Some comic relief.
Pinchas Zuckerman, uneasy about the future of classical music, and squirming helplessly as he moans about it in the Denver Post, let fly with this:
If [classical music isn’t] synonymous with our existence, or [isn’t so to] at least 5 to 6 percent of the population, then society will become a jungle. And we don’t want to see riots as we saw them in the ’60s, because that was chaos.
Classical music as a civilizing force — that’s a gratifying myth (idealistic at best, self-congratulatory at worst) that we’ve all met before. And it’s silly. Take a deep breath, Maestro Z, and repeat after me: The Nazis loved classical music…the Nazis loved classical music…
Besides, his logic is suspect. When there were riots in the ’60s, classical music was far more central in our culture than it is now. Hey, and not only that — big orchestras had just expanded to their 52-week contracts. Didn’t stop the riots, did it? And who from the music world helped calm the riots? Isaac Stern? It was James Brown.
But the whole thing is just too silly for words. The riots came from racial issues that had nothing to do with classical music. And as Z acknowledges later in the interview, classical music has difficult problems, complex ones, and he wishes that the biz would take a unified approach. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Though maybe the racial problems of the ’60s did have at least a remote classical music connection. The racial record of classical music up to that time hadn’t been very good.
In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers of course had made Jackie Robinson the first black player in the major leagues. So somebody went to Edward Johnson, who ran the Metropolitan Opera, and suggested that he follow the Dodgers’ lead, and put a black singer in a leading role. To which Johnson whined, “Don’t I have enough trouble already?” — thus not quite showing that classical music had civilized him in any deep, important way, in a lifetime spent in the field as a singer and administrator.
It wasn’t till years later, in 1955 — after the Supreme Court had made racial matters an issue for the entire nation, by declaring school segregation unconstitutional — that the Met dared to follow the Dodgers’ lead.
I hope my readers will try Pandora’s new classical music offerings. What’s Pandora? A terrific Internet radio site, on which you create your own radio station, based on any songs or artists you like. Pandora then finds other music like the stuff you picked. In pop, it’s uncannily good. I have a Lucinda Williams station, just for instance, and Pandora finds endless rootsy singer-songwriters, and they’re rootsy in much the way that Williams is. (Though she’s far better. Pandora reaffirmed that.)
So now you can do it with classical music. Type in the name of a composer, or search online to find a work, and Pandora will give you more like it. I should declare an interest here, because I’ve talked with Pandora’s founder and CEO, and offered suggestions. But I was a Pandora subscriber before that contact ever happened, and my suggestions have nothing to do with what they’re offering now.
I thought I’d throw Pandora a curve, and set up Schoenberg and Webern stations. The result amazed me. Pandora found music that fit both styles precisely. It even picked a Berio piece (Points on a Curve to Find) that fit in Schoenberg’s universe, and another one that fit in Webern’s. (I’m sorry that I didn’t write down which piece it was, and unfortunately Pandora doesn’t let you go back and see what it chose.)
My biggest surprise came when Schoenberg’s String Trio came up on the Webern station. I wouldn’t have made that connection, and could easily cite parts of the piece that don’t seem Webern-like at all. But in the Webern world that Pandora made, the String Trio fit perfectly. So there’s another lesson that Pandora taught me — the Schoenberg String Trio is more like Webern than I’d have ever figured out on my own.
Try it out yourself. And if you do, give me some feedback. This could be helpful to Pandora down the line. There are some obvious problems, some based on their licensing requirements (they can’t always play all movements of a lengthy work), others maybe fixable. But try it out. See what you think.
And also check out Daniel Mendelsohn’s long and smart review of the Met’s Lucia, from the New York Review. I raved about it in an earlier post; it’s now online. Music criticism rarely gets this good (though I do think the second part of the piece, about the performance, is stronger than the opening, about Lucia‘s history). And if the Met is serious about presenting real theater, it should welcome scrutiny like this.