The power of history

applause blog

The hurricane is on my mind -- the devastation in NY and NJ, which (though this is a minor part of it) hits me, even while I'm safe in Washington. I go to NY weekly, and my normal transportation (for a three-pronged trip, between DC, NY, and my home in Warwick, NY) just isn't available. I'll cope, while my heart goes out to people whose problems are much worse. And meanwhile… One problem we have, when we try to imagine the future of classical music, is that we don't know enough about its past. Take something that ought to be simple -- the … [Read more...]

Playing more vividly, for the new audience

vivid-music-forartsake-studio blog

At last I've gotten to the last part of my long disquisition -- which was longer than I meant it to be, and maybe longer than it should have been. Loyal readers will remember I said that the highest priority for the classical music world should be to build a new audience, and that this would require doing three things: making performances feel more lively,  playing repertoire that reflects contemporary life, and -- finally -- playing all music, but especially the old masterworks, more vividly. That last point bothered some people, including … [Read more...]

The great change

changes ahead blog

In my last post, I said that classical music needs a huge change. And the change will have to be radical. Classical music needs to lose its sense of entitlement, the belief many of us in the classical music world have that classical music is supremely important, necessary for any civilized society, and therefore has to be supported -- financially, by our schools, and in many other ways. To see why I think this, go back a generation or two or three, let's say to the 1940s and '50s. Classical music, back then, had a working ecosystem. It was … [Read more...]

Frightened by storms

storm blog

In my post on the U of Maryland symphonic performance I went to, I talked about the Pastoral Symphony, and how one problem I'd long had with the final movement came from its narrative. There's been storm. Countryfolk were frightened. Now they're thankful -- for 10 minutes of music -- because the storm has passed. How can a storm be so frightening? We might say (as the program notes for the Maryland concert did) that the movement really deals with something larger, rejoicing after any great trouble has passed. And the structure of the … [Read more...]

The old days

The restaurant workers are transfixed

There's a moment from a 1950 Italian film -- Mad About Opera -- that's a touching tribute to how popular, how deeply loved classical music used to be. Or, if you like, how deeply loved opera was in Italian communities, but that's just a subset of the overall popularity. And certainly isn't something you'd see now, even in Italy. The scene is London, in a restaurant owned by an Italian. A lively (to say the least) argument is going on about a plan a young guy has. And then someone plays a Gigli record, and conversation stops. A young woman … [Read more...]

Wonderful musicmaking at UMD

The Pastoral Symphony was the highlight of the program

Sometimes exasperated commenters say they can't believe I love classical music. This post -- about some fine student musicmaking and the delights of Beethoven -- should be an antidote.  My last post was about terrific things at the University of Maryland, creative hard work done to attract a younger, livelier audience to concerts by the student orchestra. It's worth repeating what they did. The strategy, as I'd summarize it -- find the places where orchestral players most naturally meet other students. In their dorms (fraternities and … [Read more...]

Not so refined

handel opera

The problem with René Jacobs’ Handel recordings, says Stanley Sadie (the distinguished musicologist) is that their “rough and explosive sound” is “alien to the refined and elegant age to which the music belongs.” Or so I read on Sunday in a story about Jacobs' critical reception, in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times. And there we see much of the problem that classical music has these days -- it’s out of touch with reality. So many people want it to be refined and elegant, more so than the world we live in. But to do … [Read more...]

When opera was popular

I've heard people say that the Met Opera live screenings in movie theaters show that opera is popular. I don't quite see that (the people who come are older, and the Met's data show that virtually all have been to an opera before). But even if the screenings did demonstrate some kind of opera popularity, it would be a very modest, very watered-down kind. Compared, that is, to what we'd see if we traveled back 100 years, to the days when classical music ruled unchallenged both in high and in popular culture, and when its audience was … [Read more...]