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Among the many things I say that get blank stares from my piano students is an insistence that they treat a piece of music as a narrative that uses the rhetoric of pacing, suspense, modulations of speed and emotion, creative use of silence, and so on.
I’ve been puzzled by their obliviousness to — and seeming disinterest in — the mechanics of narrative, even if they involve Hollywood movies or Harry Potter novels.
Then, this morning, I hear the winner of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven Remix Project and the light goes on.
Like pretty much every other classical music presenter on the continent, the Brooklyners are trying to connect with younger, non-classical audiences. Their latest endeavour, a remix competition for the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, netted a winning entry yesterday, where the DJ superimposed two high-powered passages, giving the resulting 5-minute piece an insistent, tutti thrum.
This isn’t musical narrative, this is a transfer of energy or an attempt to generate an adrenaline rush.
It’s the musical equivalent of snipping together a sequence of car chases or gunfights.
I encourage you to listen to the resuts from the five very different finalists here. (For example, I think Boima Tucker’s entry is far, far more interesting in its textures and its ability to convey a narrative. A group of students at Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, who call themselves Swaggbrarians, have created something that’s as much Lonard Bernstein Mambo as it is Beethoven Eroica.)
Are exercises like this one going to revolutionize the classical concert hall?
No. In fact, it will all be well-intentioned fizzle.
DJ Eddie Marz’s winning Eroica Remix is all about a cavernous dance club, darkness punctuated by flashing lights, mood-enhancing substances and sweaty bodies moving to the thrall of a strange brew of energy that the DJ’s hard work keeps on the boil.
Pull Marz out of that time and place, and the brew is never given a chance to reach boiling point.
The Brooklyn Phil is presenting the Remix on June 9 in a free concert at Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza, as part of a programme that is very much an urban, 21st century re-do of an orchestral pops concert.
How else can you explain elements as disparate as Mos Def, Leslie Uggams, a youth string orchestra and the music of Cole Porter and Harold Arlen?
The finale from Beethoven’s Eroica opens the outdoor concert, followed by the winning remix. Then it’s on to a Lena Horne tribute, and DJ Eddie Marz will, more likely than not, will be carting his stacks of vinyl off to do some more sustained energy work somewhere else.
In the process, any sense of the Finale of Beethoven’s symphony being a piece of musical narrative is left by the wayside, as is any sense of the Finale itself being the culmination of a much larger and more complex work.
Where does that leave the symphony orchestra — and Beethoven?