Orchestras Looking to Broaden Horizons? Start Improvising
Programming works involving improvisation would be one way to encourage ensembles to make classical music more inclusive.
Why won’t big American orchestras improvise? The answer might have something to do with a tough night for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic back in 1964.The great conductor wanted his audience to give serious consideration to John Cage’s chance-based music. But Bernstein couldn’t even get his musicians to put on straight faces. Some played scales instead of the material in Cage’s notated (yet flexible) “Atlas Eclipticalis.” To Cage’s chagrin, Bernstein also led the orchestra in improvisations — which Cage considered a different tradition altogether.Most of the crowd audibly hated the results. Ever since, American orchestral life has pretty much insisted on fully fixed scores.
[featured artists in the article, Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, will be appearing at OM 25]