More on the decline of the west…

...or, more modestly, the questions raised for classical music by the decline of European culture as the dominant force even in the western world. (See my earlier post.) There's a striking and important novel that appears to be about this, Richard Powers's The Time of His Singing. I say "appears to be" because I haven't finished it yet. But so far one of its major themes is the meaning of classical music in a non-classical world, as explored through the experience of young black classical musicians making their careers in the 1960s. How do … [Read more...]

Decline of the west

Derek Bermel, a terrific composer whom I like a lot, e-mailed a comment on my last book episode, which deserves to be shared. So, with his permission, here's what he wrote: Sometimes I wonder, in a country which is increasingly South American, Asian, and African, whether it is useful to dwell so strongly on the history of European performance/composition. Because by the time we've 'figured it out', the audience may have mutated so much as to render obsolete the arguments based on 18th and 19th century Europe. I know you - of all people - have … [Read more...]

Digital step forward

I succumbed to one of the new fifth-generation iPods, a nice sleek black one, which shows video and has an 80 gb hard drive. Quite cool, especially since iPod prices have come way down. I've had an iPod for quite a while, and before that another digital player, but now I'm looking forward to ripping CDs at much higher bitrates, giving me much better sound. (The extra hard drive space leaves plenty of room for the larger files.) And, of course, to watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica when I'm traveling, not to mention that DVD about Poulenc … [Read more...]

Met opening

That was on the Metropolitan Opera's website, less than half an hour before opening night. They'd been running this countdown for days, and I loved it. How to create excitement! Or, rather, one way to do it, along with the free open house they'd had the day before; the announcement of the deal putting the Met on its own full-time channel on Sirius satellite radio. And, of course, the announcement of the video screens in Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza, allowing anyone to see the opening night performance free. Here's an institution that … [Read more...]

The dawn of classical music

The new episode of my online book is now online. In it, I outline changes that happened late in the 18th and early in the 19th century, in the way that music was thought about. Amazingly, maybe, from our point of view, music wasn't considered a major art until this time. Before the concept of classical music, as we now know it, could evolve, the status of music had to change -- people had to decide that it was supremely important. Which they did, thanks to many factors, ranging from romanticism, German nationalism, and Beethoven, who as the … [Read more...]

Concert with dancing

I can hardly say enough about Eric Edberg, a cellist and professor at the DePauw University School of Music. He's one of the people I've met through this blog (and through my online book), and he and I have been giving each other lots of encouragement. Among much else, he's writing an online book himself (which I've mentioned here before), about how important improvisation is -- or should be -- for classical music. It's important reading. On August 30, he gave a quietly important concert. Well, maybe "quiet" is the wrong word; the concert was … [Read more...]

My music criticism class

I've been preparing for tomorrow's session, so this class is on my mind. It's a graduate course at Juilliard, about music criticism. Last year my students were half classical musicians, and half jazz musicians; it looks like the mix this year will be pretty much the same. Which, if I'd expected it, might have led me to change what I teach a little. But on the other hand, the curriculum I made up seems to work, and the jazz students last year seemed to get into it. And apparently they recommended the course to their friends, which is really … [Read more...]

More radio

I'm part of a long podcast from Radio Allegro in Canada, interviewed by a very smart and lively guy, Ashley Foot. The podcast is called "The Sounds of Summer 2006," and I'm one of several people who pick a piece of summer music we love. And, OK, I picked a piece of autumn music I'd heard in the winter, "Harvest Moon," the deeply beautiful Neil Young song (from his '90s album of that name), as he sings it in the Jonathan Demme concert film, Heart of Gold. I've raved about that film here; it's not just an unforgettable human and musical document, … [Read more...]


I mentioned a while ago that I'd been on the radio in Houston, on KUHF, talking about the future of classical music. Turned out there was great response from the station's staff, and so they broadcast more of me than they'd at first planned to. But then the broadcasts, I was told, were a great success. The response was "overwhelmingly positive" (this is from an e-mail from someone at the station), with phone calls and requests for more information pouring in. Less credit goes to me, I'd think, than to the station, for featuring this subject. … [Read more...]


I want to amend what I wrote in previous posts about the American Composers Orchestra. I mentioned (and very happily) upcoming events featuring composer/performers, September 27 at Joe's Pub in New York, October 13 at Zankel Hall New York again), and October 15 at Irvine Auditorium in Philadelphia. See their website for details. I think this is important, and very positive, for the future of classical music. But what I didn't say is that their entire season is devoted to composer/performers, branded under the title "Composers Out Front." Why … [Read more...]

New book episode

The new episode of my book (about the future of classical music, of course), went online last night. As I said in my last post, I'm writing now about the things that happened, in the 19th century and the 20th, to make the classical music world what it's like today. I realize that I'm going at this a little backwards. The changes I'll detail bear some responsibility, I think, for the decline that classical music now has to fight its way out of. But I haven't yet stated the statistical measures of that decline -- most obviously the falling … [Read more...]

The book resumes

On Monday, I'll be posting a new episode, the first since last spring, of my in-progress online book on the future of classical music. In the last few episodes, all still available online, I looked at the days when composers like Haydn and Mozart were active, but the concept of classical music didn't yet exist. Concerts were lively; audiences reacted freely; most of the music played was new; and the musicians often improvised. I don't claim that this was a golden age (concerts also weren't well rehearsed, and the sound of all the first violins … [Read more...]

How could I forget?

Two items -- and not small ones -- that I should have included in my honor roll of new directions for classical music institutions, in my last post: First, the Metropolitan Opera!  Details have now been announced about Met productions being streamed live to movie theaters, something Peter Gelb announced in the spring. Now it's a reality. Not to mention the open house, free for everybody on September 22 (though you have to get tickets in advance), which includes the final dress rehearsal (free, as part of the open house) for the opening night … [Read more...]

Good news

In my last post, and often earlier, I've said that the biggest orchestras have suffered falling ticket sales to their core classical concerts for well over a decade. But now, on the grapevine, I've heard something hopeful--sales were slightly up last season. Not all of the biggest orchestras showed an increase, I hear, but most of them did, and their aggregate sales were definitely up. This is wonderful news. And what's the cause? I'm going to make a hopeful guess. I'll guess that sales are up because the orchestras--and of course especially … [Read more...]