“I don’t know where it will lead, but I think it’ll be exciting,” enthuses the optimistic conductor.
“It’s a little hard to know where the research will go,” says the fashion dean.
“It’s just a proposal,” cautions the tech whiz.
This project began when Alsop started thinking about how an orchestra exists in the 21st century and what that orchestra might mean to future generations. But instead of her mind fixating on the instruments, the acoustics of a concert hall or the musicians’ repertoire, she was interested in the wardrobe.
“I’ve always noticed how the men in orchestras struggle with tails. It’s a lot of clothing, and it’s quite constricting, and it can get hot. And for the women, it’s hard for them to know what to wear. I was thinking, ‘Where are we headed with an orchestra in the 21st century?’ I don’t want to change the music, but the trappings? We’re wearing the same clothes we were wearing 200 years ago,” Alsop says. “It might be time for an update.”
The student designers were challenged to make the musicians’ clothes more contemporary and relevant. They don’t just want to redesign the garments; they want to rethink them. For example, they want to illustrate the energy output of a drum-beating percussionist and a fast-fingered pianist during a particularly exuberant passage of music. What if the arm movements activated lights or video on a back screen? What if they illuminated the performer’s actual garment? What if they changed the color of the clothes like some giant musical mood ring? What if they could activate some sort of projection on the outside of the venue itself so that passersby could experience the performance taking place inside — making a private, elite experience a public, community one?
Earlier this week in the New School’s carpeted community center, an audience of musicians, academics, students and a curious public came to witness the “What ifs?” With high-concept projects such as this, there tend to be two outcomes: something blissfully weird or something distressingly odd. This, as it turns out, was both.
And, of course, with anything involving technology, there are glitches. About an hour before the performance is to begin, the room — stocked with laptops, glowing motion sensors and myriad imposing cables running across the floor — looks more like a quietly frazzled information-technology department than a concert hall.