I’d been enumerating the reasons given, if you follow the link, for classical music being not just healthy, but in a golden age. Those I’ve listed so far are: Performances are better (more technically accomplished) than they’ve ever been. Performances are more faithful to the composer’s intentions. The early music movement has brought new energy to classical music. Classical recordings are booming.
As both I and some commenters have said, a lot of this amounts to no more than saying, “Wow, there’s a lot going on.” Without looking deeper to find out how much of it is sustainable.
So, moving onward:
5. A lot of students are studying to be classical musicians.
This genuinely is a mystery. Music schools are full of students, even though other people the students’ age don’t care about classical music. How can that be?
Probably the riddle could be solved, if there were studies showing who the music students are, demographically, and how they came to classical music. One guess I’ve made is that music lessons — in classical music — are part of the portfolio, so to speak, of kids from upscale families. And some of the kids really take to classical music, which would make sense, because the music is, after all, quite wonderful.
And as long as jobs in the field still exist — in orchestras, for instance — a professional career seems reasonable.
But that’s just a guess. The downside of the situation — which speaks strongly about the clouds that really do sit over the classical music world these days — would be this. First, the students acutely feel that other people their age aren’t interested in what they do, and many of them don’t like that. Many more might not like it — or might much more strongly say that they don’t — if discussion of this were encouraged at their schools.
Second, the schools themselves acutely feel that there might not be jobs for the present and future generations of their students. That’s why entrepreneurship is such a buzzword at music schools these days — if there won’t be orchestra jobs (for instance), then students will have to learn how to make careers on their own. The students, too, are aware of this.
I’ll admit that — at Juilliard, for instance, where I teach about the future of classical music — the students in my classes might be more likely to think these things than their colleagues would. But maybe not. At the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, where I’ve spoken to students for the past couple of year, or at Yale, where I spent two days talking to students (among other things I did there), I found these sentiments to be quite strong. Classical music students don’t feel rosy about their futures.
6. Classical music is booming in Asia.
We hear this a lot, with thoughts of China shining in the air. So many piano students there, so many violin students! And so many new opera houses, with no opera performed in them. So few orchestras, and those that exist giving very few performances. Such small audiences, sometimes, for touring performers from the west. So many Chinese and Korean students taking my Juilliard course, saying that there really isn’t strong support for classical music in their countries, hoping to go home and develop that support.
And, in China, so much passion for western popular culture. I remember reading once of a China tour by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band with wide indie support, but no pop chart success. They were one of the first western bands to tour China, and found, according to one member of the group, 10,000 fans at their shows, all mouthing or singing the lyrics of their songs. Chalk some of that down to exaggeration. It’s still stronger support — stronger fandom — than western classical musicians might find.
My guess is that support for classical music in Asia, or at least in China and Korean, is to some extent aspirational. That is, classical music is an attainment that newly well-off Chinese and Korean families want their kids to have. But again, that’s a guess. I’d love more data. But I do think to blindly say things are booming isn’t quite right.