It's that time of year when conductors finalize programming for the upcoming season. It is an exciting time, but one that is tremendously consequential. The proper mixture of ingredients will appease many palates. Mistakes can result in concerts that lack inspiration or technical mastery. So what are conductors even thinking when programming?
When I go to a museum there are always a few artistic products that stand out to me and that I like right away. I can't always tell why, but I do. There are other works I don't like at first, but after some time or an explanation I find that I enjoy them, or at least appreciate a bit more. Then there are works that no matter what, I don't care for. But I always try to understand them and try to understand why they were created. It frustrates me when people get upset with museums for displaying something controversial. That's the purpose of art! Get over it! The world has lots of people that don't think they same way that you do because they had different upbringing, social circles, life experiences, etc. Art shares this.
I think of listeners (and singers) like patrons at a museum. Some pieces should stand out as ones that are immediately enjoyed without any prompting. Some works require some program notes, or perhaps a little background before experiencing. A few works might even push you to think of others' perspectives, even if you don't particularly agree with them. Everyone's "voice" deserves a place to be heard. In the span of a season, I hope those that attend our performances have these experiences. It is how humankind grows. It is how we understand where we fit in it all.
Organizing this Choral Museum requires some care. If we think of an entire season as the museum, each concert may be a floor of the museum, and each set in that concert may be a wing or a room. It would be strange to see 16th century Italian paintings next to contemporary sculptures (unless there was some clear theme that connected them). And although I might like a concert of German masterpieces composed between 1560-1563, I'm not sure that would bring audiences back for more in Fort Myers, Florida.
We make calculated guesses as conductors and hope the results inspire as many people as possible. As you look at this season's calendar I hope you are willing to challenge yourself. If you see a concert with a new work, or one you don't know, try it out! Be sure to attend performances of your favorite works too, but don't make that your steady diet. And if you really want to grow, try something a bit controversial.