I'm off for two weeks of rest, play, and composing. I'll blog again after Labor Day. Before I go, I want to thank Gavin Borchert for a thoughtful and friendly response to my comments on his Seattle Weekly piece, about the future of classical music. Might be worth quoting, if he'd let me do that, when I get back. But above all, it shows that people can debate very sharply and still be civil, even cheerful about it. Gavin seems like a class act. One thing worth noting, by the way -- his piece is two years old, even though it was linked on … [Read more...]

Not so fine

Gavin Borchert's rant in the Seattle Weekly -- linked today in ArtsJournal -- gives me a good opportunity to sum up some reasons why classical music is in trouble. Borchert ratns that classical music is just fine, and that the whole commotion is mostly hype. Here are reasons why he's wrong: Orchestras that fold [Borchert writes] make headlines; healthy ones don't. A decade ago, it was San Diego and New Orleans; this year, it was San Jose, with Toronto and St. Louis teetering. This is tragic--but it's not the apocalypse. A few baseball teams … [Read more...]

Some questions

Here's a piece I wrote this summer for the Aspen Festival program book. Comments welcome!   We hear that there's a crisis in classical music, that the audience might disappear and that in fact it's getting smaller. We hear that classical music institutions, even some of the major ones, might be in trouble, and that they aren't selling enough tickets, or raising enough money.   But here I don’t want to look at the complex facts and figures of the apparent decline, nor the innovations in performance (video screens at orchestral … [Read more...]


In today's New York Times, Paul Griffiths -- a very poetic academic critic, if that mélange of qualities makes any sense -- writes about doubts in playing music. He's explaining Brice Pauset, a French composer, who, since he's an early-music keyboard player, spends a lot of time with Couperin, Bach, and Schubert, who for him offer no safe haven. Like other practitioners of "historically informed" performance, he lives in a world where important questions -- of ornamentation, tuning, authentic text -- must remain forever uncertain… Nicely … [Read more...]

My Handel

"Handel operas are boring," said someone I know. And I agree -- or rather current productions generally are, despite the fad for Handel operas, despite how well some singers sing them, and despite all the clever ideas that directors have. They're boring because Handel operas aren't any kind of drama we readily understand. Mostly they're strings of arias, each in the same undramatic form, A-B-A, the point being, first, to express two contrasting affects (Baroque Music 101), and, second, to give the singer a chance to put on a show. Contrasting … [Read more...]

Too much praise

A while ago, driving into New York, I listened to the start of the broadcast of the opening concert of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart festival. I heard one complete piece, the overture to Mozart's opera La clemenza di Tito, along with commentary from Margaret Juntwait and Fred Child, top radio personalities from, respectively, WNYC (New York's public radio station) and NPR's Performance Today. And the commentary made me itch. Juntwait and Child sound like smart, humane people, and when they started praising Mostly Mozart's new music director, … [Read more...]

Rob Kapilow

I'd never heard this guy, who entrances audiences at Lincoln Center with programs called "What Makes It Great?" in which he explains classical masterworks. He's also got some CDs of his explanations. And he pretty much entranced me, explaining Mozart's Jupiter Symphony with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. He really has a knack for getting under the hood of a piece, and getting everybody -- even people new to classical music -- hearing fabulous details of how the piece works. I learned a lot. But at the same time, there's something very retro … [Read more...]

The loyal audience

Rob Kapilow finished his presentation with a Q & A, involving both him and some of the musicians. One question was about the future of classical music -- the person asking was afraid we might not have any future. Kapilow and the musicians answered very seriously. One of the musicians said we needed to restore music education in our schools, and the audience applauded. From the warmth of the applause, it's easy to see that the classical music audience is worried that classical music might disappear, and that restoring music education is a … [Read more...]