"I didn't expect to like it — but I loved it!"
That was the response of three friends to last Sunday afternoon's extremely well-received concert at Smith College by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Why is this noteworthy? Because here we had three audience members, each over 70 years of age, expressing spontaneous delight after a concert that ranged from Mendelssohn to Stravinsky to Bartók to wild music of the Roma to a work that channeled the funky "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, all the works done to a fare-thee-well. And that featured the kinetic quartet standing, sitting, stomping their feet, banging on their stands, swaying like palm trees in a wind storm, and ending one piece by jumping up then playing the last chord as they landed.
It was a concert, a spectacle, an entertainment, and some seriously great music. It honored the distinguished tradition of the string quartet and the tastes of more traditional listeners, while infusing the tradition with youth, vigor and a really modern (as opposed to modernist) spirit. It appealed to every generation represented in the audience, but best of all for me, gave the lie to the ridiculous, cruel and insulting stereotype of the elder cohort of classical audiences as a bunch of closed-minded fuddy-duddies. And, it provided much-needed evidence that you can modernize classical programs in a way that may over time draw in new generations without driving your current audience away, if you do it right. Not that other ways are necessarily wrong, or that every classical group has to jump around and get down. But this was done right. You see — there is hope for the future of classical music!
(Disclosure: I volunteer as artistic director, i.e., music picker-outer, for Music In Deerfield, which presented the concert. Which is why folks come up to me to tell me what they thought — good and bad, trust me.)