If you’re at Carnegie Hall next season, don’t touch the brown acid. The venerable venue this week announced its 2017-18 season, one that includes a two-month festival (January 14-March 24, 2018) dedicated to the 1960s.
The timeliness of the theme – involving music, protest and social change – is undoubtedly coincidental; festivals like this are planned at least two to three years in advance, before anyone could have clearly foreseen the current political tumult. But the series, which is being organized with assistance from author Robert Caro, reveals another trend sweeping many classical music institutions: a focus on programming aimed (in part) at baby boomers, an audience with more time and disposable income, but whose frame of cultural reference doesn’t necessarily include the classical canon.
As I reported for MusicalAmerica.com (subscription), Carnegie’s programming is light on obvious nostalgia acts. One true “classic rocker” is on deck, David Crosby, who will appear with the band Snarky Puppy. Otherwise, the hall has lined up excursions into early minimalism (played by the Kronos Quartet and the Philip Glass Ensemble), free jazz (with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell) and thematic programs that look at the cultural legacy of the Vietnam War and include protest pieces like Crumb’s Black Angels.
The festival comes at a time when the orchestra pops landscape has been flooded with symphonic tributes to Motown, the Beatles and Journey, and with events ranging from Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia to an evening with Arlo Guthrie. Whatever their artistic merits – and they vary – these can generate needed revenue for cash-strapped orchestras. Carnegie Hall’s financial circumstances may differ, but it still must consider how to lure new attendees. As executive and artistic director Clive Gillinson said at a press conference on Wednesday, between 30 and 60 percent of tickets to the hall’s major festivals have been sold to newcomers.
Time will tell if we’ll hear old favorites like this one, seen here in a classic performance from Woodstock.
Photo: Opening ceremony at Woodstock. Swami Satchidananda giving the opening speech (photo: Wikipedia/Mark Goff)