Concert dress, again and again

Here's Lang Lang, photographed as he gave his first-ever recital in Carnegie Hall: Change is in the air. Some years ago, Jean-Yves Thibaudet made waves just by wearing red socks. And now this! (Doesn't matter, I think, that Lang Lang is getting slammed -- in Anthony Tommasini's Times review, and by others -- for distorted, showy playing. That's related to what he wears, obviously, but not inevitably related. Others will come along, and in fact are surely here already, who dress in their own spectacular fashion, without puffing up the … [Read more...]

Once more into the breach…

The Boston Globe, weighing in on public radio, is notably unhelpful: Bring back music and culture programming. NPR's news reports are thoughtful and compelling. Its talk shows are topical and a nice way to bring listeners into conversations. And "Car Talk" is great entertainment. But occasionally all this talk is wearying. Balance could be provided by music shows and radio documentaries. But as anyone who's actually studied this subject knows, public radio listeners overwhelmingly don't want music. They want talk. The Globe's editors are … [Read more...]


Again from the New York Times Book Review, this time from last week's review, by Carlos Fuentes, of what sounds like a wonderful new translation of Don Quixote: This Don Quixote [translated by Edith Grossman] can be read with the same ease as the latest Philip Roth and with much greater facility than any Hawthorne. Yet there is not a single moment in which, in forthright English, we are not reading a 17th century novel. This is truly masterly: the contemporaneous and the original coexist. Not, mind you, the "old" and the "new." Grossman sees … [Read more...]

Talking to ourselves

In today's New York Times Book Review there's a review of a book on ancient Greece -- Thomas Cahill's Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. I was interested; if Cahill could tell us why we should pay attention to ancient Greece today, maybe we could learn something about why classical music matters, too. Not that I'm consigning classical music to the distant antiquity of Homer and Euripides, but the parallel (partial, not complete) ought to be obvious. When I got to the end of the review (by Joy Connolly, "who teaches classics and … [Read more...]


I've been reading Kyle Gann's blog with the greatest admiration, and hesitated to comment only because I thought that -- to do justice to what Kyle does -- I'd have to write something long. But that's not so. I can say it simply. Kyle's blog is the most important one here, because, while the rest of us carry on about issues and opinions in the arts, Kyle writes deeply about art itself. Of course I know that Terry and Tobi talk about arts events, and so do I sometimes, but Kyle does it from the inside. And not just because he's an artist … [Read more...]

Important truth

From a musician in a major orchestra, speaking about whether classical music should be "relevant": We shouldn't be relevant. We should be be prophets. … [Read more...]

Alternative classical

I'm always flattered, when I'm linked on the main ArtsJournal site. And today's link gives me a chance to add something to my column this month in NewMusicBox, which is where the link goes. In this column, I suggest a new term for new classical music -- "alternative classical," a useful term, I think, because it addresses two things: First, that much of new classical music doesn't sound classical (though it uses classical techniques), and second, that there's an audience already tuned to alternative pop, that would like a lot of "alternative … [Read more...]

The alternative audience

  In my NewMusicBox column, I quote a lot from some helpful e-mail I've gotten from Cory Schwarz, a composer in New York, who has a post-rock band (his term for it). Among much else, he wrote:   There is an audience for [new music]. I have many friends in and around Brooklyn with very modern tastes in music and [who] listen to some pretty crazy things even by my standards. And there is good new music out there. However, what these “hip young Brooklynites” are listening to isn't modern classical. It's post-rock and art rock. Groups … [Read more...]

Musicians speak

A group of musicians, all of them from mid-sized American orchestras, were asked what advice they'd give to young conductors. The question came from someone who's organizing a conductor training program. And the musicians' answers were amazing, for two reasons. First, because so much of the advice was so basic, and because it wasn't aimed just at young conductors. Some of the players said their comments could just as well be aimed at their well-traveled, experienced music directors. "Speak up," the musicians advised. "Don't mumble." "Speak … [Read more...]

It’s not just art

From a musician in a mid-sized orchestra, at a meeting I was at today: I was taught that the art is everything, but that's a fallacy. I've come to think of classical music as an advocacy profession, like being a lawyer, and working as a public defender. You'll have to explain why you do what you do. Many younger musicians feel this way. Another way I've heard them put it is that careers aren't in any sense automatic, even for musicians who are really good. To some extent, you'll have to make your own way -- and an important part of your … [Read more...]

More Vanity Fair

In my last post, I looked at Vanity Fair's music issue from the viewpoint of its editors. Why did they pick the two classical artists they included? Now let's look at it from the outside in, from the viewpoint of the classical music world. Why isn't there more classical music in Vanity Fair, and especially in its music issue? Suppose I ran the Cleveland Orchestra. I might ask myself, "Why aren't we featured in the magazine this month?" I can think of four answers (not that there might not be more): a) We don't belong there. Vanity Fair is … [Read more...]

Vanity Fair

Just bought their annual music issue. Gorgeous, thoughtful photos, lots to read (or at least skim). An overview of where music is right now, for many of the people we in the classical music world hope to reach. And of course nearly all of it is pop, in all pop's striking variety. What part does classical music play? Well, look at "The Music Portfolio," starting on page 333, a kind of honor roll of musicians in 2003. First The Dixie Chicks, in a warm, arresting photo luxuriously spread over two pages. Clearly three smart women, and, above all, … [Read more...]