The 21st century classical music ensemble is constantly on the lookout for new ways to draw in listeners, and the University of Maryland has been at the forefront of this movement for years. They host the National Orchestral Institute, a training ground for new orchestral musicians, and a forum in which to experiment with new performance ideas, and now they’ve come out with their second video in which the orchestra dances prepared choreography and plays the music at the same time, giving a new concept to the idea of performing the music.
Their first video, Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, was a rousing success, and this new video ups the ante considerably. All of the things that made the whole idea difficult in the first place are magnified here; there’s twice as much music to memorize, and the music itself is much more difficult to play too (Appalachian Spring is a standard excerpt on the string audition lists of major symphony orchestras). The coordination is much more difficult as well – Debussy’s music is so interconnected, that once you get going, the music pretty much plays itself as long as the musicians are all listening to each other. Appalachian Spring surprises, jumps, and features several points where either line of sight is required, or the musicians must be incredibly in sync with each other.
Of course this all only addresses the music side of the video. On top of needing to do all the above without a conductor and almost entirely by ear, the musicians needed to memorize half an hour of choreography as well. Six steps in one direction, turn, pivot, squat, four steps in the other direction, and so on and so forth for twenty-five minutes. This music is complex enough that it was originally intended to be played by one set of people and danced by another. The University of Maryland took on an enormous project here with tons of risk, and came out on top.