When thinking of the most experimental genres in the game, classical music isn't usually the first to come to mind. As Mark Vanhoenacker wrote in Slate earlier this year: "When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton."
Yet the Los Angeles Philharmonic is attempting to redefine the classical concert hall experience for the 21st century, thus transforming the stereotypically stuffy field into an unorthodox space for multidisciplinary exploration. Its new programming series, titled "in/SIGHT," is designed "strictly for the sonically adventurous," according to the website. The initiative replaces classical music's allegiance to tradition with a desire for innovation, potentially steering the classical audience away from just the "old and white in an America that’s increasingly neither."
The series features four independent collaborations between sight and sound, which will take place between November 2014 and May 2015. "in/SIGHT" kicks off with "Visions of America: Amérique," a collaboration between conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and video artist Refik Anadol. The work explores early 20th century work by figures including Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varèse just after they emigrated to the U.S., in some cases settling in Los Angeles. Anadol, an Instanbul-born, Los Angeles-based artist, explores how new media technologies have transformed our perception of space in his work. His visuals amplify the musical component, creating a dynamic multimedia music experience in which the concert hall becomes the canvas.
"I enjoyed the idea of creating a performance using the entire space as a canvas," Anadol explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. "Instead of creating a media screen, there will be a story inside the space. What happens if you add a video layer that speaks to the audience in a whole new experience? We're exploring the boundaries of what is real, what is physical, what is virtual?"
These contemporary questions add a sense of urgency to Salonen's musical number, a piece which, though comprised of early 20th century music, revolves around the notion of newness and the U.S. as the new world. "The piece analyzes orchestra in real time," Anadol continued. "It's a kind of feedback system that reacts to how the orchestra is playing. A pure moment that needs to be experienced... The system is extremely site specific. There is no screen. We are making space into a storyteller. That's why it's a kind of unique part of the project."
"As an artist I believe the future is using space as a canvas," he added. "The L.A. Phil wants to be always exploring new territory. The technology is now available and the audience is open to the experience. It's a great time to open the minds of audiences and everybody. It's a beautiful moment."
"Visions of America: Amériques" will run November 6 through November 9, 2014. The year's other performances include interpretations of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dudamel, Mackey & Reich" with new work from multimedia artists Netia Jones, Finn Ross, and Beryl Korot. See the complete "in/SIGHT" calendar here.