I have also found some annoying problems in the city’s concert scene that can be rectified —- easily in some instances and difficult in others —- with a little bit of pragmatic attention to how performances are presented.
By Anthony J Palmer
Over the 2011–2012 season, I must have attended at least 35 events/concerts. Looking back, the amazing level of musical competence, creativity in programming, and general overall entertainment could only be rivaled by such cities as New York and London. The early music scene and contemporary efforts, and everything in between, well exceed expectations for a city of Boston’s size. The choral groups in number and quality alone would make any metropolis proud. Compared to other cities, ticket prices here are generally reasonable. There are many free concerts, particularly with the large number of colleges and universities in the area.
Despite my remark about creativity in programming, there is a staleness about many of the city’s programs, especially when it comes to the presence of (over)familiar larger works. The choice of repertoire, I realize, often comes down to the issue of ticket sales: groups are competing against other fine performing choruses, as well as sporting events and other popular programs. But can’t Mozart’s Requiem and similar works be retired for a few years? Perhaps we need a respite from the Fauré Requiem and, dare I say it, Handel’s Messiah. There are other important compositions by Western composers, but also music from around the world as well as contemporary American composers that would be exciting to listen to and are vocally accessible. It would be fascinating for some groups to survey some of the exciting choral music coming out of Japan, Korea, and Africa. By hearing music from elsewhere, Boston audiences will develop the kind of ears that will be open to different approaches to choral composition.
Upon reflection, I have also found some annoying problems that can be rectified —- easily in some instances and difficult in others —- with a little bit of pragmatic attention to how performances are presented. The first and more entrenched obstacle is the 8 p.m. starting time for evening performances. Boston has a transportation system that is used by numerous concertgoers. The subways are available sufficiently late into the evening not to be a problem, but the commuter rails cannot service a concert time when the concluding work goes past 10 p.m. without one having to take a midnight train. Thus it doesn’t seem to be very convenient or user friendly.
The additional problem with the starting time is that no concert begins at the appointed time. Consequently, people adjust their schedules accordingly and frequently arrive at the last minute. Attending a concert should be a special opportunity to engage with the composer via his or her music. Getting to your seat a few minutes before the performance begins is a good time to settle the nerves and prepare the mind for an aural adventure.
For example, I have attended many concerts in Tokyo, and I don’t remember any that began later than the designated time. Further, the concerts were usually scheduled at 6 or 6:30 p.m. A bento box was available at the venue, and consumed during the long intermission. I don’t recommend that drastic a time change here, but even a half hour earlier start would make a welcome difference. Frankly, a 7 p.m. time would enhance the concert experience considerably.
Another annoyance I encountered concerns announcements that preceded the start of several concerts over the last year. Most could not be understood. Concert halls and churches that are acoustically designed for music are often not as good a setting for weak-voiced announcements. Even the use of a mic didn’t help in some cases because the announcer did not know how to use it properly. Also, the volume of some sound systems were cranked up so loud that it was impossible to make out what was said.
Printed programs often contain expert commentary as well as descriptions of the music. (A program that features non-English text should never be without a translation.) Thus the lighting, unless imperative for the sake of the concert, should be low, though bright enough to read the notes comfortably. Long, live explanations of the music are also unnecessary. Whatever that is important to say about the compositions or the organization should be put into print.
Seating is always a problem when the concert takes place in a non-standard venue. Clarity of the layout of seating areas would help tremendously.
The audiences that I was part of were not particularly problematic. On occasion, young children acted up, but I guess that’s the price we pay to inculcate lifelong love of music among young people. I witnessed a few standing ovations that were not merited, but also many that were, indicating that audiences in Boston are deeply appreciative of excellence.
Finally, I need little to make me happy, and that “I” should be considered representative of many. If the starting times could be altered and opening announcements be made clear and understandable, I would smile all the way home on a commuter rail that was still operating late into the evening.
Could you share your experiences, views of starting times, and other joys or annoyances? I would enjoy hearing from other concertgoers out there.