The Orchestre National De Lyon, which I was fortunate enough to see live in person at the Philips Center here at the University of Florida on February 27th, is a 115 year old orchestra native to France which regularly tours all over the world and promotes the works of new up-and-coming composers. Serving as a cultural institution in France, the orchestra operates with the help of a subsidy from the French ministry of culture to help share and bring the beauty and power of classical music to listeners and fans all over the globe.
Leonard Slatkin. Digital image. Michigan Radio. NPR, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
The current musical director of the orchestra is Leonard Slatkin. Slatkin, pictured above, has conducted virtually all of the leading orchestras in the world and has an extensive resume that also includes serving as the director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as well as numerous awards and other prestigious nominations. As the leader of so many orchestras, which all have their numerous individual quirks and layers of increasing complexity, Slatkin understands that he continuously needs to find ways to bridge communication gaps that can span across cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, etc. Orchestras, which can often comprise of close to 100 different musicians across a variety of different instruments operating in unison often times feature members from all the globe that speak a variety of different languages and adhere to a large variety of different cultural customs. Being able to unify all of these members into one tight and cohesive unit requires the ability to effectively communicate between these different cultural gaps, which Slatkin has more than proved his ability to do so with the Orchestre National De Lyon.
While the topic of leadership in an intercultural and diverse environment is something that was certainly touched upon and illustrated by the Orchestre's performance, another connection to the material that I found has to do with the concept of white privilege. Orchestras in general are considered to be very high-brow culture, and as I looked around in the crowd it was clear that there was definitely somewhat of a diversity problem as most of the attendees skewed towards being older and white. However one of the stapes of the Orchestre de Lyon is certainly its affordable ticket prices which enabled my girlfriend and I to see this performance at a very cheap price. I think if orchestras and classic musical in general are seeking to be more inclusive and open towards participation and attendance by minority groups, keeping the prices low to eliminate potential barriers to entry is certainly key. Furthermore, I think a lot can be done surrounding the often times "stuffy" culture surrounding classical music to make it more appealing and accessible to a wide range of different cultural groups and people in general. If classical music is to remain culturally relevant and interesting in the future, the level of diversity in terms of the composers that are responsible for writing and conducting the music as well the diversity of those in the audience must certainly be expanded.
There was certainly a very liberating aspect to the pieces that were performed by the Orchestre. The way that the individual sounds from every instrument, which would normally not be very loud at all, can be combined in unison to create these grand, sweeping melodies and textures is certainly a testimony to the power of collaboration and the possibilities that can be achieved only when we as humans make an effort to come together in harmony. One specific thing that I noticed was how the players each section, whether it was the string or percussion or horn section, all collaborated and worked together beforehand amongst each other to make sure every instrument was in tune and to make sure that everybody was in sync with the piece that they were preparing to perform. In many ways this to me is a great metaphor for how society works: people from different backgrounds with different life experiences ultimately uniting to work together towards a common goal, with the end result ultimately being equal parts magnificent and beautiful.
Attending my first orchestra was certainly an experience I'm not likely to forget. The pieces, which ran for far longer than I had expected and had many different intricate tonal and mood shifts inspired within me a grand range of emotions. As the strings and flutes worked together in sweeping harmony, parts inside of me were filled with awe at the aural beauty I was experiencing in the moment. As the jarring and sparingly used percussion came rumbling in during climaxes and the horns swelled at incredibly loud volumes, I could viscerally feel some of the tension and foreboding in the music. It was a constant roller-coaster and ever fluctuating wave of different emotions that was equal parts visceral and cerebral. I was also consistently amazed at just how precise the timing of every player had to be. If even one violin was out of tune or playing the wrong note, it would be incredibly apparent to everyone in the audience. Orchestras are truly a magnificent accomplishment of precision and attention to detail.
Me outside of the Philips Center
In general I would say I learned a lot about the culture surrounding classical music. In many ways I can see how classical music can be construed as being self-indulgent and overly gratuitous, the applause breaks went on for what seemed ages after the performance of every individual piece, which often had me questioning if the entire show was over as the crowd stood up for a standing ovation every time. However, as my first experience seeing an orchestra live, I was incredibly impressed by the evident level of synchronicity each and every player had with one another. It was clear that despite all of the differences that exist between every individual: life experience, background, likes and dislikes, political ideology, etc., when united in pursuit of a common goal, incredibly beautiful things can be produced by humans. While I'm certainly not convinced that my one-time experience can be construed as being true for every instance, in my experience at the event the stereotype of classical music and orchestras being mainly appreciated by older white individuals certainly seemed evident. It is my hope that in the future classical music be seen as something that is completely accessible and appealing to individuals of every kind. With increased diversity in terms of composers, players, and audience members will only come an increased diversity in ideas and a continued growth and enrichment in the genre as a whole.