How to make classical music cool?

16:00, Oct 21 2012

How do you make classical music cool? Sorry, that's a question that might be slightly offensive to some people - I mean, a: who says it's not already cool? And b: who says it has to be (or wants to be) cool?

But let's pretend opera and the various orchestras around the country are not, and that being cool is the dream everyone aspires to. How do you get to the musical equivalent of rolled up trousers, boat shoes and a gluten free-lifestyle?

If you look at the stream of emails I have arriving my inbox at the moment, the answer is simple: Rock and Roll.

In recent history, it seems New Zealand has turned into a smorgasbord of musical mash-ups.

For example:

In June, Jon Toogood's The Adults teamed up with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra for a one-night-only performance of their entire album. The album is out in November.

Six60 have just re-recorded their hit Lost with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, ahead of their live Auckland collaboration, also in November.

And OpShop, along with Tiki Taane, with be joined by an 18-piece string section orchestra for a Wellington show in a few weeks. That one is going to be filmed for telly.

To top it all off, the APO recently hit the top of the iTunes charts with The Soundtrack of Auckland, remixes of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture by Kids of 88, Luger Boa and Weird Together. They even made their very first music video for it.

And the whole thing is not a stupid idea. In fact, it is very, very clever. The marriage of Top 40 music makers and classical sensibilities is, if we are honest, beneficial to all parties.  

The bands get a second bite at the cherry and a chance to experiment with what is usually an album or set of songs already ingrained in the musical consciousness.

Meanwhile, the orchestras get to show off their incredible talents to an audience that, in all probability, aren't season ticket holders for their usual programme. It breaks down barriers and it opens eyes.

"We're aware of the perception, but orchestras are not stuffy, elitist organisations; we're deeply entwined with the community we serve. These remixes from some of our very best pop musicians underline the relevance and versatility of a modern orchestra," said the APO's Barbara Glaser of the orchestra's most recent collaboration.

But along with changing preconceptions, there is another motivation. You see, the more people know what you are capable of, the more people there are in your corner to fight for arts funding.

"A world-class city deserves a world-class orchestra, so we're letting people know that the APO requires adequate funding to fulfil its potential and to meet the need we know is there. We're constantly asked to take part in more educational work, more cross-cultural and cross-art form collaborations and more outreach programmes but we've reached the limits of what can be achieved on the funding we have,' said Glaser.

It is no secret that there is a constant struggle for cash in the arts world. But, as many of our orchestra's have realised, if you can reach outside of your regular audience to build that support base then maybe being "cool" is merely a by-product.  

Just don't tell the boat shoes.


Auckland Now