My Pittsburgh concert seems to have been a big success. But I don't like the way that reads -- so let me change it to say, "Our Pittsburgh concert seems to have been a big success." Because one thing brought home to me by doing this is how much teamwork is involved. The team in this case was pretty small, consisting just of me; the conductor, Daniel Meyer (who's the Pittsburgh Symphony's Assistant Conductor); Genevieve Code Twomey, the Orchestra Manager; Robert Moir, the Artistic Administrator; and a very few other people. In the past, the … [Read more...]

Visual document

As a footnote to my little piece of Mozart history, in my last post, here's a Canaletto painting, done in 1754, called "London: Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh." It shows a concert. Notice how informal it is, and in some ways how much like a modern rock club. A few people are gathered by the stage, listening (I'd think) intently. Others are scattered through the space, talking and hanging out. It's easy to see how in an atmosphere like this, people would feel free to clap right in the middle of the music, if they heard something that they … [Read more...]

If it’s Thursday…

This Thursday, 10/23, I'll host a concert on a Pittsburgh Symphony series called "Symphony with a Splash." These are early evening events (they start at 6:45), aimed at young professionals who don't usually go to symphony concerts. Drinks are served, and, as the Symphony's website says, "The coolest networking happy hour mixes with one of the world's best orchestras" (which the Pittsburgh Symphony certainly is). This will, to say the least, give me a first-hand look at how these efforts to attract new listeners really work. I worked with the … [Read more...]

More dress code

Here's still more on concert dress and atmosphere, from Evan Tucker, a student composer who disagrees with Marla Carew. Click his name to e-mail him; he asked me to include his contact info, and I think he'd like to hear from you. "You don't tend to meet too many other classical music nuts on college campuses," he writes, "particularly among other music majors." And here's what he says about concert dress: Earlier tonight I went with some of my good friends to a dance studio which offers swing dancing with a live band. None of them are … [Read more...]

Another view

From my faithful correspondent Marla S. Carew, a dissent on concert dress, one worth taking seriously: I noticed that one of your correspondents opined that formal dress in orchestras keeps away mass audiences. Why? And more important, why should orchestras give in to that prejudice? Yes, our society is becoming more casual, but occasion-appropriate dress connotes respect for the given occasion and for the wearer. Wearing a tux to perform at Lollapalooza would be a sarcastic or "up yours" gesture just as much as wearing jeans onstage at the … [Read more...]

Dress code clarity

One reader thought I wanted orchestras to still wear formal dress when they play standard repertoire. In an earlier post on concert dress, I'd talked about new music groups dressing informally. Then at the end, I added this: "New music concerts tend to be informal, of course. Their audience tends to dress casually. What you'd wear to play standard repertoire in a formal concert hall for a dressed-up audience -- that's another story." I hope it's clear I didn't mean this wasn't a story that should ever be told. It's just a more complex question. … [Read more...]

Is it art?

News item: When a restaurant plays classical music in the background, diners spend more. Or so conclude researchers at the University of Leicester, in England. According to a story in the Associated Press, these researchers studied how much diners spend when classical music is playing, when Britney Spears is playing, and when there's no music at all. Diners spend more when they hear the classics. I'd have been happier -- assuming that the news story is accurate -- if the researchers had also studied the effect of jazz, and of upscale pop, … [Read more...]

Egg on the face

Today's news about Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic is amazing, though not exactly a surprise. Right from the start, as I wrote in my Wall Street Journal piece on the proposed merger, the directors of the two organizations talked very differently about what the merger meant. For Robert Harth, at Carnegie Hall, the merger was an opportunity for adventurous programming. For Zarin Mehta, at the Philharmonic, the merger was all about orchestral imperatives -- the Philharmonic's need to own the hall it played in, and of … [Read more...]

Naxos to the rescue

Naxos held a competition some time ago for ideas about saving classical music. Now they're running excerpts from competition entries each day on their website. You can find them here. Today's (credited to "A.A.") is maybe not so helpful: By catering to the elite, classical music has become too conservative, too formal, too inaccessible to the masses. Only when the performers break off their exclusive relationship with the elite and play for the masses will live classical music achieve true popularity. A mass audience, pretty obviously, … [Read more...]

Calm down, please

I hate to keep slamming Musical America, but they've done it again -- raised an alarm where no alarm was needed. One story today reads like this in their summary: Venerable Instrument Plant Closing -- Kids just don't want those acoustic white elephants any more. But when you follow the link to the original news item (from WNDU TV in South Bend, IN), things don't look nearly so bad. Conn-Selmer -- which makes wind instruments, and is one of the oldest businesses in Elkhart, IN -- is laying off some of its workforce and closing one plant. But … [Read more...]

Not quite pop

Yes, the border -- porous, shifting, maybe even nonexistent -- between art and popular culture is tricky to understand. Yes, the role of pop culture in art (and of art in pop culture) is worth debating. But please, let's be clear about which is which. With near shock today I read this in Musical America, a website (once, in the distant past, a magazine), which I and many others turn to every day for news about the classical music world: For all the talk of Riccardo Muti's resistance to popular culture at La Scala, the conductor is in talks … [Read more...]

What to wear

Here's a new idea for concert dress, or new at least to me -- a new (and none too wonderful) thought about what classical musicians should wear when they play. It comes from New York's Eos Orchestra, whom I heard this past weekend playing smart, tactile, wry, and often touching music by Peter Lieberson, a good man and good composer. The musicians wore black pants, and black Eos t-shirts; "Yuck" might be one quick reaction. The whole thing looked to me like a crass promotion, but then I don't have much affection for Eos, which gets a lot of … [Read more...]

Classical moment

Here's something -- in the spirit of finding meaning in classical music, and also in keeping sight of the reasons we love it -- that classical music does, and non-classical music can't. It's a wonderful moment in the last act of Wagner's Siegfried. Siegfried has come through the fire, and emerged on the mountaintop where Brünnhilde lies sleeping. The music that shows him braving the fire -- an interlude between the first and second scenes of the last act -- is irrepressibly Wagnerian, huge, grand, and unmistakable. I once walked by a … [Read more...]


I've had some correspondence about my last post, and now I think I may have tangled two issues that ought to be separated. One is what cultural things classical and pop critics refer to in their writing. I said that pop critics often have a wider range of reference than classical critics do, and that sometimes my Juilliard students can't follow what the pop critics talk about. Maybe that's true, but obviously there are people who write about classical music who have a wide range of cultural reference -- Charles Rosen, a profound scholar (at … [Read more...]