When he went to work for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center a few years ago, Ronen Givony knew very little about classical music. Not himself a musician, but a passionate music fan, his tastes inclined to Indie-rock. He listened to Radiohead, David Byrne, Björk, and other, more obscure eclectics. At CMS he discovered classical music and was quickly smitten by old fogies like Bach, Mendelssohn, and Ligeti. Seeing his fellow Indie fans as a natural audience for classical music, he proposed a series of joint rock/classical concerts at Lincoln Center. He now works at Nonesuch.

For a series only slightly over a year old, Wordless Music has made astonishing waves. Givony’s brainchild, which he only anticipated lasting two or three concerts, ends up in the black from ticket sales alone and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. His programs aim to be half-classical, half-rock, though he estimates about 90% of the audience comes for the latter. While such a programming style may not meet the curatorial standards of Lincoln Center, he tries to create sensible musical pairings. When he was able to secure Beirut for a concert on September 20th, for instance, he thought programming some Osvaldo Golijov would complement the band’s Balkan, Levantine sounds. Other times, however, Givony scrapes together a half-hour of classical music and sees whatever decent band he can get. So far, so good.

Wordless Music’s 2007-2008 season opens this Friday at the Society for Ethical Culture. On the program is the Canadian group Do Make Say Think playing some of their own tunes, and The Electric Kompany, a rock quartet, playing music by Nick Didkovsky, Jacob TV, and Marc Mellits. Upcoming season highlights include the Icelandic band Mum – a longtime favorite of Givony’s, and the US premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver. Spring 2008 is still taking shape for the series, but, with ten concerts scheduled between Friday and mid January, Wordless Music will be making plenty of noise in the meantime.

2 thoughts on “Spread the Wordless”
  1. Speaking as someone who came to classical music/”new music” via the indie/electronic route, this is a truly brilliant idea (and I think “wordless music” is a great name for the series). I wish some organization in my area (Baltimore/Washington) would do something like this.

    To the point about “not meet[ing] the curatorial standards of Lincoln Center”: Based on my brief reading the “Wordless Music” approach, in contrast to the approach taken by many traditional musical organizations, at least treats newcomers to classical music as adults who are prepared to approach the different types of music as equally serious artistic endeavors. Better that than viewing new audience members as children who need the sugary syrup of pops concerts or crossover albums in order to choke down the medicine of “real” classical music.

  2. Fun trivia: Ronen and I were classmates in a freshman English seminar in the fall of 1998. I didn’t see him again until I went to a Wordless Music concert last May. His series is really something, for those who haven’t yet had a chance to check it out.

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