Metropolis Festival: Brett Dean's Vienna
“It’s all about the Viennese composers.” Sarah Curro, second violin for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, summarises this year’s Metropolis Festival in seven words. To celebrate the conductor, Brett Dean’s 50th birthday, the title of the series is Brett Dean’s Vienna. It’s dedicated to the spirit of the new in Viennese culture – not just the old school, as you might expect from a classical music series.
When you understand the origins of the second Viennese movement, you may understand the dramatic circumstances of its emergence. “After the Second World War, composers went nuts in Germany [and Austria]. I mean, Germany was completely fried after the Second World War. It’s almost like they needed to break out and they just completely went against all the conservative pretty music that went before.”
The second Viennese movement rode on the coat-tails of history, born from a wild path of destruction and war. And the composers of the movement seem to have followed a distinctly anti-establishment course, using atonal and discordant melodies to alienate and challenge their audiences. Curro explains that this would resonate with plenty of young, disillusioned Australians.
“After [Vienna], it was integral for composers not to be criticised for writing ‘pretty music’ anymore. So the Viennese [movement] basically muscled their way in. In a way,” Curro adds, “[Vienna] represented the chaos and absolute devastation of those countries at the time.” And as Curro points out, this challenge and exploration of the accepted norm pervades visual artwork in equal measure.
“You’ve got people wanting to shock, people doing a regression to the past and doing beautiful pictures, or you’ve got people vomiting on a canvas and calling it art! That’s very different to what it was in the time of the second Viennese school, which had very, very strict rules that couldn’t be pushed any further in that style, so the whole style had to die.”
Even though the second Viennese style is relatively new, there the very-now problem of young audiences with short attention spans that see classical music as outdated. Here Curro gets quite passionate; it’s clearly an issue that irks.
“People have forgotten classical music is awesome; it’s how it’s presented [that matters]. We’re competing now with the kind of sound byte era where songs are three minutes long at the most, and if you don’t get the kids’ attention straight away, you’ve lost it.”
Classical music offers its audience an opportunity to understand the reasons behind why certain sounds inspire certain feelings, regardless of whether that particular combination is then heard in heavy metal, techno or any other form of music. It’s a style that offers invaluable commentary on all other genres of the art form.
“The reason that harmony evolved the way it did over those hundreds of years is because it produced very specific reactions in people.” Curro adds. “Composers were so amazing at manipulating the emotions of their audience. They did that very technically and they knew exactly which chord or which chord progression or which instrumentation would cause particular emotional responses.” And while music composers originally took a back seat to the music and social nature of concerts, Curro points out that the second Viennese weren’t so shy, changing the whole nature of music performance.
“[Richard] Wagner [of the second Viennese school] started this idea where you weren’t allowed to eat food and talk to each other in concerts and check each other out, because that’s what happened in Mozart and Beethoven’s time. Wagner turned the lights right down and said ‘No, you must all turn your attention to the stage...This isn’t for your entertainment anymore, this is for your benefit.’ That was the beginning when it started turning into a bit of an elitist club. You had to have money to do it. And now you still have to have money to go the symphony of the opera; it’s still very elitist. That’s why people like me go ‘actually, if it’s good music, anyone will listen to it and you don’t have to charge heaps of money.’”
The Metropolis Festival and Sarah Curro share a common aim. It’s one that is quite simple, and seems oddly appropriate.
“I’m just trying to show people who are not in my industry that classical music is not just for elevator music.”
The MSO celebrates conductor Brett Dean’s 50th birthday with Brett Dean’s Vienna: four contemporary music concerts at the Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse. It features Neuwirth’s Remnants Of Song…an Amphigory on Wednesday April 27, Gruber’s Dancing In The Dark on Saturday April 30, Dean Plays Dean (with Dean as a soloist) on Wednesday May 4 and the premiere of Furrer’s Piano Concerto with soloist Michael Kieran Harvey on Saturday May 7. It’s $57 for a single night or $172 for all four. Book through mso.com.au.