trying to engage you). And I’ve also found that today’s music streaming services do a bang-up job with classical recordings, enabling one to nerd out on such pursuits as listening to how two different orchestras differ in tackling the same work.
If any of this strikes a chord (sorry), here’s the big news this week: The SPCO is meeting us more than halfway. If something this season appeals to you, or makes you curious, you can find ticket info here or call the SPCO up at 651.291.1144. There’s a free ticket or two in it to bring a youngster along and start broadening their palate as well.