Snapshot of the new culture

My Wall Street Journal piece on Lukas Ligeti and Gabriel Kahane is out. Follow the link to read it.

It’s about two composers with mainstream classical fathers,  but who write music that isn’t wholly classical. In this, they’re very much citizens of our new culture. Younger people (which by now means people 40 or younger, and maybe even many people older than that) don’t make distinctions between high and popular culture, or at least not distinctions of value. That includes what used to be thought of as high culture values, like being thoughtful, noncommercial, deep, or (more simply) serious. [Added later:] Stress “used to be thought of,” here, because so-called commercial culture these days can easiliy be thoughtful, deep, and serious.

People in the older culture can ignore this, or try to fight it, but that’s dangerous for them. They simply cut themselves off, not just from contemporary life, but from a lot of thoughtful, noncommercial, deep, and serious art. And if they’re trying to make converts for high culture, than they lose bigtime, because their case won’t seem plausible to the people they’re trying to reach. It’s a very bad strategy — obviously!– to go to smart, educated people, and say, “Listen to our music, because yours is trash.”

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  1. says

    Obviously I agree with you on most of this, but I think you fall into your own trap when you draw a distinction in quality, or at least seem to, between “commercial” and “non-commercial” art. There’s plenty of “thoughtful” and “serious” commercial art, and as you yourself have pointed out many times, much of classical music and “high art” are also “commercial.”

    Hi, Galen. I think I didn’t quite say what I meant. Thanks for catching me. I’ve edited the post, and I hope it’s clearer now.

  2. Colin says

    Another example is Tyondai Braxton, Anthony Braxton’s son, who plays in a band called Battles. They play around a lot with syncopation and complicated rhythms, but are squarely aiming for the rock audience.