First, a list of innovations in classical concert-giving, which I compiled for my Juilliard course on the future of classical music. It’s just a start, and leaves out far more things than it includes. Comments are more than welcome. The list needs to be vastly enlarged, and improved, maybe not for my course, but for all the rest of us.
And second, a Wall Street Journal piece on the new alt-classical audience in New York. There’s nothing new in it for regular readers of this blog, and the blog commenter (John), who said I’m wrong to say that people in the new alt-classical crowd (or, more broadly, no younger people) ever go to mainstream classical events, will surely say, “There he goes again.” He’s got a point. I’m oversimplifying (as I acknoiwledged in my response to him).
But what’s important in this piece, I think, is a challenge to the mainstream classical institutions in New York. Why aren’t they trying to attract this new audience? I make an analogy between them and the management of a mainstream supermarket. A Whole Foods store opens down the block, and does terrific business. But the supermarket management doesn’t think that maybe they should put some organic products on their shelves.
Maybe, though, the analogy should have been stronger. Maybe the mainstream institutions are like Kodak, smugly selling photographic film after digital photography started to take hold. The truth, I’ll guess, lies between these two extremes. But the mainstream institutions ought to notice what’s going on. They’re missing the boat, both artistically and with any hope of attracting a new audience.
One thing (of many, to tell the truth) that I didn’t have space to say in the piece. Maybe one problem the mainstream institutions have is artistic. For one thing, to the extent that the alt-classical new music derives from minimalism (or is influenced by it), some mainstream people may well roll their eyes, because they’ve never quite accepted minimal music.
Second, there are two compositional styles — which loom large in the mainstream classical world — that I don’t think we hear in alt-classical work. One is modernism, and especially the European sort. Certainly there’s at least an indirect modernist influence, because I don’t think we’d be hearing all the dissonance that’s in alt-classical music if Schoenberg hadn’t lived. (Though maybe it could just as well have come to us from Ives and Henry Cowell, but that’s another story.) But very little, or maybe even nothing, in alt-classical music sounds like it’s influenced by the second Vienna school — by Schoenberg, Berg, or Webern — or by music descended from that school.
So if you’re in the mainstream classical world, and — like the New York Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra or the Philadelphia Orchestra — you think it’s important to hear music by Matthias Pintscher or Harrison Birtwistle or the Philharmonic’s new composer in residence, Magnus Lindberg (or many others) — well, there’s hardly any trace of this music, or anything in it, in any alt-classical style. So maybe then you think the alt-classical styles have something lacking.
They also don’t have much trace of what we might call neo-romantic music, though that name would be a gross oversimplification for what I really mean, which is new classical music that’s written in approximately the style of older classical works, or at least with an audible line of descent from the standard classical repertoire. So again alt-classical music sets itself apart.
And mainstream purists might also object to the pop influence in alt-classical music. Of course, many people are willing to give it a shot — you might find some organizations programming both Pintscher and an alt-classical star like Nico Muhly. But maybe the alt-classical movement, in full force, might seem one-sided to some mainstream people, who in turn might seem one-sided to the alt-classical crowd. Who, however, have an audience, which (for new music) the mainstream people might not have.