David Chan: Concertmaster of the Metropolitan opera

As human beings we have a tendency to plug the same formula back in unless it’s broken, hoping that it will start running again. That’s human nature. My point is, if you’re willing to think outside the box, you make new audiences.
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LS: What direction do you see classical music taking in the next twenty years with respect to the symphony model as a sustainable institution ?  What direction should it be taking?

DC: The most important thing is that music at its best is a glorious thing. You have a lot of good music, some great music, but great music when everything comes together with great performers is something truly special. So the very important thing for anybody who is broaching this question to realize is that the music has survived centuries. The music that the world knows and loves is wonderful, and just because some organizations have faced challenges with audiences, doesn’t mean that other people can’t fall in love with this music.

I don’t see any issue with the product itself. We need advocates who believe in the validity of the art form. So in terms of is classical music sustainable in the future? Well, it has to be because we love and believe the artform. Is the current symphony model sustainable?  That’s harder to say because I don't’ deal on a daily basis with the actual economics of it. But what I do feel is that what we need to look at is how classical music is presented, not in a way that dumbs down the music, not in a way that lessens the product, but in a way that provides different point of access for the audience.

LS: What role does inter-disciplinary collaboration take in the future of classical music? Any examples of this currently at the forefront of the arts scene?

DC: I think inter-disciplinary collaboration is important to remember.  Dance without music is something that almost never happens. Opera itself is by nature is an interdisciplinary action. You have singing with music, which is combined with acting and drama, combined with dancing as well. I think part of the key here, is that music is woven into so much of our existence already. We need ways to remind people that’s it’s an essential part of our being. In the last twenty years, symphony orchestras have been playing movie soundtracks for pops concert. Video games, Star Wars. But it’s a way to appeal to audiences. That’s not new. We’re looking for ways to connect serious film and find out where serious music intersects, rather than just playing a soundtrack. These are intriguing to new audience members. As human beings we have a tendency to plug the same formula back in unless it’s broken...hoping that it will start running again. That’s human nature. My point is, if you’re willing to think outside the box, you make new audiences. The symphonic model has evolved to where it is for certain reasons, but every once in awhile you need a leader who has a real vision about these things. The people in the organization have to be able to see the vision and the possible wisdom of it even though it may seem like a risk.

LS: How has multi-media industry changed the way audiences perceive classical music?

DC: Globally, that’s done a lot of good. Because people who would ordinarily have no access to see the MET, can do so. On the other hand, I do think that it’s hurt our live audience, in that a lot of people who do have the means to fly to New York maybe aren't’ doing that as much now. It’s always been a certain significant part of our audience has been tourist audience. No matter how well the multi-media is produced, there is no substitute for live music. The way sound is heard in 3 dimensions in person, is just not the same. My fear is that generations who are not growing up with live-music making in the long run, will affect their expectations of live music. I’ve experienced that with the current generation of music students in my own teaching. When I was little, I grew up with LP’s. Those were of course limited recordings. But when I wanted to see video, I had to see VHS. I had to go to live performances. Nowadays, I encounter music students at a very high level, but they have had very little exposure to live performances. Even if one understand intellectually that these recordings have been edited, many students think “ I’ve heard someone do that, therefore I should be able to do that perfectly. But that’s not the case.

LS: What steps should millennials be taking now to keep interest for classical music afloat?

DC: The problem is we’ve always had a larger supply than demand. But I think what the  current generation can do, is to think of new points of access, if we’re talking about the same classical music but new ways to present it in non-traditional concert venues, to draw attention to it. This generation knows what this generation likes, so who would be better equipped than someone who is in this generation to think outside the box? That’s what each successive generation’s role can be. One thing I want to make clear is, all of us who fell in love with classical music there was something that gripped us originally. If you give people a diluted version of any of that, maybe it’s not so gripping. There are people for whom, it’s a certain piece or performer who captivates them. It’s like wine for example. There was a certain great wine that captured their imagination. If you only have only boxed wine, it won’t capture anybody’s imagination. Music is the same way. The tricky thing is how are you going to present first rate talent playing classics in a new way. The good news is you don’t need a million of those people. You just need a couple.

LS: Do you think the Arts will exist into the 22nd century?

DC: I think they have to. I think they’re an essential part of our being, as long as there are people.

Lydia Sewell