Top ten changes in classical music

Here's my top ten list for the past decade -- the ten most important changes in the classical music world, the changes that had (and will have) the most impact on classical music's future. A mildly arbitrary list, as all lists like this are. But useful, even so, for taking a look at how far we've come. Here's the list: 10. Improved customer service This happened off the radar, far from the public eye. But it was crucial for classical music's future. Buying tickets used to be more difficult than it should have been. Lincoln Center, for … [Read more...]

Happy holidays

My warmest holiday wishes to everyone who reads this blog -- long-time readers, new readers, quiet readers, commenting readers. Everyone! I'm thrilled that you're here, and that so many of you -- as I know from your comments and your e-mail -- have joined with me and each other in a movement to change classical music. For next year, a resolution: Let's try to find ways to pull our movement together, to stay in touch, to share thoughts, information, projects. Change is sweeping through the field, and we don't yet know enough about what's going … [Read more...]

French audience, again

Gary Brain, a composer and conductor based in Paris,emailed about the French classical music audience. In my previous French audience post, I'd talked about a French government study that, supposedly, showed that the audience in France is quite young, and I contrasted that with official French numbers -- from the French ministry of culture -- that show an older audience, just as we have in the US.Gary and I had tried to figure out what this discrepancy might be -- assuming, of course, that the young numbers are legitimate. Maybe they're true in … [Read more...]

City Opera’s back — with an improvising orchestra!

I went to both New York City Opera productions -- Don Giovanni and Hugo Weisgall's Esther -- in their fall season, their first since returning from the abyss. And good news -- the company is definitely back. Definitely a sense of something going on, both onstage and in the house. You could love or not love what you saw. I didn't love Esther as an opera, for instance (far from it), but it was sung, staged, and played (by the orchestra) really well. The Giovanni production, by Christopher Alden, wouldn't be to everyone's taste. Too busy, too … [Read more...]

Bad news for classical radio

The radio world thought it knew how many people listened to each radio format. But it turns out that this was wrong. Up to now, radio ratings have been calculated the old-fashioned way. A sample of people kept diaries in which they wrote down what they listened to, and all the ratings -- how many people listen to each station, to each show on each station, and to each radio format -- were calculated from what the diarists wrote down. But now there's a new system, which TV ratings switched to 20 years ago. In the new system, people in the sample … [Read more...]

Age of the French classical audience

From time to time, people have mentioned in comments here a French government study that supposedly shows that the French classical music audience is very young, with a median age of 38. I've never been able to find the source for this number. From some of what's been said, I get the idea that it's on a flyer handed out at concerts.But the French Ministry of Culture tells a different story. You can go here to see the results of their 2008 study of French concert attendance, made available as a PDF file. Or go here if you'd like the numbers in … [Read more...]

Day of reckoning

The National Endowment for the Arts has just released what -- at least for the classical music world -- looks like a bombshell: its 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (the latest in a series of surveys it's been issuing since 1982). Now, a summary of the report, along with some supporting statistics, was released months ago, before the summer, and I certainly treated it as a bombshell. I blogged about it here under the title "Dire data." The classical music audience, the report clearly spelled out, was not just aging, but growing … [Read more...]

The old days

I've said here before that opera singers these days -- at least when they sing Italian opera -- can't compare to singers from the 1950s and before. This is an old debate in the opera world, and you could finesse it -- in very simple terms -- by saying that singers now have more musicianship, and singers in the past had more passion. And, maybe, more voice.  But wait -- why am I talking about this here, apart from my wild love of Italian opera, which my frequent readers must be used to by now? There's a larger reason. It's about a spark, … [Read more...]

Using my work?

Here's a question. I'd love to hear from people who've made use of my work. People who, for instance, may have assigned or discussed it in courses they teach. Or cited it in discussions inside classical music organizations. Or else quoted it in things they've written. ADDED LATER: And as I should have said -- all responses are confidential, unless you tell me otherwise, or (of course) unless you post them publicly as comments.I know these things have happened, because I've heard from people who've done them. Not too long ago, for instance, I … [Read more...]

Parable for our time

As she prepared her daughter for college, Anne Sweeney insisted that a television be among the dorm room accessories."Mom, you don't understand. I don't need it," her 19-year-old responded, saying she could watch whatever she wanted on her computer, at no charge.That flustered Ms. Sweeney, who happens to be the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group."You're going to have a television if I have to nail it to your wall," she told her daughter, according to comments she made at a Reuters event this week. "You have to have one."(from a … [Read more...]

Fourth book riff

Previously: outline of my book riff 1: The rebirth of classical music riff 2: Why is the rebirth happening? riff 3:  Resistance to change: the value of classical music And now, riff four: Resistance to change: reasons for resistance. (Feel free, if you like, to copy and paste all of this and keep it for reference, or send it to anyone you like. Just don't violate the Creative Common license at the end.) Greg Sandow Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music fourth riff from chapter one      Resistance to change: reasons for … [Read more...]

Thanksgiving Figaro

An important reminder: I don't just critique the present state of the classical music world. I love classical music, and sometimes I stilli get lost in it, just as I did in the old days, when I loved it without any footnotes, and lived in the classical music world fulltime.This happened over Thanksgiving, when I had the gift of some quiet time in the country. I found myself listening to Mozart operas, first Don Giovanni, in the René Jacobs recording, surely one of the most astounding alt-classical performances ever done of a standard classical … [Read more...]


I've gotten some pushback for my "Left behind" posts (here, here, and here). (Quite apart from two people on Twitter -- Danny Felsenfeld most amusingly -- who thought I might be playing off the Christian novels about the Rapture. OK, Danny, I'll buy into that! There's going to be a classical music Rapture. Don't get left behind!) Some of the pushback is about labelling music, or, rather, labelling alt-classical music. Nobody ever pushed back at me for mentioning serial music, or Baroque music, or Renaissance music, or New Age music, or death … [Read more...]

More ideas

This comes from Michael Gilliland, whom I've met on Twitter. I asked him to tell me more about something he tweeted, and this e-mail was the result. I'm copying it here with his permission, of course. You'll see that he starts with something the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Symphony did -- which sounds just marvelous -- and goes on to ideas of his own. Thanks so much, Michael! One event in which I was a participant was fun, and engaging for the young people in attendance. This event was staged by one of Arkansas' regional orchestras the Fort Smith … [Read more...]

Left behind (3)

Finishing my impulsive three-part series on how/why contemporary classical music -- as presented by mainstream classical music institutions -- isn't really part of current culture. In the first two parts -- here and here -- I showed how, both now and in the past, new classical music, and especially modernist new music, didn't connect with other cultural developments. How modernist literature touched on popular culture and everyday life, but new classical music didn't. How modernist music in 1960s Paris -- Boulez -- looms large in classical … [Read more...]