The first of my timeline posts offered two snapshots of classical music coverage in Time magazine — which declined (a lot) in recent decades. That shows us classical music receding from mainstream culture. Or mainstream culture moving away from classical music.
Now, in my second timeline post, I’ll quote an overview of the crisis from Ron Nadel, who posted it as a comment to the first of the posts I’ve been doing on the classical music crisis, the one where I asked how long the crisis has been going on. Note that it’s based on his own experience. Thanks so much for this, Ron. It’s accurate, in my view, and very helpful:
1970s, NO SIGN OF TROUBLE AS FAR AS I CAN TELL:
I was a college student and worked at Tower Records in Westwood, LA, in the mid ’70s. The store had 3 levels, and the third floor was all classical music, manned by 4 or 5 of us. We had regular customers and strong sales. All big labels had regular major releases, the pace of major studio opera recordings and releases was strong, etc., intent on capturing repertoire for posterity. Lots of college students went to LA Philharmonic concerts (and they were offered special ticket prices). Concerts were very well attended. An article in the LA Times said that Solti and Karajan commanded well over $50k per concert. Bernstein was an international star in huge demand. Music appreciation is taught in public schools and as part of basic college curricula. I had friends who were music majors and we would get together socially to actually listen to music and loved to discuss and argue about classical music regularly.
LATE 1980′s AND THERE ARE SOME NOTICEABLE DIFFERENCES:
I think I began to notice something was changing when the stores with decent classical music sections were closing up (or closing their sections) – late 1980s or ’91/’92. I was a LA Phil subscriber and concerts were still well attended and they offered 4 concert series, Thrs – Sun; audiences still had a good proportion of youngish attendees. Music appreciation is no longer part of public school curricula. Decca/DGG/Philips merged. The major opera recordings were in conjunction with live performances to reduce costs and promote current popular artists, not long-range, coordinated efforts to comprehensively cover repertoire. CD sales decline and are discussed in the media. Classical music radio stations shrink in numbers, even in large markets. I knew fewer people who looked forward to new releases of classical music or who listened with friends. No one could point to future superstar conductors a la Solti/Karajan/Bernstein, although there were a few pretenders to the throne.
MID 2000′s – THE KNEE IN THE CURVE:
Some regional orchestras began to founder. Many labels merged and major classical productions were unheard of. There are no conductors like Solti/Karajan/Bernstein who “did it all” as major opera/symphony repertoire exponents. Conductors were filling niches, and must hold down several positions. Young concert attendees were few. 3-4 years ago, major orchestras began struggling, restructuring, some notable regional orchestras failed. Concert series shrink in number and scope. A few organizations began to look to live theater broadcasts of concerts/opera to build new audiences for add’l revenue (but compete against local organizations). Conductors change orchestras (or vice versa) with the same frequency as football players. The glory days of maestros and legends are fondly remembered and imitated. Orchestras regularly court young audiences with special programs featuring pop/experimental content.
Major indicators of the knee in the curve are the responses elicited: online libraries/services of classical music pop up and some, particularly Naxos, enjoy healthy sales via download and constitute a significant listenership. All American orchestras appear to have caught on to the internet and social media. Orchestra boards court younger members and draft new strategic plans rather than stay the course.
Inertial forces, technology trends, an aging listener population, and new listening habits, will evolve a whole new animal, if and when things emerge out of the curve.
I can remember when New York had five major record stores with large classical music departments: two branches of Tower Records, two of HMV, and J&R Music World. Plus, a little later, the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. All except J&R are now gone, and J&R’s classical music department shrunk drastically. (Or maybe my information is out of date, and the classical music department isn’t there at all, or is barely there. I haven’t been to the store in a while.)
New York also had, not all that long ago, two major stores that sold printed classical music, G. Schirmer and of course Patelson’s, where musicians shopped. (And where I must have spent thousands of dollars over the years.) There was also Carl Fischer, with a smaller selection. None of these stores still exists.
My third timeline post — a very detailed timeline.— will be here tomorrow.
A footnote to yesterday: