Why you should give classical music a chance

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

2016’s Music in the Mountains is drawing to a close, but this year’s classical musical fest tried harder than ever before to engage with younger generations (who might otherwise turn up their noses at stuffy orchestral tunes). Before the sophisticated Durango festival ends, you have time to catch a few last special performances: Friday, Karina Canellakis will conduct the festival orchestra in Epic Grandeur (it’s rare to see a female conductor, so don’t miss out), and Saturday the full orchestra will bust out a Space Spectacular, performing selections from “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Star Trek,” “Superman” and more, whilst images of space captured by NASA play on the big screen. (This one would make a great 420 & chill concert, just sayin.’) The season’s finale takes place Sunday with Viva L’Italia, conducted by Guillermo Figueroa. We chatted with Music in the Mountains’ Executive Director Angie Beach about the festival’s evolution.

What did the festival do to broaden its audience this year?Classical music in general, across the globe, is looking for ways to reach new audiences. I would say our 30th anniversary festival was a huge success. Over the last several years, we’ve tried to plan offerings so we can attract a younger audience. This year we had a lot more Friday night performances, so changing the format was important – younger audiences have jobs. They work during the week, and having concerts on a Friday night when they can have a little fun, stay up later, drive farther, and be able to sleep in the next day was good. We kicked off the entire festival with Harpeth Rising at the Bayfield Performing Arts Center, it’s a really cool venue. And that concert was $29, versus our full orchestra performances at $54. Then we had our major fundraiser at the Glacier Club, and we actually brought in an ensemble from New York City, Sybarite5, like young hipsters who were progressive and cool. So if young people think we were only bringing in older people who play traditional classical music, that means they didn’t look at our schedule! This group played Radiohead. And of course, we partnered with KSUT and had a party in the park on a Saturday. Totally eclectic bands, headliner was the Stooges New Orleans Brass Band, they rocked. Lots of food carts and cool cocktails.

And then the Space Spectacular [Saturday, July 30] will be all the music you would know from those movies like “E.T.,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek.” There will be images from NASA displayed with the music. Can’t miss that one. If you have young kids and want to introduce them to orchestral music, this is like a gateway drug. We did a focus group with the Young Professionals of Durango a couple years ago, and one of the key pieces of feedback that we got was that millennials are looking for ways to pair social time with the concert. They don’t want to just go, sit, listen to a concert and leave. They want to have time to interact with other people. So having food, wine and beverages at an event is important, and we’ve woven more of that into everything.

What prevents younger people from giving classical music a chance? I think we’re still trying to break down some barriers of perception that it’s really not for them. But I would challenge someone to try it. You might be surprised. It’s one thing to listen to classical music while you’re studying or in your car. It’s a whole different thing to see it live. It’s pretty unique for a rural community like Durango to have something of this caliber. These musicians are world-class. You could spend a heck of a lot more money than you would here for a ticket – but you’d have to go a really long way to see this group.

What about expensive ticket prices?If anyone ever says, ‘I would love to go but I can’t afford it …’ All of our dress rehearsals are totally open and free to the community to come and check out. We have the schedules for that on our website. It’s in some ways more interesting than the actual performance, because you see it all come together. And this year we were providing coffee and pastries for free.

What do you think is special about attending a classical music concert?I’ve never played an instrument. My background is marketing and banking, so I’m still learning. And I’ve learned that not many people are classical music aficionados, and that stigma that you can’t go unless you know a lot about it … it’s a myth. Don’t worry about dressing up; if you want to come in your jeans or your boots or hiking shorts or whatever, we love that. It’s in a tent on a mountain. And just be prepared to experience something maybe you’ve never experienced before, and have some kind of a transition. You’ll feel different at the end of it. And if you don’t like something, that’s OK. I guarantee you’ll love some of it, and you won’t love some of it. That’s a part of art and culture. It’s our job to introduce you to new stuff.

Anya Jaremko-Greenwold


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