Our family made our yearly hajj to one of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's family concerts this past Sunday. These are family friendly, one-hour affairs and many of them have been quite good. It's a rite of passage in our home: you get to start coming along when you turn four.
Sunday's event was advertised as a Beethoven-fest with special emphasis on Symphony No. 5. But, alas, someone invited Ron Burgundy.
Actually, they invited Ron Burgundy and two of his too-cool-for-school buddies. PROJECT Trio (TM) consists of three guys in black T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers who are trying to make classical music cool. In fact, the word cool was mentioned quite often. Along with chill. And awesome.
My wife and I both noticed how very much the whole thing was of a piece with the contemporary worship phenomenon. Same Zeitgeist. Classical music (the Gospel) is good, right, and salutary - but you've got to reach out, man, to capture the younger generation. Make it accessible. Make it cool. And, of course, you need to do that, for some reason, amongst a crowd of folks who have already come to hear classical music. The mind boggles.
It was also like CoWo (syllables are so, like, unchill) in that the chief emotion able to be captured by PROJECT Trio's (TM) music is exuberance. Here is a piece we heard them play, performed by the felicitously named Contemporary Youth Orchestra. And that pretty much encapsulates their range.
Now, compare that to Beethoven. There is no comparison. And I will be the first to admit that Beethoven is not the composer with the widest range. But at least he was more than a one trick pony. He could do more than one thing quite well. Power, shame, tenderness, anger: that is a good start on what Beethoven can do. He can't do floating-like-a-feather (Mozart) nor did he care to do the gentle power of God (Bach, Haydn), but he did quite a lot.
There is something to this Zeitgeist thing. We could also mention here Trans Siberian Orchestra. Dumb it down, make it cool, accessible, draw on the most widely held and most easily contacted emotional responses: and do it all so that you can pack the seats. It still bears some semblance to classical music. But it's a wee fraction of a TSO or PROJECT Trio (TM) concert who are going to migrate from there to Telemann. And those who appreciate classical music, who bought tickets for Beethoven, are disgusted and demoralized. Egads: there was even a moment where they were narrating this deep experience they all had listening to a storm in Boulder, CO (of course!). It's hard to put one's finger on it - but their talk was downright evangelical. My wife put it best, "I was just waiting for one of them to say, 'And then we really just prayed about it and wrote this song.'"
But happy ending: my kids recognized how gauche it all was. "Those don't even sound like the instruments they are playing." "Why does he have to jump around?" "When are they going to play Beethoven?" Indeed, indeed.