And while I’m at it…

The arts are supposed to be good for our culture. Classical music, we hear, makes people smarter, and also teaches (or at least encourages) tolerance, curiosity, and critical thinking. So why did major league baseball have its first black player in 1947, while nobody black sang a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera till 1955? Just asking. Maybe we should teach baseball -- or at least baseball history -- in schools, instead of the arts. … [Read more...]

Classical music secrets

Here's one. Program notes at orchestra concerts often list the entire instrumentation of each piece being played. "Two flutes, one doubling piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons," etc., etc., sometimes at mind-numbing length. But sometimes what you see on stage doesn't match the printed list. The score calls for three trumpets; on stage, you'll see four. The score lists four horns; five are playing. Why? Because the principal trumpet and principal horn reserve the right not to play all the notes in their parts. Let's say … [Read more...]

How troubled are they?

My fellow blogman Andrew Taylor raises a smart and sensible point about orchestras -- that there's a "panic" in the press about their threatened demise, which might distract us from serious problems elsewhere in the arts. And I'd add that the orchestra thing has very likely been blown up more than it ought to be. Yes, we're hearing all the time about orchestras in trouble -- and always the same ones, Florida, for instance, or Louisville, or San Jose. But what does that tell us about orchestras as a group? There are lots of orchestras. Some … [Read more...]

Let’s begin…

I'll start with a practical question. Will there be an audience for classical music in the future? People debate this all the time, but the debate's not very satisfying. And that, I think, is partly because we don't have enough information. Many people in classical music think, for instance, that we don't have to worry about the classical audience getting older. The age of the audience --in its fifties, on the average -- isn't a problem, these people say, because the audience for classical music has always been that age. But there are two … [Read more...]

A word about aesthetics

What does classical music offer now? Or, rather, what could it offer? These are ideas inspired by the Kirov Opera's performance of Verdi's Macbeth at the Lincoln Center Festival, which I saw July 12 with my wife Anne Midgette, who's a classical music critic for The New York Times. (You can read her review -- which I certainly I agree with -- right here, from the Times website.) What struck me first was Valery Gergiev's conducting, which was in many ways stupendous. At first I thought it was (along with the playing of the Kirov orchestra) … [Read more...]