Q: In what way was this concert different from all the other orchestral concerts you’ve conducted?
The overarching idea behind REWIND was to create a real “event” – a continuously unfolding evening in which smaller individual pieces are subsumed into a larger whole. We took to its extreme the idea of programmatic connections between the various pieces on a concert.
We did this in four different ways.
First, the program itself was full of pieces that, as a group, have exquisite relationships to one another. REWIND had a Schnittke concerto grosso and a Corelli concerto grosso, and included an homage to Mozart by Raskatov as well as a piece by Mozart himself. Essentially, the program started with music that consciously referenced composers and idioms from the past, and it went back through time, ending up with pieces from the past by composers who – directly or indirectly – inspired the works we just heard. REWIND covered a span of over five centuries of music.
Second (and this is where REWIND really starts to differ from other concerts), there were no breaks at all from the moment you walked into the hall until the concert was over. We commissioned acoustic and electronic music by three different composers – Judd Greenstein, Joel Morales, and Joshua Penman – to be the connective glue that brought all of these pieces together. They composed pieces that commented on the piece just played, prepared the audience for the next piece, and acted as guides to the entire evening. In this way, we ended up with one colossal and effective piece, lasting about an hour and a half, comprised of eleven smaller pieces combined together into a continuous whole.
Another concept that made the evening special was the use of innovative spatial positioning techniques – where the audience and orchestra were placed in unusual places throughout the hall.
And, finally, REWIND made full use of tasteful theatrical lighting to guide the audience from one group of players to another (click here for a photo of the concert), as well as from one emotional context to another, as the evening progressed (click here for another photo).
Q: What inspired you to try this?
I’ve gone to so many concerts throughout my life, ranging from the spectacularly effective to the downright perfunctory, and let’s just say that a preponderance of them left me feeling less than optimally involved in the experience. Either they weren’t performed with passion and dedication, or else there was too much dead time – where nothing was happening, and often the players looked (sometimes with good reason!) like they wished they could be anywhere else…
I wanted to create a concert where a classical novice and a classical snob could walk into the same hall, get swept away, and leave the concert feeling energized and excited about what they had just experienced.
Don’t get me wrong, by the way – I don’t view this concert as a replacement of some kind for The Classical Concert, as we’ve come to know it. I love conducting in the “normal” context too. This is simply an alternative and, as it turns out, a wildly successful one.
Q: Where did you find funding? Players? Venue?
Let’s start with the venue. I first discovered the Angel Orensanz Center at a friend’s wedding. Nestled in Manhattan’s lower east side, it is the perfect venue for a genre-stretching experiment like this.
The soloists and the composers were the first to sign on – and there really weren’t any difficulties. Anne Akiko Meyers and Colin Jacobsen were the violin soloists, and they jumped right on board. The composers are all real risk-takers as well as good friends of mine, and it seemed like we had critical mass almost instantly after I made the first round of phone calls. The orchestra we used – the Knights – is one that Colin and his brother Eric founded and play in regularly, so that was a no-brainer.
I’m not going to say that it was easy to raise the money to do this – in fact, I had a lot of sleepless nights over how we were ever going to keep from losing our shirts! But in the end, we had a group of over twenty sponsors who signed on and helped bring REWIND to life. Plus, we sold out the entire house, including standing room.
Q: Did it work out the way you envisioned in performance?
One thing I’ve learned over the past year is this – if you can imagine something with great enough clarity and detail, and if you believe with every ounce of your being that what you’re going for WILL happen, well… it happens! The concert was everything I dreamed of and more – a phenomenal artistic experience, an ecstatic crowd, a sold-out house, a line that wrapped around the block(!), and a real milestone in my own artistic journey.
I’m not going to say we won’t change anything the next time we put on REWIND – that’s far from the truth. But I’m excited about this, because it appears we’ve stumbled onto something really special.
Q: What kinds of people showed up?
The ages really ran the gamut, but the vast majority of our audience were between 20 and 45 years old, well-educated professional types – exactly the kind of people we want to be getting into the concert hall.
Q: What did the critics say?
From the outset, we got a LOT of media attention – which is very hard to do in a place like New York. We got a ton of advance media coverage, everywhere from full-page spreads with photo down to favorable mentions in the listings sections. We had really big name critics at the concert – which, again, is unheard of for a fledgling group in New York City, and the New York Times gave us a phenomenal review. The headline (and I’m not kidding here) was “REWIND Refits the Classical Experience for a New Century.”
Q: Would you try this again? What would you change? Would this work for a bigger group of players?
Would I try this again? Absolutely. I’m going to start selling REWIND in two different packages starting this fall. In one package (for orchestras), I will act as a conductor/consultant, bringing the concert to orchestras, helping them find the ideal venue, and working with their players to bring it off. In the other package (for presenters), I’ll bring my own players with me as a touring ensemble.
I designed REWIND to work for orchestras as small as 30 players as well as for larger orchestras.
Q: How do people find out more about REWIND?
The best way is to visit our website, www.RewindConcert.com, which not only expands upon the concepts behind REWIND but also has sound clips, photos, bios, and contact information. If you have a specific question, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yvonne: Thanks for talking with us, and best of luck in the future – this sounds like a fascinating idea.
Paul: Thank you, too – it was a pleasure talking with you, and I admire what you’re doing at polyphonic.org.