I’ve been thinking about this issue of ‘saving’ classical music from its uncertain futures, rescuing this immense tradition from unthinkable oblivion and unthinking ennui.

[clip and snip so you go read the full blog entry]

So orchestras perform popular repertoire (accompanying Elton John, presenting concerts of Disney themes) and don’t see that as being part of their core business, even though it is certainly part of their core business plan. And small ensembles rely on (and spend the bulk of their marketing energy) persuading funding bodies, not audiences, to support their work. Large ensembles market themselves with images of blissed-out ticket-holders, and audiences endure rather than exult in performances of contemporary work (not being part of the ‘listen-to-this-fresh-interpretation-of-a-familiar-work’ discourse).

The classical music field is feeding the discourses that are choking it.

Meantime the notion of connection (that life-blood of artistic enterprise), the art event with current events, the audience with each other, the performer with the music, the composer with the audience, the musical moment with the moments that follow/precede the performance, and so on, and on, and on, comes a distant second to the notion of sponsorship, that lifeblood of enterprises engaged in selling a brand.

So go read it. Answer there. Answer here. Answer at both. You choose!


  1. This quote particularly caught my eye:

    “audiences endure rather than exult in performances of contemporary work (not being part of the ‘listen-to-this-fresh-interpretation-of-a-familiar-work’ discourse)”

    That dove-tailed interestingly with what a music professor cum composer of my acquaintance requires of his students: they must attend a “modern classical” concert because (and I find this very telling) he “knows what it feels like when no one comes to your concert.”

    It leaves me wondering if “modern classical” music is an emperor with no clothes — which many people don’t much like but are afraid to say so, so they vote with their feet. The three New Year’s concerts I attended all played music written before 1900 — is that because the orchestras involved knew that that was the music which would appeal to the largest audience?

    I have to admit that even as a lifelong musician, I can’t enjoy contemporary music very much, while I exult — and exult is the best term for it — in a good performance of Beethoven (or Tchaikovsky, etc) even after the dozens (hundreds?) of times I’ve heard those symphonies and concertos performed.

    I’m sure there are those who would argue that I don’t enjoy contemporary offerings because I don’t understand them, but that’s too facile an argument. For me the question is, How much edgy dissonance do I want to listen to? Really, amidst the hectic stress of modern life — very little. When I listen to music, I want exaltation, not stress. Which perhaps might be a more common sentiment than contemporary composers would like, but there it is.

    Standard disclaimer. My own opinion, not speaking for anybody but myself, yada yada.

  2. I haven’t much time to respond at the moment, Anna … teaching time in a wee bit … but I’m curious … how much contemporary music do you play? I wonder if that makes a difference? When I’ve played something it tends to grow on me (not always, but much of the time).

    There is still some contemporary and 20th century music that I don’t really get at all, but I’m always willing to give things another chance. Or when you talk contemporary are you including more … when does that period begin for you? (For me contemporary is current, but I’m guessing for many it begins around, I dunno, Stravinsky maybe? Whom I love ….)

    it sounds like you’ve been in this business for a long time. (For me it’s since 1975.) Where do you perform? (Forgive me if you’ve already filled me in and I’ve forgotten, please!)

  3. There’s a commentary you might find interesting on modern classical music at http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/nov/28/alex-ross-modern-classical-music. Forgive me, I haven’t figured out how to make that a link.

    For me it’s the dissonance itself that I can’t cope with. I react to it physically and can become very ill — at the least I get a monstrous headache, and very often a true classic migraine. I’ve heard that other people can get strong physical reactions to dissonance, but I’ve never met one who does. Makes me feel like a freak, really.

    I’m a pianist who very recently took up oboe. You can read more than you probably want to know at my Dangerous to French Fries blog. puzzlepanda.blogspot.com

    Oh yeah, I’m dangerous. If you’re a french fry. 😀

  4. I’ll read more of your blog later … nearly time to teach … but thanks for the link to it. It’ll be fun to get to know you there! I did read the entry about the fibercane reed (sorry I didn’t get to warn you before you bought one!) and the oboe issue … a bad oboe is a horrible experience, isn’t it?

    We can chat more later! And I’ll look forward to reading more from you, too! Thanks for replying! 🙂