Comments on this blog got fierce, over the past week. Comments, that is, to my posts about the NOI students at the University of Maryland. Here and here. I’m partly to blame, I’m sure, because I got heated myself. And I even got accused of brooking no oppositi/or thinon to anything I said.
But I’m easy with the heat, from myself and others, because I think there’s something big at stake. I passed on suggestions, from the students, for changes in the concert format, not for all concerts everywhere, but for a couple of concerts the students themselves will give in Maryland this month.
And some people reacted with alarm, not just disliking some of the specific suggestions, but worrying about all concerts, saying they liked the standard concert format (even if they might want to loosen the rules a little), that other people like it, too, that even some younger people like it.
And this is where we get a culture war (even if it’s quieter than the huge, sharp culture wars out in the big bad world beyond classical music). Some people like classical music the way it is. Some don’t. This isn’t an either/or thing — it’s a spectrum, with people locating themselves on all parts of it, some wanting no change, some wanting a little change, some wanting radical change.
All of which is natural. But what I see happening is some defensiveness on the conservative side, and some sharpened teeth on the radical side (including mine, I’m sure). This, too, is natural, but the defensiveness leads to a muddle. We lose clarity. In particular, I’ll criticize myself. I’m pretty sick of standard classical concerts. I want a lot of change. But what I maybe haven’t said clearly enough is that I also understand that everything isn’t suddenly going to change completely, that this would kill classical music, that many people in the current audience like the standard concert format (why else would they keep going?), and that classical music institutions, especially big ones, have to cater to these people, who after all are their ticket-buyers, their subscribers, and their donors.
Which means that the classical music world has to move in two directions at once. It has to keep doing everything it’s doing, for the sake of the existing audience, which may be shrinking, but still predominates. And at the same time, we have to go in new directions, so we’ll have an audience in the future.
This isn’t easy. Most classical music institutions, even the very big ones, use all their resources — all their people, all their money, all their energy — just going down the standard tracks. How are they going to go down two tracks at once? Especially if track B, the new track, is going to be anywhere near as big as track A. This won’t be easy. It might even seem impossible. But I think it has to be done, and I imagine that, in the future, when the need for track B is clearer — and when pioneers have shown ways to go down that track successfully — the impossible will become possible. And even be accepted as necessary.