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Critical Conversation
Classical Music Critics on the Future of Music

A 10-Day AJ Topic Blog (July 28-August 7, 2004)


Sunday Sunday, August 1

    READER: Of Social Complexity And Other "High" Arts
    By John Shaw
    posted @ 8:45 am

    Justin and Greg, visual arts and literature have gone through very hermetic periods. Minimalism in visual arts works as almost the exact opposite of minimalism in classical -- it was hermetic and unpopular and mostly about its own history, whereas minimalism in classical music was engaging and popular and had emotional resonance with listeners... read more

    READER: The Next Big Idea
    By John Heins
    posted @ 1:11 pm

    I am a composer who was struck by the comments Colin Eatock made here on 7/29, which I think are very perceptive. I have two degrees in music composition, but have largely ignored the fads and trends over the years and have concentrated...  read more

    Reply to Kyle, and a plea
    By John Rockwell
    posted @ 1:34 pm

    Kyle, in an earlier response to a question of mine, you said one third of your composers were under 50. With furrowed brow, I thus calculate that two thirds of them are over 50 (or, I suppose, 50 on the nose). This limits the group as representative of much of anything beyond itself, for all the much-touted variety within the group.

    I honor and respect your work, Kyle. I believe you when you tell us that many of your composers make good music. I just wish you would broaden your scope and discuss, if not all music, then at least how your chosen group relates aesthetically to the rest of music. Or is your mandate from the Village Voice to stick to the "experimental" scene, whatever that means any more?

    What's been interesting to me about this whole conversation, apart from a myriad specific points, is the fault lines it's opened up among the critics (mostly Sandow, Ross and me vs. the rest). The problem, I think, is the restriction of this conversation to critics of classical music.

    What does that term mean any more? Of course, it does mean something, but often that something is unthinking and self-limiting. Everyone who's smart pays homage to the past and to technique of some kind, often the European art-music tradition. Everyone listens to other musics and pays attention to them, however natural it is at the outset of a career to work within a sharp focus, invented or received.

    Forget adding more classical composers to this blog, though it would be nice to hear more from them. Can't we get beyond the old categories and make this a discussion among critics of music, in all its diversity and variety? Not that jazz and rock and world-music critics are all so high-mindedly ecumenical; a lot of them are narrower than the classical critics here. But at least bringing them in would make for a conversation that in itself covered the totality of music.

    I know, the hiring policies/habits of newspapers and magazines reinforce the old divisions, along with categories on the radio and in record stores and online. But the old divisions are not what real music is about these days. So what we have here are a bunch of blind (deaf) people groping one part of the elephant and squabbling over whether the parts of that one part represent the whole beast.

    READER: How Do Ideas Get Big?
    By Arthur J. Sabatini
    posted @ 2:28 pm

    My apologies if these points have been discussed. If so, just refer back to the letters... Here are several questions: I think that among of the implicit questions "high art" poses to popular, even folk cultural art forms, musical and otherwise, with regard to Big Ideas, are: - What does it take, formally, to address a Big Idea?... read more

    READER: Follow the Architecture
    By Garth Trinkl
    posted @ 2:30 pm
    Where do  new musical ideas come from?...  I remember attending a wonderful temporary exhibition, about eight years ago, at the old San Francisco De Young Art Museum, in Golden Gate Park, which featured old and rare Anatolian and Persian kilims from the private collection of a visionary Berkeley-based architect/architectural theorist.  I recall that... read more

Read this blog by date: 7/27 7/28 7/29 7/30 7/31 8/1 8/2 8/3 8/4 8/5 8/6 8/7


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There was a time when great cities had multiple newspapers and culture was hashed out daily in the press, strongly-held opinions battling for the hearts and minds of readers. Today it's rare for a city to have more than one or two outlets where culture can be publicly discussed, let alone prodded and pulled and challenged... More

If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.

Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment at least on the surface that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?

Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?

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READER: The purpose of music
- Linda Rogers (08/06/2004 10:46 am)

READER: Thank you to all
- Jennifer Higdon (08/06/2004 10:10 am)

READER: To Corey Dargel and Kyle Gann
- Garth Trinkl (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

READER: re:Where Are The Young Voices?
- Andrea La Rose (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

READER: To Justin: Art can be entertaining, but it is not entertainment
- Arthur J. Sabatini (08/06/2004 8:42 am)

Final Disinformation

- Kyle Gann (08/06/2004 8:41 am)

READER: Where Are The Young Voices?
- Corey Dargel (08/06/2004 8:21 am)

Over and out - an anti-rant rant
- Justin Davidson (08/06/2004 7:05 am)

READER: Classical Music Doesn't Fit The PR Mold
- Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (08/05/2004 9:21 pm)

READER: Eclecticism Is Better Anyway
- Hale Jacob (08/05/2004 7:41 pm)

All Posts


Greg Sandow
  The Wall Street Journal
 - To Justin: Hermetic

 - Performance ideas
 - Truly big classical

Another view

Wynne Delacoma
  Chicago Sun-Times
 - Composer bashing, female
    critics, form and content
 - Big Ideas--Who Needs Them?

Alex Ross
  The New Yorker
 - Clarification, Departure
 - The New New Thing
 - Provocation!
 - To AC Douglas
 - Pop Innovation
A Potential Goldmine
 - To Rockwell: Styles, Not

 - Listening for Passionate

Kyle Gann
  Village Voice
 - Listening examples provided
 - Queries for John Rockwell
 - Unfair on my part
 - Composer bashing
 - Inside a big idea
 - Names & Their Inadequacies
 - The Idea & Its Conditions
The Next Medium-Sized Idea
 - Alternate Universe

Justin Davidson
 - Thanks, Kyle
 - proposal
 - To Kyle
 - Who's saying give up?
 - Some Things Are New, Actually
 - High/Low Redux
 - pop envy
Where was THAT in Classical

 - Apology & Comment
 - How Big is a Big Idea?

John Rockwell
  The New York Times
 - Reply to Kyle and a Plea
 - Arghhh, or however you
    spell it
 - The Magpie
 - Brahms and Wagner
Question for Kyle
 - To Alex, Justin: the pedant
    at work

 - Initial Entry

Scott Cantrell
  Dallas Morning News
 - What's success?
 - Pop music precendent
 - Multiculturalism
 - Fragmentation
 - Female Critics
 - Movements & Media
A Blurry Patchwork

Charles Ward
  Houston Chronicle
 - Jotting IV: Grab Bag
 - Jotting III: When John
 - Jotting II: I'd Rather Not Get
    A Call From Stalin

Jotting I: We Do Have A Big

Anne Midgette
  The New York Times
 - What's the big idea?
 - A Few Responses To
    Other Postings
 - Back to Fragmentation
    for a Minute

 - Gender footnote
 - Another preamble

Andrew Druckenbrod
  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 - Composers are Composers
    but Distinctions are
 - No apology to pop and

 - Taking Issue With The

John von Rhein
  Chicago Tribune

Kyle MacMillan
  Denver Post

Joshua Kosman
  San Francisco Chronicle


The Purpose of Music
- Linda Rogers (08/06/2004 10:46 am)

Thank you to all
- Jennifer Higdon (08/06/2004 10:10 am)

To Corey Dargel and Kyle Gann
- Garth Trinkl (08/06/2004 10:00 am)

re: Where Are The Young Voices?
- Andrea La Rose (08/06/2004 9:21 am)

To Justin: Art can be entertaining, but it is notentertainment
- Arthur J. Sabatini (08/06/2004 8:42 am)

Where Are The Young Voices?
- Corey Dargel (08/06/2004 8:20 am)

Summing Up
- Brian Newhouse (08/05/2004 9:26 pm)

Classical Music Doesn't Fit The PR Mold
- Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (08/05/2004 9:18 pm)

Eclecticism Is Better Anyway
- Hale Jacob (08/05/2004 7:40 pm)

What Is Live Performance, Anyway?
- Steve Layton (08/05/2004 7:34 pm)

All Reader Posts


- Discography of Minimalist and
    Totalist music

- Kyle Gann on Post-Minimalism
- Kyle Gann: Following the
    Classical Script


- DJ Spooky
- Tan Dun
- Zhou Long
- Bright Sheng



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