Mason Bates Explains the Why and How of Creative Concert Curation
By Lily O’Brien
The current pandemic has taken a hard hit on the performing arts. Banned from concert halls and clubs, performers have taken to creating events and streaming them online. For Grammy Award-winning composer Mason Bates (2019 Grammy for the opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs), this has been an even deeper time of contemplation about a concept he has been developing for years — concert curation. A DJ as well as an accomplished classical composer, Bates has been blending electronica with classical music in venues he has transformed to create multisensory experiences that go beyond just the music. These include MusicNow, a collaboration with the Chicago Symphony, Mercury Soul, launched in San Francisco clubs in 2008, and KC Jukebox at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where he has been the composer-in-residence since 2015.
Creating special effects with lighting, video projections, and experimental stagecraft, these fully immersive experiences mix genres with music from both live musicians and recordings. Ultimately, Bates wants to completely remake the way music, particularly classical music, is presented to audiences.
To further this endeavor, the 43-year-old innovator recently started a weekly online educational program through the Kennedy Center called “Curating the Concert Experience.” The series, which will include around five episodes, will explain and explore the elements he believes are necessary for creating an extraordinary and memorable concert experience.
I chatted with Bates from his home in Burlingame about his fascination with concert curation and what we can expect in the new program.