Informality, accessibility, openness, a sense of welcoming–these are virtues when it comes to the public presentation of art, and this is the front classical music has been battling on for decades. But one thing classical music has lost sight of is that these also are virtues: insideriness, exclusivity, a sense of discernment, of being in on something the masses can’t appreciate. Though musicians love to high-mindedly cast themselves as the enemies of elitism, these too are part of music’s appeal. For example, Seattle, you may recall, about 20 years ago built an entire musical genre and a world reputation by overtly catering to a niche audience. It was music born in garages and divey small clubs, and repudiation of the mainstream–we get it and they don’t–was its whole raison d’être.
Classical music used to do this–better than anyone, in fact. Where it screwed up was to mix in issues of wealth and class, for decades billing itself as a path to social status and gracious living. The snob factor eventually drove away more fans than it drew, and the fight to counteract that image is just what led to innovative events like Friday night’s Seattle Symphony concerts.




  1. I’m not a big fan of most contemporary music – it seems to me that a lot of it is lists of effects instead of architectural Structures, but whatever brings them in the door more than once is a good thing.

    I think I prefer Christina Pluhar’s approach. It would be different for different styles of music, but to make ‘older’ music, as well as contemporary music, relevant to modern listeners is the ultimate goal.

    I can hardly imagine what a joy it would be to play with her group…

  2. Doesn’t she appear to be so full of joy? I think so!

  3. I read the whole article about the Seattle concert. I definitely wish we could get rid of tails.
    I like the idea of printing the timing of pieces in the program. Making a modern audience comfortable in a concert hall is a great idea!
    Classical music is an acquired taste but a whole generation of music lovers (I’m thinking of my parents’) experienced it first on the radio. They certainly didn’t go to concerts for social reasons. They just liked the music.
    However, the fine arts (not just music) have always depended on patronage. That means wealth and that usually brings in the “society” aspect.

  4. Very good thoughts, Pam! Thanks for joining in here.

    I’m with you: tails should GO. Silly, silly tails. Sigh.

    My parents definitely experienced the radio first as well. Our family’s experience with classical music was first via radio and later with the California Youth Symphony. I only got to my first adult symphony concert when I was a freshman in college (going out with Dan to hear the SJS with George Cleve at the Civic Auditorium!): my parents could never have afforded to take our family of six out to a concert, I’m sure! Eventually my mother ended up attending the San Francisco Symphony open rehearsals with a friend. She loved those. (Of course both of my parents proudly went when I first landed in SJS: my dad loved to tell anyone he could snag that his daughter was in the orchestra. It was cute … although I wonder if the recipients of the news were annoyed with him. Oh well!)

    We need the wealthy. It’s just a fact. I’m grateful for them. From what I’ve read the new money folks haven’t all managed (yet) to “share” their wealth. Newer companies haven’t either. I hope that will change at some point.

    Ramble ramble … typical me, eh? Lots of words. Little intelligence. 😎