What a weird medium this is. I’m going to miss this
conversation, even with all the free-associative monologues and hurt
feelings. I went to an all-Mozart concert the other night, enjoyed
it hugely and thought about how distant that experience was from our
esoteric discussions here. But since that performance represented
the rebirth of a festival that had been getting dustier and more
arthritic over the years, it gave me a shot of optimism with which
to face the future. So here are some Panglossian predictions:
1) The term “avant-garde,” as it applies to music, will
come to seem as antiquated as “horseless carriage.” This is
because composers recognize the rewards, spiritual and worldly of
communicating with an audience rather than keeping several steps
ahead. Along the same lines, the distinction between composition and
entertainment will break down further. The so-called pop that
classical music critics praise tends to be of the brow-furrowing,
earth-moving kind, because it picks up the sense of originality,
intricacy, and profundity we tend to look for in the classical realm
(and rarely find). But one thing classical composers could learn
from pop is a sense of fun. We’re always asking where our
Beethovens are, but what about our Rossinis, our Chabriers? Who’s
writing the 21st Century “Bolero?” Mozart thought of himself as
an entertainer as well as an artist, but for some reason even John
Williams goes all dour and Olympian whenever he’s not writing for
the movies. Not to belabor an infatuation, but I think Golijov is
one person who composes with a sense of audible joy.
2) The orchestral and presenting world will become less mired
in the past – or in a cramped, repetitive version of the past. Go
ahead, giggle. But one reason things change slowly in the orchestral
world is that conductors have such long careers. Well, they have to
end eventually. Lorin Maazel may have no specific taste in
contemporary music, but his successor will. Herbert Blomstedt’s
successor does, and so does Zubin Mehta’s. Under Simon Rattle, the
Berlin Philharmonic is now a major force in new music.
3) The path from the fringes to the mainstream will become
easier and quicker. Over the long run, the commitment of such places
as Carnegie Hall and
and the San Francisco Symphony and Disney Hall to expanding the
palette of what is presentable on a major concert stage will have an
effect elsewhere. Let’s not forget that the Brooklyn Academy of
Music helped make the cream of
safe for the rest of
. Yesterday’s mavericks are today’s establishment.
4) Concert audiences will not shrivel up and blow away.
We’ve all been fretting over all those gray heads for years and
years and years. But as most of us are acutely aware from looking in
the mirror, the gray-haired population is being constantly
restocked. New audiences do exist, and they are being found. There
are more orchestras, chamber ensembles, opera companies, soloists,
acoustic-electric bands, saxophone quartets and sampling keyboard
wizards than there were a generation ago, and they’re not all
howling on an empty mesa. Music education is now an important part
of almost every presenting and performing organization and while
that’s no substitute for a standard in-school curriculum, it’s a
5) The classical music world will stop worrying about its loss
of prestige and retool to function as one segment of a much vaster
arts and entertainment universe. That will mean collaborating more
with artists from other disciplines, jettisoning the antiquated
etiquette and Edwardian concert costumes (Please! Please!), and
rethinking the rhetoric. That last one is our department.
6) Orchestral marketing people will come to understand that .
. . Nah, never mind.
7) Politicians will recognize that subsidizing the arts is
crucial to . . . Nope, scratch that too.
8) The American Federation of Musicians will confront the
realities of modern . . . Okay, okay, forget it.
9) Josh Groban will fade away. (A guy can dream, no?)
One final thought about movements
and ideas. This is a big country, and isms have a way of rattling
around in it. Doug’s “critical mass” of the past tended to
coalesce within tightly defined physical boundaries:
, say, or the Sixth arondissement, or
. Thomas Adès’ vertigo-inducing rise from whiz kid to crown
prince of British music shows that in a small island country, at
least, something of this sort can still happen.
is and always has been different from those places (I don’t count
the Village as part of the
) – more decentralized, more diffuse. That’s not a bad thing. It
allows ideas to go dormant for a while and resurface when they are
needed. Look at Lou Harrison, whose music seems more current now
than it did 30 years ago (thanks in part to Mark Morris). Or look
outside of music at the extraordinary story of the sculptor Lee
Bontecou, who intoxicated the art world in the late 1960s, then
dropped out of sight in 1971 – and reemerged with a whole body of
unknown work that has been traveling to the country’s major
museums. This is a country where great talents and big ideas can get
lost for a while. But they re-emerge eventually, and their influence
is no less dramatic for having been delayed.