It’s too late to stop pop and classical music from interbreeding. There’s just too much of it going on, and it goes way beyond the obvious, well-publicized crossovers (Ofra Harnoy putting out a CD of Beatles songs, Michael Bolton singing opera arias, etc., etc., etc., etc.). The good stuff has a real artistic edge. I’m thinking of Capital M, a New York rock band, which commissioned seven pieces from seven classical composers, and premiered them in March. I’m thinking of the Steve Reich remixes, by dance music DJs, that came out on Nonesuch years ago. I’m thinking of Alarm Will Sound, the terrific New York new music group, which recorded arrangements of techno songs by Aphex Twin. Plus (picking things now almost at random) Christopher O’Reilly playing piano transcriptions of Radiohead, Conrad Cummings, writing piano pieces based on Beach Boys tunes, my own A te, for cello and piano, with an echo of Led Zeppelin. (Score is here, computer realization of the music here. I have a recording of a good performance, by musicians from the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, but I can’t put it on the web.)
Not to mention classical pieces written with a pop beat or a pop style or pop rhythms, by composers like Scott Johnson and Randall Wolff. Or Christopher Rouse, with his percussion piece that’s a tribute to John Bonham, the Led Zeppelin drummer, or his sequel to Wagner’s Ring, Der gerettete Alberich, for percussion solo and orchestra, which has rock & roll passages. And so much more.
I’m only scratching the surface. And I haven’t talked about classical moves from pop musicians—industrial bands indebted to Stockhausen, for instance, and much more. Or the collaborations between the London Sinfonietta and the techno label Warp, and with members of Radiohead.
Or the fuseleeds festival (no capital letters) in Britain I mentioned here 10 days or so ago. Or the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, shown in the film Music from the Inside Out, who play in salsa and bluegrass bands.
And then there’s a student in my Juilliard course this past semester, Justin Brown, a bassoonist, whose graduation recital (presented on April 29th) for his master’s degree had this program:
RADIOHEAD Everything in its Right Place
FRANK ZAPPA Dirty Love
RADIOHEAD I Might Be Wrong
CHARLES MINGUS Moanin‘
SIGUR ROS Hoppipolla
BJORK Army of Me
WEEZER Only in Dreams
BONNIE TYLER Total Eclipse of the Heart
All of this, Justin says, was “performed by an amplified acoustic ensemble of Juilliard Students (Justin Brown, bassoon; Evan Kuhlmann, keyboards; Gareth Flowers, trumpet; Brendan Kane, double bass; Michael Caterisano and Brian Flescher, percussion; Mike Block, cello).”
And he adds: “There were about 150 in attendance (the largest I have seen at a student recital @ Juilliard in the last five years). The audience members appeared more excited than I could have possibly hoped for (cigarette lighters were used without request!).”
Why shouldn’t classical musicians play concerts like this?
Why shouldn’t they treat themselves as jazz and pop musicians do? Instead of saying, “I’m a bassoonist, I’ll play the bassoon repertoire,” why not say, “I’m a musician, what music do I like? How can I make it work for my instrument?”
Another lovely sign of change, supplied as a comment to one of my recent posts, from someone who signs himself only as Luis, and is with the IberoAmerica ensemble (I think he’s probably Luis Díez, the violist in the Holland branch of the group; there’s also a branch in the US). Anyhow, Luis writes (along with some warm praise for me, for which I’m grateful), that “our cellist is reputed to have recently sung one of her favourite songs as an encore for her last concert!”
And there’s much, much more. How about pianist Gabriela Montero including a bonus CD of improvisations with her recent EMI classics release? Or soprano http://www.melaniemitrano.com/index.html Melanie Mitrano recording a CD of new music, which includes some really good songs she herself wrote (words and music both, just like a pop singer/songwriter)?
Classical music is changing, maybe faster than we think. We’re least likely to see the changes at the big institutions, but elsewhere things are moving fast. The pop/classical bleedthrough is impossible to stop, because even before it ever showed up to any great extent in concerts, it was happening in peoples’ heads.