Some things I’ve been thinking about….(And I’ll have to add more in another post. Note that I’ll be on vacation for a few days, and won’t be able to post any comments till next Monday or Tuesday.)
I’ve been fascinated, over the many years that I’ve been commenting on the future of classical music, to see that future emerge. Fascinated, and delighted, too. I wouldn’t have dared to predict exactly what the future would be, or when any part of it might arrive. And I’m finding that it’s coming faster and faster. Terrance McKnight is a major step. He programs a nightly classical music show (well, Mondays through Thursdays), in which new music is the norm.
But it’s not a new music show! Mainstream classical works are also featured, along with jazz, and other things. He opened with some African-American folk music from Mississippi, very rural and wild, which then unforgettably segued into the slow movement of Beethoven’s Op. 109 piano sonata. You must look at his programming, which I’ve collated, up to the start of this week, from the WNYC website.
I think this is the classical music programming of the future, programming in which new music isn’t an occasional spice (or annoyance, for people whose main love is standard repertoire), but is – I’ll say it again – the norm. Certainly this is the kind of programming that can attract the new, young audience that classical music people always talk about. I don’t know what kind of numbers the show is pulling, whether it’s gaining audience or losing it. I can imagine many scenarios, one being a stampede toward the program, as word gets around, and another being a stampede away from it, and then a slow but steady surge of new people, growing over time, ending up with more people listening than listened before. Certainly I’m likely to listen.
And note that this future isn’t, I’m a little sad to say, the future many of the people in the field so wistfully have hoped for. That’s a future in which things continue unchanged, but somehow a new, young audience starts coming to concerts. When you think hard about that, it’s unlikely – why should people start coming to something they’ve stayed away from for so many years?
But I know many people (many, many people inside classical music) hoped they somehow would. The sadness, for these people, is that Terrance McKnight might be a strong sign that classical music really has a future, but it’s not the future many people wanted.
McKnight, I should add, doesn’t do this alone. He was brought to WNYC by my friend Limor Tomer, the station’s Executive Producer of Music. Limor had already moved the show in this direction, but needed a brilliant host and programmer to make it sing. She found him, and deserves full credit.
But don’t take my word for it! Download the programming, as I’ve collated it, and see what classical music looks like, when half the pieces you hear (maybe even more than half) are by living composers. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this for years, maybe for all my life. If this succeeds at (so to speak) the box office, and once word gets around, this might be the biggest a shot in the arm classical music has had in years.
Faithful readers may have noticed an echo above of my post on the Wordless Music orchestra concert, a performance of orchestral music by Gavin Bryars, John Adams, and Jonny Greenwood that sold out a thousand-seat church two nights in a row, with no advertising. As I said at the time, we saw – right at those concerts – the new young audience everyone talks about, the same audience (or pretty much the same) as the people who might listen to Terrance McKnight. And I quoted a veteran, highly placed classical music insider who – greatly impressed, even thrilled with what he saw – recalled that he’d told an orchestra he once worked with that if they ever got the young audience they talked about, they wouldn’t like it. Here, he thought, was living proof of that. This audience simply won’t go to standard classical programs, or at least not nearly as often as the present audience does.
You can hear that Wordless Music concert on WNYC’s website. WNYC – another Limor Tomer initiative – broadcasts and archives all of Wordless Music’s performances. (Note, by the way, that if you want to listen to the program one piece at a time, click the tiny “more” button at the lower left of the box describing the orchestra concert. You’ll be taken to a page where you can choose which part of the concert to hear.)
The orchestra concerts were a new departure for Wordless; normally they do smaller shows, combining alternative bands with classical music. (And absolutely not, as I’ve said before, as any kind of outreach. The concerts simply reflect the taste of Ronen Givony, who runs the series. And, of course, the taste of their audience.)