Doesn’t seem easy for the arts to do the unexpected. Or rather, artists themselves thrive on the unusual and the risky, but the arts establishment does its best to steer them, and their production, right back toward the mainstream. This can’t be healthy.
But an equilibrium, or at least a compromise, seems to be in the offing. If the artists can’t come out to play every day (if they want to maintain a career, that is), then perhaps their reins can be slackened a bit every once in a while. Every other year, maybe.
They’re calling it the Biennial. It’s a series of events, held in alternate years, wherein established art institutions veer a bit off track and spend some time (not too much of course) playing in some unfamiliar sandboxes.
Noted examples include the Whitney Museum’s contemporary art Biennial; the Venice Bienniale (exploring an exciting if unconventional amalgam of modern art, film, dance, and architecture); and the Bienniale of Sydney, one of the longest running, most celebrated, and widely attended arts festivals in the world.
And it is daring. The world of classical music is, well, classical. It’s a world where Wagner is grudgingly accepted as a johnny-come-lately.
According to classical-music aficionados, if it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it.
But Mozart and Beethoven were johnny-come-latelies themselves, once. All music, at some time or another, was new. New and stirring music is being composed all the time. And even in the staid and very classical milieu of the Philharmonic, new music is worth exploring. Occasionally, at least. Every other year, for an 11-day stretch.
Even at that hesitant pace the NY Phil is to be commended. That less-than-a-fortnight run will include 21 concerts, dozens of guest conductors, and some startling original performances—including operas based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, and a social-climbing pig named Gloria.There will also be symphonies and new-music premiers that while decidedly un-Baroque, are nonetheless likely to become classics in their own right.
All music starts somewhere, and the same can be said for art movements. This is the New York Philharmonic’s first Biennial, and their first serious foray into twenty-first century composition. May it not be their last.