Like Greg Sandow, I urge you to read Alex Ross’ New Yorker essay about classical music:
The Web site ArtsJournal features a media file with the deliberately ridiculous name Death of Classical Music Archive, whose articles recycle a familiar litany of problems: record companies are curtailing their classical divisions; orchestras are facing deficits; the music is barely taught in public schools, almost invisible on television, ignored or mocked by Hollywood. But the same story could have been written ten years ago or twenty. If this be death, the record is skipping. A complete version of the Death of Classical Music Archive would go back to the fourteenth century, when the sensuous melodies of ars nova were thought to signal the end of civilization.
The classical audience is assumed to be a moribund crowd of the old, the white, the rich, and the bored. Statistics provided by the National Endowment for the Arts suggest that the situation is not quite so dire. Yes, the audience is older than that for any other art–the median age is forty-nine–but it is not the wealthiest. Musicals, plays, ballet, and museums all get larger slices of the $50,000-or-more income pie (as does the ESPN channel, for that matter). If you want to see an in-your-face, Swiss-bank-account display of wealth, go look at the millionaires sitting in the skyboxes at a Billy Joel show, if security lets you. Nor is the classical audience aging any faster than the rest of America. The music may not be a juggernaut, but it is a major world. American orchestras sell around thirty million tickets each year. Brilliant new talents are thronging the scene; the musicians of the august Berlin Philharmonic are, on average, a generation younger than the Rolling Stones.
The music is always dying, ever-ending. It is an ageless diva on a non-stop farewell tour, coming around for one absolutely final appearance. It is hard to name because it never really existed to begin with–not in the sense that it stemmed from a single time or place. It has no genealogy, no ethnicity: leading composers of today hail from China, Estonia, Argentina, Queens. The music is simply whatever composers create–a long string of written-down works to which various performing traditions have become attached. It encompasses the high, the low, empire, underground, dance, prayer, silence, noise. Composers are genius parasites; they feed voraciously on the song matter of their time in order to engender something new. They have gone through a rough stretch in the past hundred years, facing external obstacles (Hitler and Stalin were amateur music critics) as well as problems of their own invention (“Why doesn’t anyone like our beautiful twelve-tone music?”). But they may be on the verge of an improbable renaissance, and the music may take a form that no one today would recognize. For now, it is like the “sunken cathedral” that Debussy depicts in one of his Preludes–a city that chants beneath the waves….
Read the whole thing here. Now.
I don’t have time to write about it at present, and probably won’t for a few days to come, but I intend to do so as soon as I can. In the meantime, please take a look at what Alex has to say.