Monday, January 9, 2012

Sick of Cycles?

Since I'm still enjoying a little down time before the new semester takes off next week, I've gotten to spend some quality time on various social media sites.  I've been struck by the number of orchestras who are doing Mahler projects right now.  The two most notable -- it seems -- are San Francisco's with Thomas and Los Angeles' with Dudamel.  A company working through the symphonic cycles of a composer is nothing new and not surprising.  Numerous orchestras have done the Beethoven cycle;  not to be left out of the cycle frenzy, it seems that opera companies around the world are mounting Ring Cycles.  This apparent trend raises a couple of questions in my mind.

While I was an undergraduate student in southern California, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played a lot of Stravinsky.  For a while, it felt as though the orchestra was unable to perform a concert that DIDN'T include something by the composer.  Early on, I was fascinated.  I looked forward to being exposed to a wider gamut of Stravinsky works and went to the concerts expecting to learn more about the composer's harmonic language and style.  As the seasons went on, I found myself treating the seemingly endless Stravinsky as something that had to be endured rather than treasured.  My ears were under assault and my mind longed for something more -- something different.  

This is the catch-22 of cyclical performances.  It is inspiring to the academic mind to delve into the depths of a composer's work list and discover unknown treasures.  On the flip side, it can be a death blow to attracting young audiences, many of whom know little about music and want to experience a wide gamut of styles as they discover what they like and don't like.  For all music lovers, it is true that "variety is the spice of life."  

Since it appears that these cyclical performances are here to stay (and I don't necessarily think that's an entirely bad thing), I find myself wondering which composer will have his moment in the limelight next?  Amidst all the possibilities, my money is on Shostokovich.  I have no basis for that guess tonight, just a gut feeling.  

What do you think about the cycle frenzy?  Who will be the next symphonic composer featured?  Have you ever considered a piano recital series based on the same premise?  Do you think it would work?  I look forward to hearing from you all.