From the New York Times review of the Budapest Festival Orchestra concert on Monday: “(The orchestra) was almost halfway into its performance of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 8 (Op. 72) on Monday evening when Gaspar Szente, one of its percussionists, ambled through the string section to the front of the stage. Sitting down on the stool that had been placed there for the next concerto’s solo cellist, he calmly reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a tiny brass cymbal. Another leisurely gesture brought forward a mallet. With his head cocked attentively, he waited for his entrance. Then he played, intermittently producing delicate, pealing notes that improbably became the music’s emotional focus.”
If you are a regular at classical music concerts, you know that this sort of thing qualifies as a major upheaval – the idea that an orchestra player would (gasp!) change seats during a piece! I can hear the cries of disapproval already. “It’s too showy.” “It’s inappropriate.” And my personal favorite: “It distracts from the music.”
In this case though, that last argument doesn’t work – it sounds like Mr. Szente’s move highlighted the music in a way that might not have happened otherwise! This is a tiny bit of stagecraft, but a very good idea, and it’s the sort of thing Fischer and the Budapest players do a lot.
Bean bags in the middle of the orchestra for the audience to sit on. Programs picked by drawing papers from the bell of a tuba. Flutes and violins switching seats. These are all things you might see at a concert of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, a group described as having a “disruptive approach to the business of putting on concerts.”
Returning to Mr. Szente’s little walk to prominence for a moment, isn’t it amazing (and a little sad, frankly) how little it takes to be called disruptive in the classical music world? Think about it – a reviewer went out of her way to note that someone on stage changed seats!
If that’s all it takes to get some attention, why do so few orchestras do this sort of thing? I’m trying to picture a major American orchestra doing something like this – if you know of some examples, please post them in the comments!
One of my favorite music writers, Alex Ross of the New Yorker, profiled the BFO and its music director, Ivan Fischer, in last week’s edition. If you want to know more about what thoughtful, creative “disruption” looks (and sounds) like, read it! It gives me hope – may every group start trying things like this!
Till next time,