Pulitzer follies

For the second year in a row, I've been asked -- along of course with many other people in the music business -- to nominate candidates for the Pulitzer Prize in music. Let me quickly note that this isn't any great distinction. Anyone can nominate somebody for the Pulitzer Prize. We can all even nominate ourselves, and why not? But for the past two years, they've been actively looking for nominations, and I think that's linked to the expansion of eligibility rules that they announced a couple of years ago. And that expansion irks me no … [Read more...]


I'm thinking a lot these days about popular culture, and how to compare it to high culture. Many people, I think, would assume that there's some intrinsic difference. And if that's true, we ought to be able to say what it is -- we ought to be able to find some irreducible quality in any sample of popular culture, which wouldn't be found in any sample of high culture. And samples of high culture, of course, would have some irreducible quality of their own, which wouldn't be found in any example of popular culture. (Jump down three paragraphs, if … [Read more...]

Important data

Because this history isn’t well known, I thought I’d summarize some of the data I’ve uncovered about American orchestras in the past, and their audience. (Even at the risk of repeating myself.) This first post shows the data on the audience’s age. This data teaches two lessons: We can no longer say the orchestra audience has always been the age it is now. That’s just not true. We can’t assume that younger people will start going to classical concerts when they grow older, as past generations did. Here’s the data. In 1937, the average … [Read more...]

An important piece of history

Thanks to the kindness of the archivists at the New York Philharmonic, I've gotten a copy of a report on the state of American orchestras in 1972, written by the big management consulting firm, McKinsey. And actually what I've gotten is two documents, one a 1969 McKinsey memo to the presidents of the Big Five orchestras, the other the longer, more formal 1972 report. Both are fascinating, even revelatory. What's in them? Try this: the Big Five routinely sold out all their concerts in 1969. This was so much taken for granted that, to calculate … [Read more...]

The financial crunch

Why did the Big Five commission McKinsey to make these reports? (See my previous post.) Because by the end of the 1960s, orchestras were having bad financial problems. The Big Five first pondered this alone, then convened a conference of many orchestras, and brought in McKinsey. I learned this from Howard Shanet's book Philharmonic, a history of the New York Philharmonic. I then asked the Philharmonic's archivists if they had the report, and they got me a copy. (Thanks, Richard and Barbara!) And what the report says is fascinating. Large … [Read more...]

More on that younger audience

My post on how to attract a younger audience -- a way that really works - - has gotten an unusual number of comments. Apparently it struck a nerve, both for people who like the idea I offered, and for people who don't. But one of the most important comments came to me in a private e-mail from Molly Sheridan, the managing editor of http://newmusicbox.org/index.nmbx NewMusicBox, an important webzine published by the American Music Center. Molly herself is AC/DC, audience-wise -- a classical person by training, and by disposition a member of … [Read more...]

How to attract a young audience (for real)

Not a theory -- instead, a way that really works. I've heard about it working, and I've also seen it myself, twice. You combine classical music with alternative pop (an umbrella term that may not really exist, but which I'm using here to mean all kinds of pop music that isn't on the pop charts, including alternative rock and electronica). The London Sinfonietta (as I've written here before) has done this several times, and (or so I've been told) has gotten 1000 people in their 20s cheering for Xenakis. There's a double CD set on Warp … [Read more...]

Unlikely to happen

Sometime in the past year I heard an indifferent performance of a familiar symphony, by a major orchestra. Doesn't matter where or when, doesn't matter who the conductor was. There was no nuance, no joy or excitement, no real connection between one moment and the next, though maybe there was at least a certain amount of vigor and efficiency. I asked a musician in the orchestra what he thought of the conductor. He said, "Look, there are some pieces we just shouldn't play unless the conductor can really make something of them." This piece was one … [Read more...]

Another episode

Another new episode of my improvised, in-progress book -- on the future of classical music -- is online. In the last few episodes, I've been discussing classical music's past, both what it was in the 18th century (when it wasn't classical music yet, and therefore didn't have any aura of sanctity), and how it started in the 19th century to turn into what it is now. The present episode is the second in a series that looks at the effects of modernism. In my last episode, I showed how vital new music could be -- how closely connected to the … [Read more...]

Another lost opportunity

So there's a new movie, Copying Beethoven, about the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. And in the New York Times review (by ManohlaDargis) comes the following: Onscreen is the Kecskemet Symphony Orchestra of Hungary, but what we hear is a 1996 Decca recording of Bernard Haitink conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. Purists may object to this strategy, but Ms. Holland's filmmaking in this scene is so sensitive that only quibblers will notice if the bowing doesn't match the sound. Well, this non-purist has another objection, … [Read more...]


In my  "How not to think" post, I threw some words around a little carelessly. At one point, batting some ideas around, I said "nobody asks about this." This was a grandly rhetorical use of "nobody," meaning, in an exasperated tone, "hardly anyone." Surely it was unfair to fellow-bloggers like Drew McManus and Andrew Taylor, who do ask the kind of questions I like to see asked. Sometimes I just get carried away. … [Read more...]

Not so good

It sounded like a terrific idea, when the Met announced that it would promote its new Barber of Seville production last night (November 8) on Letterman. Since I've been a big fan of their new promotions, I made sure I watched the show. But the opera didn't come off very well, and the Met may have made a mistake. The first problem, which of course wasn't the Met's fault, was that the show last night was especially goofy. Letterman's first guest was Dustin Hoffman, who seemed to be playing the "I'm such a big star that it doesn't matter what I … [Read more...]

How not to think

Here's the start of a breathless piece in the Wall Street Journal, linked from ArtsJournal today: HERE'S A TEST for symphony orchestra lovers. True or false: 1) To woo younger audiences, which are bored by Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, orchestras must play more contemporary works, even at the risk of alienating their aging core audience. 2) By offering free concerts, orchestras will expose more people to classical music and generate new ticket-buyers. 3) Orchestras can create new audiences by designing and offering educational programs for … [Read more...]

If it’s good for you…yuck!

In today's New York Times, in the business section, is a brief little story I can't find online. It talks about a paper in the Journal of Marketing, which reports the results of two studies. In each study, people were given the same food to eat -- in one study a cracker, in the other some mango lassi (an Indian yogurt drink) -- and then were divided into two groups. The people in one group were told the food was healthy; the people in the other group were told the food was unhealthy. Then they were asked to rate the food's flavor. You … [Read more...]

Lonely listener

I'm always delighted by the variety of people who subscribe to my online book on the future of classical music. (The next episode comes out on Wednesday. Recently I've gotten, just for instance, the marketing directors of two important orchestras, one in the US and one in the UK, a music student exploring new ways to describe classical music in Banff, in Canada, and someone in charge of program notes with an Australian orchestra. Plus a professor of piano and piano pedagogy at a small Bible college, not to mention an assortment of musicians and … [Read more...]