Why classical music might die (still more)

I’m looking at the New York Times’ “Arts & Leisure” section, today’s edition (it’s April 17).

The lead story — “The Long Goodbye: Why the most celebrated departures in njetwork news are still some of the most visible faces on television” — doesn’t concern me here. We all know what it’s about, and I don’t see a classical music connection. (Hmm…why are the most celebrated dead composers still some of the most visible voices in concert halls? But let’s move on.)

What does interest me are the other two front-page stories:

The Strangest Sound in Hip-Hop Goes National: Chopped and screwed and slowed to distortion, the rhythm born in Houston is leaving home [by the wonderful Kelefa Sanneh]

Go Figure: Trendy artists pick up an old-fashioined habit: staring at nude bodies [by Carol Kino]

These caught my eye at once. What would the strangest sound in hip-hop be? You don’t have to know hip-hop inside out to be curious about that. You just have to know that hip-hop is a dominant pop genre these days. And then when you read the story, the strangest sound turns out to be genuinely interesting — slowed-down, distorted, hallucinatory. Classic hip-hop has mostly been driving, rhythmic, even aggressive. This Houston sound is something new.

And the art story is, if anything, more fascinating still. I’ll quote the start of it:

The mood was relaxed, even familiar on a recent Tuesday evening as the painter Will Cotton welcomed visitors to his Lower East Side loft. As he set out bowls of chocolate Easter candy, the artist Inka Essenhigh, who first made her name with paintings of anime-like creatures, pinned paper to an easel. Delia Brown, an art world provocateur who specializes in society scenes starring herself, relaxed in a chair with a drawing pad at the ready. The multimedia and performance artist Guy Richards Smit handed Mr. Cotton the first CD of the night — a -post-punk mix — and unpacked his watercolor kit.

And then a model (who turns out to be a stripper) undresses, and the assembled guests, all artists, start to draw her.

Only a few years ago, the idea of artists gathering to paint from a model would have seemed impossibly old-fashioned and hokey – and if the model was female and nude, sexist to boot. Yet for nearly three years now, a number of artists – not students putting charcoal to paper for the first time, but successful artists with established styles and audiences of their own – have flocked to Mr. Cotton’s weekly invitation-only sessions.

“There’s something kind of fun about doing something so geeky, so nerdy, so traditional,” Ms. Essenhigh said. “To do something so anti-conceptual and anti-Modernism feels really good, as if it were going to lead to helping you express things.”

Of course, the meaning of “modernism” here is very different from what it would be in the classical music world. In our shop, it means composers like Carter, Wuorinen, and Boulez, the musical equivalent of abstract painting. As used here by Inka Essenhigh, it just means prevailing current trends.


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