Buzz! Excitement! Press!

There’s no greater thrill as an artist than learning that your work has truly meant something to someone. I had the joy of this experience recently: an old friend, not seen in years, commented on a project I worked on at Wexford Festival Opera, a production of “The Ghosts of Versailles” which won an award from the Irish Times in 2008. The performance had stuck with her, she said, had inspired her… she thinks of it still, of that singular evening with that piece, those performers, in that venue, with that audience. It meant something to her, and does still.

Applause is lovely, but in our current performing culture of opera and art song, it is also often perfunctory, or polite. Who really boos anymore, anyway? Or sometimes the ovation is wild, and there’s joy everywhere in the theater, but then there’s a sense that, while everyone has had fun, tomorrow it’s back to normal life and business as usual. Not that there’s anything wrong with bringing people joy, mind you– quite the contrary, it’s a great privilege and responsibility to do so– but for us musicians, our work isn’t like painting or carpentry or writing: the sound reverberates in the space, the sound waves vibrate our ears and bodies, and then the work is gone forever. That’s live performance, baby. So while applause is wonderful, when someone takes the time to reach out in the days, weeks, months, or years following a performance, I find myself deeply humbled and gratified. The song is over, the sound is over, but its impact has remained.

That’s why it’s so extraordinary to see so much discussion going on throughout the arts world about the Alcina we did at the Whitebox Art Center in September. Not only is there a lot of interest in the press, much of the writing has gone beyond the usual music review, focussing not just on who sang well and who didn’t, but also on the work itself: on the piece, the production, the venue, the approach, and the result. We’ve been written up by the New York Times, discussed in the Huffington Post, and explored in depth (if you can believe this) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

It was an avant-garde project (see my previous post) with many daring risks taken by everyone involved, and therefore more likely to engender such discussion, but still. It’s a high compliment from the greater arts community that our work is not only being paid attention, but has provoked thoughtful discussion and critical thinking in a culture short on both. Rigor and passion and attention and hard freaking work are great, and getting to do what you love every day is great – truly – but when the work resounds beyond the moment of sound decay, it means something more. Check out the buzz, and let me know what you think!

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