Two paths

Classical music is changing quite a bit. And in fact I’ve made a list of many innovations — some not well known at all — for my Juilliard course on the future of classical music.

But here’s a thought about the changes. They happen, I’ve been thinking, for two reasons. The obvious reason is that classical music is in crisis, and people worry about its future. And especially about whether, in the future, there will be any audience. So changes get made, in an attempt to make classical music more accessible, more interesting to people in our quickly changing culture.

The other reason for change, though, is much more vital, and — in my view — much more positive. Our culture is changing (or, rather, has been changing for many years), and so people involved in classical music also change. They see things differently. And so they want to do classical music differently.

One example is a student from Britain I had lunch with on Wednesday, someone I met when I took part in a debate on the future of classical music at Cambridge University.

This is someone studying composition at Cambridge — classical composition, of course. And he’s embarked on a major project, creating club nights in which new classical music fuses with dance music and indie pop. (I’m going to guess the terms for those things are different in the UK.) One goal is to have composers writing music for these nights.

And not as some outreach attempt, a way of bringing classical music to the heathen. (Draw them in with pop, then give them classical.) But as something the composers would love to do — because they like clubbing, and want to write music that naturally fits into their larger world.

Sounds good to me. Classical music — in this way and others — is changing, not because it feels threatened, but because the rest of the world has changed. These changes, it seems to me, will go deeper, and feel more authentic, than changes made only to avoid disaster.

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Comments

  1. says

    Greg,

    I love your thinking here and agree we must change and I’m encouraged by what I see happening in the field. Although I like both of these approaches. The first one isn’t a gimmick, but is rooted in musicians faith that the old classics will always be with us. You can’t dance to Beethoven’s ninth, but it still deserves to be played (and always will be). It speaks to people as much now as it did nearly 200 years ago at its premiere. But we have to find news ways to make our ‘product’ accessible and approachable.

    Thanks for listening,
    Steven Payne

    • says

      Good point, Steven. Of course nobody’s saying that clubs are the only wave of the future. People are quite happy to sit for long periods to hear music that gets to them, and that — as shown, for example, by what happens at the Roundhouse in London — can easily be Beethoven.

  2. Withheld ForNow says

    Yes, the onus rests on the composers to create works of art that future generations want to buy and experience, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves: these club nights are not classical music. This is a classically-trained composer taking advantage of an audience that is most likely already interested in BOTH classical music and dance/ pop to create a hybrid performance art experience accessible to a limited population.

    More importantly, this is not a solution for the masses because it doesn’t get people interested at the moment when it is most vital: adolescence. 8-13 year olds in a bar? Not happening. Did you see that post a week or so ago on another AJ blog, the one with the football commercial? Brilliant.

    I say let’s ask this composer what sparked his early interest and run with it.

    • says

      Withheld, I think you’re falling into a trap here. These club nights aren’t meant to interest anyone in classical music. They’re created by people with classical training, but with musical interests that range all over the place. And the idea is to let a diverse mixture of related styles both sit side by side with each other, and blend. How you or anyone else classifies the result doesn’t really matter.

      But, that said, what makes you think that the music composed for these club nights can’t be classical? I picture you as a judge with a big, big gavel. Bam! “Not classical! Off with its head.” Classical music has been through many evolutions, absorbing and blending with many other styles. Including popular music of all kinds, old and new. So if somebody liked one of the pieces composed for a club night, and wanted to put it on a purely classical concert, why shouldn’t that happen? The Chicago Symphony had as composer in residence Mason Bates, a classical composer who’s also a dance DJ, and whose orchestra music often involves himself as soloist on electronics and turntables. Will you bring down your gavel, and tell us that can’t be classical?

      Let me propose what scientists would call a thought experiment. Suppose in the future that there’s less music of the kind you’d call classical, maybe much less of it. But that in its place erupts a glorious, complex, deep melange of varied styles, all interpenetrating with each other, 20-minute complex music forms, screaming electric guitars, hiphop beats, atonality, and much, much more, all these sounds and techniques variously alternating and combined. Would you mourn your loss? Or be thrilled at the explosion of new and often profound creativity?

    • richard says

      Just finished a lesson with one of my private students. His high school is doing “West Side Story” this spring. If you now anything about the pit orchestra music, you know that it can be a real “bitch”. (no misogyny intended). We spent most of the lesson on “Mambo”. If this isn’t “classical” music, I don’t know what is! It certainly isn’t jazz or Latin jazz, there is no improvization. (Though when young kids start playing this stuff, there is more than a little chance that they will not play what’s written.) This is not your Grand-parents or Great-grand parents mambo.

  3. says

    In an earlier post I asked how you define classical music, in part because while it’s fairly easy to define classical music from the distant past, here in the 21st century lines become so blurry they often vanish altogether.

    So while it’s easy to say attendance at symphony concerts programming Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok needs to improve and need revitalization, I think it’s obvious that the main reason why more people aren’t attending is because they don’t relate to music outside their own culture. These composers died a long time ago, and with them their culture. Their music has withstood the test of time, but just like the work of Leonardo, Rembrandt, Shakespeare and Chekhov, they do not strongly appeal to the masses because ‘fashion’ is nearly always more prominent than ‘art’ in any given time.

    It’s well worth the effort bringing new audiences to symphonic and chamber concerts. But as you seem to be pointing out the most logical way of doing this is to give them music which speaks their cultural dialect, written in their own time. The problem is most self proclaimed classical music written today is pumped out of academia, where it long ago mummified. The music is still born. A similar thing happened to jazz (whether you like that style or not), once it took hold in conservatories its life was drained and jazz audiences have been declining ever since.

    While it’s true that many artists are not appreciated until they are dead, this is more an exception to the rule. Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky- they and many others had music constantly being performed during their lifetimes. Where are similar classical composers today? There may be some out there, but perhaps not where you’d expect to find them. Plus most are severely handicapped from not having had the opportunity to study with true masters.

    So perhaps clubs will become a new venue where pop and new classical will mix, and perhaps it will lead to great things. I’m all for experimentation. But there is a slippery slope towards ‘crossover’ (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with it), and so the question remains, where does classical end and pop begin?

    • says

      Nathan, I note your concern, but I think your question — where’s the line between classical and pop — doesn’t have to be answered. What would the answer tell us? Consider some history. There’s been art in pop music (excluding jazz) at least since the ’60s. The Velvet Underground, just for instance, were far more artistic than they were popular.

      And there’s been entertainment in classical music throughout its history. Plus, especially if we now talk about jazz, we have on both sides of the fence (or non-fence) artists like Haydn and Duke Ellington, who created music primarily for entertainment (what else was Haydn doing for Prince Esterhazy?), but doing it at the highest artistic level.

      One problem with drawing the classical/pop line is that it’s a moving target. Back in the 18th century, connoisseurs in Britain, whose musical God was Corelli, thought Vivaldi was crass, vulgar, pure pop (as we might put it), and clearly a sign that civilization would soon end. In the 19th century, the line was quite firmly drawn, with Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn on the classical side, and Rossini and Paganini (and the early Liszt) on the pop side, denounced by the classicists as cheap crap. There’s a delightful story I once quoted in the blog, of Mendelssohn’s friends competing with each other to see who hated a Donizetti opera the most, only to be shocked when Mendelssohn said he liked it.

      For me, “classical” and “pop” might be useful (if very loose) stylistic identifiers, just as house, techno, Baroque music, and country music are. But rather than drawing artistic consequences from the classification, why not just listen to each bit of music as it comes along, deciding whether you like it or not (for any reason at all). And, of course, opening yourself to the chance that you might be swept away by something you thought you weren’t supposed to like.

      • says

        Thanks for the response Greg, I can see where you are coming from here, and you’ve got some good points. And yes, Ultimately I agree with the idea that we don’t need to draw that line between pop and classical (that’s basically a point I tried to make earlier in a round about sort of way). Thinking too hard about why one type of music should be in a separate category from another is precisely what many academics do, one reason I find their ‘classical’ music so stale.

        On the topic of classical music in clubs, and about what classical musicians can learn from pop music (which I know you bring up a lot)- one resource I’ve found quite useful is CdBaby’s ‘DIY Musician’ blog. Do you know it? It is primarily geared towards unsigned bands and songwriters, and some of it isn’t relevant to classical musicians (and a lot is fluff), but it has some very insightful stuff from time to time. A lot about how to build an audience, how to make/sell merchandise, how to license out recordings, setting up house concerts, etc, etc, all from a different (and very valuable) perspective that most classical musicians wouldn’t think of. Here’s the link- http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/

        • says

          Thanks for all of that, Nathan, and especially for the DIY Musician link. The buzzword at music schools these days — the classical conservatories, I mean — is “entrepreneurship,” and it’s good to see what’s being done entrepreneurially outside classical music, and see if some or all of it can be brought into our area. Probably a lot of it can.

        • says

          Ironically, drawing the line between pop and classical is kinda irrelevent since both are in decline anyway. One (pop music) just happens to have a larger audience base from which to decline. I thought what Flanagan said about the issue sums it up well enough:

          More important for the question of preferences, the percentage of adults who report liking classical music has declined steadily since 1992 and by 2008 was below the 1982 level. This information contributes to an understanding of the trend decline, since cyclical influences on the evolution of tastes seem unlikely. Once again, classical music is not special. While some types of music (classic rock and country and western) are more popular than others (opera and bluegrass), virtually all varieties of music have declined in public favor since 1992 (NEA 2009). (Flanagan 2012, pg. 56)

          Flanagan (as well as Baumol and Bowen in their seminal work on Cultural Economics, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma 1966) noted the changing US demographic as a driving force for changing tastes in music that can easily be seen to cross the pop vs. classical divide:

          This trend is easier to report than to explain. The trend does coincide with the increasing demographic heterogeneity of the U.S. population, particularly in the cities that typically support orchestras. In the words of one observer: “The ethnic groups that do not trace their roots to Europe will increasingly affect the definition of national cultural values. The traditional value system associated with classical music concerts is not universal, but derived from a European cultural heritage. The style of concert performances may not appeal to members of ethnic groups” (Kolb 2001, p. 20). The distinctly smaller proportion of ethnic minorities attending classical music concerts in the United States is consistent with this view. There is a certain irony in this development, since earlier generations of immigrants stimulated the formation of early U.S. orchestras in the 19th century. (Flanagan 2012, pg. 56)

          The economist, Joel Waldfogel, has worked out the economic mechanism that describes how a population with heterogenous preferences can completely skew classical market forces. What he refers to as preference externalities, or more colloquially, the “Whom benefits Whom” effect will profoundly shape the market under and over provisioning for particular segments of a market–and so much of that depends on how closely tastes are tied to ethnic populations.

          The big question, then, is if all the music tied to either of the traditional demographic populations of the US (i.e. Black or White) are on the decline, and if all the classical and pop musics of the US are tied to those traditional preference demographics, then why are we so concern with modeling any sustainable model of music-making on markets that are so intimately tied to ethnic demographics when it’s an historical accident that these demographics have been the dominant ones and the rising non-White and non-Black demographics are having what can be seen as a profound effect on the markets for both popular and classical music.

          It shouldn’t particularly surprising that branding is only relevent for a small number of musicians who just happen to benefit from the large (though shrinking) ethnic populations that are intimately tied to the markets within which they can thrive.

    • Carlos Fischer says

      I invite you to read my thoughts on what is Classical Music ; these were recently posted in : MORE GOOD NEWS

      I also want to answer to your question : “While it’s true that many artists are not appreciated until they are dead, this is more an exception to the rule. Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky- they and many others had music constantly being performed during their lifetimes. Where are similar classical composers today?”

      Similar(living) composers that are frequently performed are easy to find today : Rautavaara , Penderecki , Higdon , Corigliano, Lindberg, Adams, Aho, Vasks ,etc. I want to add that i recently had the opportunity to attend Osvaldo Golijov’s ” La Pasión según San Marcos” ( St. Mark Passion) in Teatro Colón en Buenos Aires ,Argentina.

      Also, i would like to say that in terms of CM , “Crossovers” do not exist : It is CM or it is not , is that simple.
      Historically , CM has always adopted or used elements of Folk, Jazz, Cuban, Chinese, Indian music,etc. Just as happens also today in some composer’s music : You may check Michael Daugherty’s music with pop music elements; Roberto Sierra’s symphony with Salsa and also the incredibly eclectic Golijov’s opera mentioned above : African, Brazilian music elements and even some kind of “very good pop singing”. These are not “crossovers”, these are clearly classical…their conception follows the written tradition of CM.

      • says

        Yes you are right, there are some very good composers out there (Rautavaara has certainly pumped some blood back in with his music and teachings). I suppose I was trying to get at this sort of idea- In the early 1800s ‘Beethoven’ was a household name, and the same could be said for many composers while they were living. Today Philip Glass is likely the closest any classical composer has gotten to mass recognition, but MOST people still don’t know who he is (and many who do don’t even consider him classical, but I’m not going to weigh in on that!). Even people like Penderecki and Adams are unknown to the majority of classical concert goers (I didn’t know President Adams wrote music?!).

        I read your earlier post Carlos, very interesting. Even though you’ve got a different definition of classical music than I, looking at it from your perspective I can easily agree with most of what you’re saying.

        • carlos fischer says

          Nathan …thanks for your comment

          Penderecki is an accomplished Polish composer ( i’m sorry if you already know this) frequently performed in Europe..and John Adams is a very well known , recorded and performed American composer…..just recently – last year, i think – a cd was released with his newly chamber music “Son of Chamber Symphony”. I also can’t forget his “On the Transmigration of Souls” ( even though i don’t like this piece) , a famous tribute to the unforgettable and horrible 09/11.

          In regards to Philip Glass , he is – at least for me- another accomplished composer , i liked very much his latest symphony ‘Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya’.

          In regards to Beethoven and other composers of the 1800s ; i am not quite sure if they were household names…..as far as i know( and read about it) ; CM never was “popular” even in past centuries If we perceive the meaning of “popular” like being exposed through all kinds of media ; consumed and commented by people of all ages and socio-economic status. Well ….this is another debate….

          thanks again

  4. says

    “Classical” music was only moved into ‘concert halls’ in the latter half of the C19th. Before that time, no such ‘concert halls’ even existed. Music was performed either privately in the homes of the nobility, or in theatres, or in churches.

    The gatherings we now call “Schubertiads” were essentially club nights held at private addresses, where young composers and poets could present their latest output to a small gathering of fans.

    The idea of having to dress up and go to a lecture-hall named a ‘concert hall’… and sit in solemn silence in rows of seats, and not clap between ‘movements’, is utterly antithetical to music-making, and was never the intended atmosphere for the greater part of what we now think of as ‘the repertoire”.

  5. says

    Thanks for this kind post Greg, it sums up very nicely a lot of the things we’ve been thinking about.

    For the commenters, this post is about me, Joe Bates and an organisation called Filthy Lucre I run with an excellent man called Anthony Friend. If you want to check us out, best look at our Facebook (facebook.com/filthyfilthylucre) or our website (filthyfilthylucre.co.uk).

    I agree that the definition of ‘classical’ is a slippery one. It’s not a term I like for newly written music, as I think for most (especially non-initiates) it conceals more than it explains. However, as we’ve programmed some old music (like Stravinsky), we can say without too much controversy that we put on ‘classical music’.

    As a composer, I don’t know how I’d place the music I write. I certainly wouldn’t call it classical. But how many composers do stick genres onto their own works? Very few good ones, in my experience.

    Our audiences are very mixed. We get a good showing from the music scene crowd in Cambridge – they turn out to see the pieces they know and to see their friends play. But this only accounts for half of our audience. Many of them are not concert-goers at all. That said, we are not aiming to be ‘outreach’, as Greg correctly says.

    Our nights are certainly not aimed at children. That is not, I think a bad thing. Particularly because, if you do want children to get involved, you probably want it to be seen as cool. And that rarely comes from self-conscious attempt to direct your product at their age group. Children have a habit of liking the age-inappropriate.

    If you want a better idea of what we do, follow us and keep in touch via our Facebook. It’s always great to hear what involved people have to say.

    • says

      Thanks, Joe. Well said. Anyone interested should check out Joe’s link, and also find another British club project called Carmen Electra. The UK seems to be ahead of the US in this area, though I’m sure there are American projects I don’t know about. And European/Australian/Canadian/whatever ones. A project for someone: to catalogue what’s being done with classical music in clubs, worldwide.

    • Carlos Fischer says

      I would like to comment on some of your writings :

      “I agree that the definition of ‘classical’ is a slippery one. It’s not a term I like for newly written music, as I think for most (especially non-initiates) it conceals more than it explains. However, as we’ve programmed some old music (like Stravinsky), we can say without too much controversy that we put on ‘classical music’.”

      CM it’s been historically wrongly defined . Even Leonard Bernstein messed up in this matter.
      (please check in this blog the post MORE GOOD NEWS how i define CM).

      To make it clearer, i like to cite as example Nicolai Kapustin’s music . His piano compositions sound thorough JAZZ but it’s not jazz , they are classical because he wrote them “in detail” ; let’s say ” almost as Kapustin wanted them to sound” ( please be advised that i don’t mean that CM can not have sections for improvisation ; which indeed, in Kapustin’s case doesn’t , at least his pieces i know).

      Another example i like to cite it’s Steve Reich’s Clapping Music ; which is performed by clapping hands…If you check the score of this piece you will find “in detail” the instructions how hands should be clapped…it is a piece that will sound almost the same (no matter the size of hands!). I think it is the first and only piece of it’s kind in the entire CM catalogue. Clapping hands in music is closer to pop music than classical but the conception of this piece it’s classical by all means.

      In othe words , CM it is NOT a matter of style ; it relates to the way you compose your music ; if you act as a CM composer and you want to compose CM for your band ; you should write all by yourself (CM is a composer centered music) for all and each instrument , vocals, arrangements ,etc. everything in detail ….you will have a “finished product” in the score and then it will be ready for performance….according to your score; there will be no “musical attachments” from your band’s members on the go in terms of adding other notes or playing some sections differently than your score dictates…it’s YOUR music from the begining to the end.

      I don’t know if you are up to date in terms of contemporary CM composers ; it seems to me that you don’t know much about today’s CM composers ( I apologize for my sincerity) who are composing newly CM that it’s being performed frequently without any kind of controversy ; there is great living CM composers making great music…many “masterpieces” because CM it is NOT only music from the past ; It is not only OLD music from the ” masters of the past” , the CM tradition is “alive and kicking” ( not free of problems like the ones Greg Sandow points out in this blog); besides, i should say that Stravinsky’s best music still sounds to me “freshly” new….what sounds like The Firebird????

      Thanks for reading …..further thanks if you comment…

      • says

        Carlos, I’m not sure who you mean when you talk about not being aware of contemporary classical composers. I can assure you that I am — I count many of the leading American composers among my friends and friendly professional colleagues. And Joe Bates is himself a composer, a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University. He knows this music very well.

        I’ve blogged many times about contemporary composers in the US, and about concerts where their music is played. If I had more time, I’d provide links, but I’ve blogged on this subject so many times that I don’t think it’s all that necessary.

        • carlos fischer says

          Dear Greg…

          Maybe it was my mistake ; my comment posted was addressed to Joe Bates; of course i know you are aware of contemporary CM composers. Sorry for that.

          • carlos fischer says

            Greg…

            I posted my comment (april/3) in the wrong place, please fix it ; anyway there’s some Joe Bates’ thoughts that are not sound despite his doctoral degree. I am not a musician, i am an engineer but i listen (and read about) to CM more than 30 years ago (i’m 49) and i know this music very well too . Thanks to the internet
            (and Amazon) i try to keep myself updated here from Bolivia ( where you hardly find contemporary CM cds) buying cds frequently and listening daily (at least half an hour) to a very wide repertory: Contemporary CM from European, South American, North American, Asian composers; and what i listen is a music with an incredible creativity and inventiveness ( of course, not everything is that good) ; so , when i read things like “CM It’s not a term I like for newly written music, as I think for most (especially non-initiates) it conceals more than it explains. However, as we’ve programmed some old music (like Stravinsky), we can say without too much controversy that we put on ‘classical music’.” I wander what “newly written music ” is he talking about? ; CM term conceals? for me it’s the contrary, it explains much more than it conceals…..CM .. old music???? ooops!

      • says

        I’m fairly up to date on my classical music Carlos – I’m familiar with all the examples you cite. What I was trying to say is that I don’t find classical music a particularly useful catch-all for any music being written today.

        The difference between Ferneyhough and Peter Wiegold (to pick British examples) seems to me much greater than the difference between Wiegold and Miles Davis, not just in terms of sound but in terms of compositional and performative techniques.

        I agree that the written vs. non-written idea is a useful approximation of difference, but I think it tells us less that many musicologists presume (Taruskin, despite his brilliance, is guilty of this).

        If you can be bothered to watch it, my argument is spelled out in my speech from Greg and my debate, which can be seen here: http://www.cus.org/connect/debates/2011/this-house-believes-that-classical-music-is-irrelevant-to-todays-youth (my speech is 22 minutes).

        • carlos fischer says

          Joe …thanks for your comment

          Well…what can i say? CM is so influential!…..First of all ; Brian Ferneyhough(a very tough composer!) and Peter Wiegold are CM composers. Of course, surely they compose differently( their aesthetic, intellectual values and compositional techniques are not the same) so their music are idiomatically quite different. The same reasoning we may apply about Tchaikovsky and Xenakis ; Rachmaninov and Stockhausen; Mozart and Cage; Lansky and Penderecki music differences in terms of sound and performative techniques. You already know this..so what is the point? For me ; all composers above share the same musical tradition summarized in two words : Classical Music. It’s good that you’ve mentioned Ferneyhough, an intellectually powerful composer , known by his very detailed and tough scores who confirms -and follows- the also historical and evident “thoughtfulness” and the evolution of CM making – please be aware that i don’t exclude any music genre in regards “thoughtfulness”…you understand what i mean -; this , is one of my reasons why i say that CM is a term that explains more than it conceals even for newly written music, without any kind of controversy.

          In regards to Miles Davis …i don’t see him as a CM composer, he had lots of collaboration from Gil Evans(and others) to arrange his pieces( or compositions); this is one of the clear differences in regards to Wiegold…of course, everybody knows that he had influences from CM but he and his music are part of the great American Jazz tradition.

          Also , i am not saying( and didn’t say) anything about the written vs non-written idea ; there are jazz , pop, rock…written to some extent before performance…this is also a CM influence….well i made myself clear at this point in former posts.

          Joe , you are an European , take care of the greatest musical heritage that Europeans created… don’t restraint it .

          I will check your link (thanks)…..i hope you don’t bother if i write to you again.

  6. Fred Lomenzo says

    Some people who make comments on this site forget that “classical music” is music that has stood the test of time. We do not produce “classical music”. We may produce music which is considered serious as opposed to the popular genre. However, new music that is presented today will not be “classical” until it has stood the test of time. Much of the music produced in the past and that produced in the present will likely be forgotten except by musical historians or people who work in academia.Serious music has generally never appealed to the masses and today there is even more competition for the audience’s interest. People attend concerts for many reasons such as to get out, to be with a friend, or to show off a new dress. Not always for the lofty reasons we would like to believe. They now have more options for entertainment. Contemporary music is not helping. How often is there general excitement generated by the introduction of a new work by a contemporary composer? As a music professional I often come into contact with concert goers. Although they are open to new music, they are usually disappointed. I have often listened to music by composers lauded on this and other sites, and people ask what is wrong with the current state of “classical” music. One such composer started a supposedly well known composition playing the same four or five notes on a violin for several minutes. Really exciting! I myself refuse to generate this academic garbage. People who are familiar with and enjoy my work actually look forward to a new composition.

  7. says

    What I see in all this discussion is:

    Sandow tell us that the evolution of classical music must be towards the engagement with current culture (dominated by pop). So he says that the future must be something like Alex Ross’ “Great Fusion” where the classical musicians can use the whole universe of sounds that humanity have developed during its existence. And that means that the popular music of the XX and XXI century must not be ignored in the creation of valuable music while it is with the aim of represent our actual environment and current culture. And then the typical “there are no frontiers between genres…”

    The shock comes when the ideas of “What we could do to save classical music ” appear in this blog. Like the one in this post. “What can be done?” (For example) That the composers write music they like today, like club music.

    And then, the classical music fans (I include myself) we’re like: “Wait, wait, wait, wasn’t this for the benefit of classical music? I don’t get it”. Yes, it’s a concept problem. Classical music fans have a concept of what classical music is and it’s obvious that Sandow doesn´t have the same.

    I think instead of “What we could do to save classical music” the topic is indeed “What classical-trained musicians could do to pay the bills”. And then, the ideas like the one written in this post sound logical.

    The problem is that when he writes “change” in classical music, we can read “replacement”, like it was a natural selection: classical music doesn´t go well today, it must be replaced by superior species. And this “New Classical” proposed is told to be the replacement. Sandow sees evolution of classical, we see replacement of classical, and then the discussion begins because we love classical! He he he.

    Now I think that this “evolution of classical music” that Sandow explains is indeed an “evolution of Music” or an “evolution of whatever we call (good?)music”.

    Finally I guess I’m not the only one on this: We must have a concrete definition of classical music first, so we can know exactly what we’re trying to save.

    That’s my humble opinion. I’m not a musician; I’m just a classical music lover.

    • says

      Hi, Joel,

      Thanks for your very clear, very heartfelt comment. To make myself a little more clear, I don’t think — and hope I’ve never said — that classical music as we know it today (with most performances being of masterworks from the past) would be completely replaced by something new. As the field evolves, the old masterworks will still be played. Or at least I hope they will! They just may not dominate as they have in the last century or so.

      If you want to know what I think classical music will be like, just look at the other arts. Literature, for instance. If you read current novels, you’ll find current culture — popular culture, for instance — wholly integrated into many (if not most) of them. But we read classic novels, too. The blend of classic and new reading is so natural that nobody says anything about it. I think classical music should work that way, too, with a blend of contemporary and older elements.

      What makes classical music a little different from literature, though, is the performance element. So maybe a Beethoven symphony gets taken out of the concert hall — and away from the white-tie formality of orchestral dress — and gets played in less formal venues. Would that be bad? Or maybe some performances are more formal, and some less formal. The circumstances of performance may change, but the music will survive.

      if you want classical music as we’ve known it for generations to survive unchanged, you may find yourself uncomfortable, in the future. I’m talking here about performances in which old masterworks are played by musicians in formal dress, for an audience that sits in rapt silence. Classical music may well evolve into something else. Because, after all, all things evolve. And classical music itself has evolved in the past. If you went to a Mozart premiere in the 18th century, you would have found yourself in a world where almost all performances were of new music, and in which the audience talked during performances, and people applauded the moment they heard a passage that they liked.

      There’s a lovely anecdote about Verdi, reminiscing late in life about an Aida performance in Italy, in which the audience demanded an encore of a single phrase. He loved that, and deplored the formal silence that evolved in later years, which he blames on the Germans. Or, in other words, he deplored the coming of our present form of classical music.

      It’s easy to go back and find other cases where people were sure the end was coming for the music they most loved. My favorite example is from 18th century England. Corelli was the classical composer then, the figure from the past that connoisseurs admired. Then Vivaldi came along. Horror! Shock! Dismay! Vulgar, shallow, empty music, or so the classicists thought. The end of civilization was surely coming near.

      Rossini thought Haydn went too far in making music complicated, and that Mozart and — worst of all — Beethoven were ruining what music ought to be.

      And the furor over Wagner hardly needs to be mentioned. Many people thought his music marked the end of civilization.

      I think classical music will survive the present crisis, and will survive any changes that it goes through. You might even find the new world that will evolve exhilarating! Just give it a chance.