Modernism (sigh)

I loved Josh Kosman's piece on whiny modernist composers, linked from Artsjournal yesterday. Certainly there's a problem here, and in fact a serious historical conundrum. Why hasn't atonal modernist music by composers like Schoenberg and Charles Wuorinen caught on, even after a century (in Schoenberg's case)? Why does the mainstream classical music audience hate it so much?  Josh's piece was brought on by a New York Times interview with Wuorinen, John Harbison, and James Levine (who conducts a lot of atonal modernist music). … [Read more...]

Something good in South Dakota

This came to me last night, from Delta David Gier, music director of the South Dakota Symphony: I am now coming to the close of a season of concerts centered around Pulitzer prize-winning composers. This is my first season as Music Director, and I have worked for the past ten years as an assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic. During the interview process in Sioux Falls last year I stressed the importance of the orchestra's commitment to contemporary music. When I was offered the position I then had to figure out how to make good … [Read more...]


What follows comes from conversations with several organizations, and a consulting job with one of them. Suppose you're a classical music group, musically terrific, reasonably well known, and with a reasonably long history of success. But now your audience seems to be shrinking. You're not alone in this, since the same thing seems be happening everywhere. But still you need to do something about it. What do you do? Immediately, as far as I can see, you have a dilemma. On one hand, you've got all the stuff you've always done to sell tickets. … [Read more...]

CD covers

[This is an old post -- from January 25. But I'm not sure it ever got on my blog, due to some technical glitch, so I'm reposting it now.] Well, responses have been pouring in to things I've been writing lately -- the dimensions of the crisis, Baroque and medieval performance, CD covers. I'm glad I'm touching various nerves. And finding so much agreement! We've got a fine conspiracy going here. All through the classical music world are people who agree with the kinds of things I say, some of them in major institutions. The institutions are slow … [Read more...]

On the Town.

Funny to read (in a Norman Lebrecht column, linked from ArtsJournal) that anyone might object to the English National Opera performing Leonard Bernstein's On the Town. It's a musical, see, and opera companies ought to be above that. (Which isn't Lebrecht's position, by the way.) My wife and I just listened to the On the Town original cast album, during one of our drives from our New York apartment to our country place. It's very sophisticated music, heads and shoulders, if you ask me, over most American operas. The beginning is especially … [Read more...]

Another look at orchestras

Orchestras are in trouble, in the end, for one simple reason -- their market is shrinking. You can see that in a long-term decline in ticket sales, especially for most orchestras' core subscription series. You can also deduce the shrinking market from the overall situation of classical music, which each year gets less important in our culture. In the early 1960s, Life (then the leading mass-market national magazine) commissioned a piano piece from Copland, and printed it, for readers to play. In the early 2000s, classical radio stations … [Read more...]

Read the fine print

If you've already read this…I've revised my conclusion, adding some thoughts on why deficits can be a misleading measure of financial health. Here are two headlines, from ArtsJournal links to recent news stories: "SF Opera in the Black (After Major Deficits)" (San Francisco Chronicle, February 21) "Cincinnati to Build on Recent Fiscal Success" (Cincinatti Enquirer, March 2). Both these headlines make you think that the San Francisco Opera and the Cincinnati Symphony are in good financial shape. Granted, they're a little sunnier … [Read more...]