Against the Sky; New Mexican expression in Southern Italy


Concert Culture is a funny thing. The traditions we take for granted, in regards to classical music concerts,  have not always been the same. As a performer, I aim to create active listening environments where concerts are intimate, unique and accessible. The goal is to create exciting concerts with varied programming that challenges the audience to really listen. For example we can take new music to new audiences, or perform in non-traditional spaces as a means to reach the audiences in innovative ways. Recently, I performed a recital in the historic medieval town of Lucera,  Italy. The idea behind this event was to bring music from New Mexico to Italy as a way to encourage a cross-cultural exchange between Southern Italy and the American Southwest. In short, it was extremely successful. Concert cultures and traditions vary drastically from America to Italy. As a general rule, the audiences in Italy are more vocal. For instance, The opening piece on the recital was a transcription of an Italian opera aria. The audience was energetic, talkative, and even sang along as I was performing.  In contrast, American audiences stay quiet and docile. There is an established concert etiquette in America that fosters strict behavior. Luckily, I was able to perform the same work, Peter Gilbert’s “Against the Sky”, in both America and Italy. The end of Gilbert’s piece is a dramatically soft moment that extends for a long period of time. When I performed this piece in America the audience was audibly uncomfortable with the silence. People coughed, moved around in their chairs, etc. During the Italian performance I was shocked by the silence. The audience was listening to every note, sitting comfortably in the vast openness. My realization was the difference between passive and active listening that exists between Italy and America. I believe that the concert culture created in America fosters passive listening due to strict concert etiquette in the classical music world. The audience is more focused on doing the right thing (clapping at the right time, staying quiet, etc.) instead of following the emotionally journey of the music. This performance in Italy was an example of active listening. The audience didn’t need to break the awkward silence because they were incapsulated by the emotion of the piece.