Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

May 20, 2018


Some say that expanding classical music audiences is a fantasy. But fantasy might just be what expands classical music audiences. 

I was only seven when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey,which might be an absolutely perfect age to see this most maddeningly mysterious of sci-fi epics. I was too young to get too caught up in trying to figure the damn thing out, and hadn’t yet gotten so old that figuring it out was even a thing. I simply liked how it felt, and looked and, especially, how it sounded.

The marriage of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra to the scenes depicting the human race’s major evolutionary steps forward couldn’t have been more ominously majestic. Johann Strauss' Blue Danube was the perfectly playful accompaniment to the space station docking scene. And Aram Khachaturian’sGayane Ballet Suite added a sense of forlorn melancholy to the sequences on the Jupiter-bound Discovery.

This was music I understood. It sounded like it could have been made by the same musicians playing on the Beethoven and Mozart records from my dad’s LP collection. It sounded familiar. I got it.

It wasn’t until my dad brought home a 2001-inspired album – not the soundtrack, but a new collection by Leonard Bernstein – that I understood that the freaky sounds accompanying the eerier and most baffling scenes in the movie (like the uncovering of the monolith on the moon or the journey through the Star Gate) weren’t sound effects. They had actually been composed (by some guy I'd never heard of named Gyorgy Ligeti) and performed (by musicians just like on the Strauss and Khachaturian tracks).

How in the world was that possible? I mean, who was this Ligeti guy, and how did he even think of this stuff?

It got weirder from there. The second side of the Bernstein collection contained a suite from an opera about a spaceship colliding with an asteroid, and HOLD THE PHONE, you can write operas about spaceships colliding with asteroids?

My second-grade mind was officially blown.

That’s where Imy love for finding the weirdest and wildest music imaginable was born. After hearing that record, I spent many a Saturday afternoon listening to a show on the Cincinnati classical music station called Do You Know This Composer,which was jam packed with bizarre but beautiful sounds made by contemporary composers from Iceland, Denmark and other countries nowhere near any place that Bach, Beethoven or Mozart ever gigged. Seth Boustead’s similarly conceived series Relevant Tones, distributed by Chicago’s WFMT, takes me back to those childhood explorations while feeding my ongoing and insatiable appetite for new music. And it’s why every Friday, when new music gets released, I go to iTunes and buy a contemporary classical album, just to see what’s going on out there in the musical cosmos. (Sure, I could stream it, but it feels a lot better to buy it. The people blowing my mind deserve some compensation, don’t you think?)

Thirty years after venturing into outer space with Mssrs. Strauss, Khachaturian, Ligeti & Strauss, I was dating a woman with a wonderful and precocious seven-year-old boy who, through absolutely no experience of his own, absolutely knew he hated classical music (because that’s what his father, and presumably others around him, did). Classical music was just something to be hated, avoided and deried, seeing as it was – must have been – made for and played by snooty stuck-up know-it-alls who thought they were better than everyone.

In other words, they’d never heard it.

Nor had this young boy, or so he thought, but having recently discovered Star Wars and, like most people, fallen hard for the John Williams soundtrack, he didn’t know (or care) that all those great sounds he heard while the opening title crawled and the Millennium Falcon zoomed were made by a symphony orchestra.

All he knew, and all that mattered, was that it sounded awesome.

I was careful not to play gotcha about this. It was more important that he love these sounds on his own terms that it was for me to be “right” about the eternal beauty and power generated by the sounds of an orchestras. And so Star Wars led to Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Harry Potter, among other movies, until lo and behold, we had ourselves a new classical music fan.

Sci-fi and fantasy films, books and comics are ideal places to explore real world themes and feelings in a safe and surprising context – that’s one of their many powerful allures for writers and readers alike. And they’re also a path to broadening our artistic experiences. Snug in the feeling of enjoying a space opera or fantasy adventure, amazing sounds sneak up on us, intriguing and attracting us on their own terms (and ours), and bypassing conventions, expectations or judgments about what we “should” be listening to or what’s “cool.”

I’ve heard symphony subscribers and self-proclaimed “purists” bemoan the fact that orchestras devote entire evenings to playing contemporary film scores, as if this somehow degrades or diminishes their beloved institutions. For the life of me, I have no idea what upsets them. If they don’t like these works artistically, that’s fine, but surely these aren’t the only evenings of music on an orchestra's season that are not to their liking.

And the point isn’t to like everything, anyway, is it? It’s to be exposed to everything.

If these movie nights are drawing newer, less experienced or younger audiences to concert halls, that’s nothing but a good thing, if for no other reason that it brings the next generations into buildings and experiences which have traditionally made them feel excluded, unwelcome or intimidated. This is an easy, enjoyable and (not for nothin', profitable) way to accomplish that, and an important step to keep these institutions alive as gathering places to share communal creative experiences and stop them from being anything other than high-end social clubs.

That disturbing trend must end, and sci-fi and fantasy aficionados are the perfect people to help end it. They (who am I kidding here, WE)are devoted fans, bordering on being obsessive about what we like and care about. We follow our favorite artists to the end of the earth, talk endlessly about how the new works stack up against the classics, and even crowdsource funding efforts to make sure that new work gets made and published.

Aren't we exactly the kind of people who belong in concert halls?

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