Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shi-Yeon Sung saves the day

James Levine found himself incapable of conducting last nights Boston Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem. Shi-Yeon Sung, (his assistant conductor) had to step in for him at the last minute, as Levine will have to undergo immediate back surgery, and will be out of commission until early December. A link to the article in the New York Times can be seen here Back Surgery.

This new health issue forming on top of all of the other health problems he has had recently (most notably a cancerous kidney had to be removed, he tore his rotator cuff and had some ongoing hand tremors) are cause for concern. He holds two high profile conducting positions and is the highest paid conductor in the United States, earning over $3 million a year - replacing him would be no easy feat.

Back to the main point here though, stepping in at the last minute like Shi-Yeon Sung did could be a defining moment in her conducting career. Leonard Bernstein did a similar thing while he was the assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic by stepping in for Bruno Walther at the last minute, making headlines around the world, and truly establishing himself as a respectable conductor.

This is not the first time Shi-Yeon Sung has stepped in for Levine, though. Back in 2008 when he was having his kidney operation, she stepped in then too. This, of course, is her job, but maybe if she does well enough in the coming weeks, she too will get the worlds attention.

I expect more articles such as this will be surfacing in the days to come.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Goings On

While perusing "The Rest is Noise" blog by Alex Ross, I came across a link to his review of "Tosca" entitled "Fiasco" in the New Yorker:

Though his review has not been discussed here yet, the contents of his review follow the same opinions expressed by Opera Chic in Lindsey's post, "To boo or not to boo?". Mr. Ross backs up his title choice by using the audience's reaction of adamant booing: "By the end of opening night, Gelb had on his hands a full-blown fiasco, with boos resounding from the orchestra seats, the upper galleries, and even the plaza outside, where people had watched on a screen for free."

I would like to also direct attention to the blogs the New Yorker publishes:

The blogs encompass topics from politics to pop music. The two that I believe to be particularly relevant to our discussions here are "Goings On: Cultural happenings in New York and elsewhere, both online and off" and a subset category of "Goings On" entitled "Classical Music".

The New Yorker also publishes an excellent Blogroll where you can find blogs on music from New York to London and if you explore these links long enough, topics that range from current musical events to marketing the performing arts.

NY Music:
Marketing performing arts:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Blog Deficiency

I have never been one to seek out a blog before. The only real experience I have had with it up until this point was reading my friends blogs about their adventures in weight loss, about their lives and relationships, or about their children. Ive occasionally glanced over some cooking blogs or what have you in search of specific information, but all in all, im no blog expert.

I did find a blog that I think could be worth sharing. I include the disclaimer that I have not gone much beyond the surface with this yet, but I have a feeling I will enjoy this blog. It is a blog by the composer Eric Whitacre, whom I greatly enjoy. I was introduced to him by a friend who enjoyed his orchestral pieces, and actually ended up singing some of his choral works a few years ago. He is active on Facebook and Myspace, and does as much as he can to keep his fans informed and involved.

His choral piece Sleep is probably one of my all-time favorite pieces. The build at the end gives me goosebumps every time! I found a youtube clip from one of his CDs.

So check out his blog. I know I plan to.

To boo or not to boo?

After reading the article posted several days ago (below, titled "On Booing," seen here Booing) I consulted a few others, but most notably the article from Opera Chic, a pretty good blog I found that mostly deals with opera reviews and related information. Her review of the same performance of "Tosca" that we commented on in class last week was quite similar to the New York Times article in that it detailed the lackluster reception by the audience, and noted the large amount of booing that ensued at the end of the performance. It can be viewed here killing-me-softly-with-a-knife . Opera Chic also describes how uninspiring James Levine was in his role as music director, and how many of the tempo choices were too slow or inappropriate in one way or another. Though his direction was faulty, the musicians were still just as talented, and played just as well as should be expected.

I was inspired to look into this particular subject of audience reception by our discussion last week about whether it is okay to show that a performance was disappointing by booing. I am of the opinion that the performance has to be pretty bad in order for someone to boo at the performers, and personally feel that it is disrespectful, especially when it is coming from musicians like ourselves, who know how good the musicians are that we are booing. If it was the directing that was bad, boo at that group of people, not the musicians (unless they too played poorly, but that's a whole other story...)

The fact is that the interpretation of the opera was not what people expected, so they booed at it. But really, that doesn't mean that the performance was lousy, or that the performers in the orchestra played any less profoundly - it simply means the audience wasn't ready for that change in interpretation and that is not the musician's fault, (in this case it was Luc Bondy's fault, as he staged this "new" version of an old favorite, if anyone should be booed it should be him). The musicians should be praised for a performance they played with exquisite quality, and the audience should be respectful enough to realize that and boo at the people who deserve it, not the ones who don't.

A few different sources and stories

Here is a website I found that has links to tons of different music blogs: Top 50 Classical Blogs. You can browse to your hearts desire and find one that fits your viewing pleasure the most. I spent some time looking at Sequenza21 and enjoyed the information it had on there. It has more current news on it rather than the author's personal opinions. But it's a wide variety of information and I found it entertaining.

But there are some articles from the online version of the magazine Muso that I wanted to bring up because they sort of deal with some of the posts that have been made this week. The three articles that I read are at the following links:

I find myself wondering every now and again what would be a good way to bring classical music to the masses without completely abandoning the actual music. There are tons of people out there who play violin or some other traditional classical instrument but they play rock, ska, etc. rather than classical music. I think that helps expose people to the world a little bit but not very much because we cannot rely on them to take initiative to then go and listen to a classical piece played by that instrument. Concerts like the first one in the third link are a good mix of the two. You have a musician/composer who is well known in the pop world showcasing her classical compositions. I believe that this is a step in the right direction in terms of getting the masses more involved in the classical world through these crossover musicians.

All three stories seem to use good ideas to create a blend between the classical world and the other.

RE: No Passport Required: Around the World With Five Compositions

In the New York Times from today, September 28th, the article titled, "No Passport Required: Around the World With Five Compositions," caught my eye. This article reviews the first concert of the season by the New Julliard Ensemble, referred to as, "one of the best and most interesting of the Juilliard School’s student groups." I found this opening sentence of the article quite intriguing in itself, for it captivates the reader into an interest for new music. New music is often viewed as less accessible, or pleasant to listen to by the general audience/public attending classical music events. But, by opening an article in the NYT with this praise for the group, it hopefully serves to grab a reader's attention and thus encourage them to become a future audience member at New Julliard Ensemble events. 

The mission of the music director, Joel Sachs, to give the ensemble experience playing music from all over "the planet," is fascinating to me. I can imagine that as a music director, especially of a more standard era ensemble, and not just new music, would find this goal a challenge. It is far easier to stick to compositions from certain parts of the globe - western europe, etc. Sachs' goal is impressive, not only in it's potential listening variety for the audience, but also in giving the musicians a wide range of experience with varied kinds of musical compositions. 

I especially enjoyed reading about Chris Gendall's piece, "Rudiments," because Chris was a friend and TA of mine at my undergraduate school, Cornell University. I attended many new music performances at Cornell, as the composition department is rich and varied. Thus, it was interesting to read this writer's review of Gendall's work in comparison to my interpretations of his work a few years ago, when we were both at Cornell. 

I enjoyed reading this review and it made me hopeful for the future of new classical music, as this writer made it sound exciting and accessible to listen to. He also framed the pieces in a style that made me, as the reader, feel like I could relate to the music on a personal level. Hopefully, his article had this affect on many other reader's, too and will thus help to increase the interest in exciting new additions to the classical music genre.

The New Face of Classical Music

I would like to call attention to an article I read in the New York Times recently. In some ways, this post is something of a response to Ivan's post. Some of what Ivan said, while perhaps a part of the issue of revitalizing Classical music, I believe may miss the mark--to put it another way, I think that Ivan may have looked too much at negative possibilities while perhaps not giving positive possibilities enough of an examination.

It seems to me that the situation in which Classical music finds itself is based upon the active attempt at providing Classical music with its current image--that of elitism, of something special, or at least, of something set apart.

Now, one idea I would like to suggest is the idea of symbols.

Symbols, of course, characterize a thing, an idea, etc., and they hold an amazing amount of sway over perceptions. Think of rock and roll for a moment. What comes to mind? Probably many things, but one thing that surely one would eventually think of is the electric guitar or a drumset. Now, think of classical music. What comes to mind? Probably pianos, violins, and conductors. What is my point? Instruments (among other things) are the symbols of musical style.

Back to the NY Times article. One of the things I think is key in this article is the new context that the symbols of classical music have been placed. They are in a venue alongside cutting edge electronics, where sweet legato phrases are never to be heard, and where the music has a rough edge comparable to certain styles of rock. The symbols of classical music are being re-contextualized with new ways of playing and relating to audiences. I believe that eventually, it won't be a big deal to see someone play the cello--it will be no more special than playing guitar, it will be without elitist associations.

What does this mean for Beethoven and Mozart? Post your comments.

"Chopin and the Ghost of Beethoven"


For me, ‘Chopin and Beethoven’ sounds too different, so the title was enough to make me want read this article. As we study, and experience, the two genre’s characteristic is clear.

This is my brief review about the characteristic of each composer

A. Chopin (Romantic period)
-Poetic, lyrical
-Characteristic piece ex) Ballade, scherzo, polonaise, impromptu
-Functional progress

B. Beethoven (Classic period)
-Little invisible rest (accuate)
-His later sonata shows the transition to the next Romantisme .
-Ex) Sonata, symphony
-Much more traditional than Chopin

The writer says Chopin seems not to be inspired by Beethoven, but his influence is seen in his music such as sonata or Impromptu. He tried to prove that in some ways; one is the environmental situation depending on how Chopin moved here and there, second one is some episodes from other musician’s experience with Chopin, and the other one is a specific analysis, comparing Chopin’s music and Beethoven’s one.

Of course, there is an obvious difference between the composers, but I thought when I learn new music for Chopin specially Bb minor sonata and Fantaisie –Impromptu, which is the examples for this article, it would be a good reference for my own interpretation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Give give give & ...take?

If classical music needs to appeal to a younger generation in order to survive, what are we, the composers, conductors and performers, willing to sacrifice?

Should we only perform the little repertoire that has been embraced by the masses?
- Are we okay with fueling the popular belief that the only two composers worth noting are Mozart and Beethoven?

Should we allow it to be performed at a wider variety of venues?
- Are we okay with having people order beers during the performance?

Should we allow it to share the bill with the rockstars so many worship?
- Are we okay with being opening acts to get the exposure?

It seems that our community needs to unite and discuss if we want to live playing classical music or to live playing music in order to be classical musicians.

With the necessary changes, we can gain the momentum we need to thrive in the years to come.
Should we come together and create a poll in hopes to move in the right direction, what would the concrete sacrifices be?
- A blog on the future of classical music with discourse on writing another book about the subject

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On booing

Today's New York Times published 2 stories on the opening of the Metropolitan Opera: one that reviewed the production and one that commented extensively on the booing! (If you need to register to read the story, do so: they don't abuse their registrants.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Contemporary music: challenges?

When most people see a modern composition which is written in an unusual manner, they get confused because they're not used to that "language". This could be happening because string players become used to certain patterns which are learned while practicing "golden repertoire".For me, since I started playing modern music, it wasn't difficult at all. Maybe it's due to the way my brain works. Or is it a quick reaction where eyes transmit visual image of the score to the brain and fingers. Does contemporary music performance, require perfect technique, good working brain or loads of practice?

Monday, September 21, 2009

As I was wondering what to write about here last week, John Williams kept popping up into my head. After he was brought up in class I decided to sort of further my thoughts on him, his music and some other things that came to mind.

The main point of this point is to dwell on a different rift than the one that we talked about last week between "classical musicians and the rest of the world." Something that intrigues me very much is how we as musicians separate ourselves from each other. Many musicians seem to think that it is a horrible decision to do film music and those that do it aren't true classical musicians and they tend to be pigeon holed as such.

This sort of brings me to Williams. He is most well known for his film scores that have won award after award, but he is also exiled in the mind of many people for doing this. They look at his music and see how he incorporates ideas from "true" classical composers and they ridicule him for this. He is known as a rip off artist who cannot compose his own music.

But how many composers use ideas from previous composers as a little joke, as a sort of dedication to that composer, or simply because they happen to like that one idea a lot. Just about every composer does it at one point or another in there career. So how come Williams seems to be one of the few who gets called unoriginal for that? It's not his fault that George Lucas originally wanted Holst's The Planets for Star Wars but that it didn't fit well with the film so he had Williams write something that had the same sound. As to other pieces, I cannot say for certain how much he uses from other composers. I have not studies scores for all of those pieces so I should not pass judgment one way or the other.

Another quick factor that people quite often overlook is how accomplished a composer he is outside of his film music. He has written 30 something other pieces, he studied at UCLA and Julliard, studied under notable composers, in a notable conductor and so on. These are some pretty good credentials for a hack that can't write his own music.

I'm curious as to what you think about how classical musicians cast off fellow musicians who cross over into another realm of more popular music?

Renee's Revelations

Toward the end of the summer I started reading "The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer" by Renee Fleming. I received it as a Christmas gift, and in looking at the cover alone expected it to be a book which would make me feel insufficient. THe back cover stated it was an autobiography of her voice and the story of her artistic development. I of course expected to read about nothing but instant success and perfect experiences. To my surprise, this was not the case. To read about a famed singer with a dazzling career write of losing competitions and being rejected from various programs was actually quite comforting. It is sometimes hard to remember the path to consistency and a successful musical career is a process. 

I managed to find some time after class on Tuesday to get a few pages in here and there, and felt as though Ms. Fleming had been a part of our class. In one part of the book she discusses "The Business", bringing up managers and traveling and organizational nightmares. She also discusses marketing and the releasing of CDs in company with the future of classical music. She uses Andrea Bocelli as an example, mentioning the staggering number of sales of his CD Romanza. This made me think about singers like Charlotte Church and Josh Groban, as well, who were, and possibly still are, musical icons. Bocelli, Church, and Groban have all been played on the radio, and not just the stations specifically for classical music. They managed to break the barrier and venture into the land of pop culture with their crossover repertoire. So it is possible for the music we love to penetrate the everyday lives of the average person. 

She goes on to talk about CD sales in more detail, making some good points, but giving an underlying tone of concern for the future of classical music down the line. She says it is our job as young musicians to speak up. The chapter ends with the following quote: 
"The music itself will never disappear. Beethoven still makes people cheer, Richard Strauss can thrill, and Mozart can even develop young minds. It's our responsibility to learn how to speak to an audience that is less informed about music, to give it a reason to want to come and see us instead of going to the movies. For me and for the rest of the industry, it's going to take hard work and a lot of creative thinking. But then, thinking creatively is our business."

Just some words of inspiration from someone who is living with a huge career in music. I definitely recommend the book and will be sure to include any other nuggets of wisdom from later chapters if/when I have more time to actually read on! 

classical music as mending or adding to cultural divides...

This week's reading from Levine gave much insight into the divide that still exists between those who frequent classical music concerts and those who still find it a bit of an unapproachable genre. I found the history from last week's reading, in the second chapter of the book, regarding concert goers in the early 19th century as a refreshing realization, that classical music hasn't always been so out of reach for all kinds of audiences. However, from this week's reading in chapter three, the origin of the development of the societal gulph that still currently exists, became more clear. 

As quoted in Levine, members of high class looked down on the new influx of immigrants and felt they were tolerable, "as long as these strangers stayed within their own precincts and retained their own peculiar ways, they remained containable and could be dealt with" (177). This attitude is so close-minded and narrow, and it sadly set the tone for not only class differences and discrimination, but also for future racism. In some ways, the way Levine describes the behavior of audience members in the concert hall helps to explain why complete acceptance of all people to concerts was a challenge. For instance, there was "a tendency for undisciplined audiences to treat theaters, music venues as entertainment halls, rather than sacred precincts..." (178). The controversy, as Levine discusses, relates to the question of how audience members were meant to show their enjoyment for the music without being boisterous.  

He continues to present how as time progressed, docile audiences were praised and encouraged to be passive and polite in the presence of the music. By reading about this happening back at the end of the 19th century, it gives me more insight into why classical music still feels so unapproachable to such a wide majority of our population. In most recent history, audiences respond to a symphony performance with a polite applause, or in rare occasions, a "bravo!". Having grown up attending concerts, this etiquette does not seem foreign to me, and in my eye, seems respectful and an appropriate response to performances. However, I can imagine that for someone who is new to classical music, and has perhaps only attended rock concerts in their life, this kind of reaction to a musical performance, and the fact that you cannot talk or eat and drink during the concert, may seem uptight and unappealing. This is part of where the divide develops, and the question of how to make classical music more approachable and appealing to a wider group of listeners.

How can we broaden our audiences, but still maintain the respect classical music has grown accustomed to receiving? What kind of behavior at a performance would be warranted, if it meant expanding our audience pool and reaching a wider public? Would this effort make a difference in eliminating class and racial differences in our society, or would it widen the gulph by trying too hard to include people from varying backgrounds? These questions certainly play into the future of classical music, though predicting too far down the path for classical music is indeed a tricky task. 

Study Questions for VSI

There follow the study questions for Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction. Please note that page numbers are not consistent from printing to printing: they may be off by as much as 2 pages.


1. In what regard does music function as an agent of meaning?

Chapter 1

1. What are some defining characteristics of musical authenticity in rock? In its construct, who is privileged and who is disparaged? What cultural work do such distinctions do?
2. What are our some of our transparent assumptions about music?
3. How do they reflect the structure of a classic industrial economy?

Chapter 2

1. What role does music play in the early nineteenth century’s construction of bourgeois subjectivity?
2. How does Beethoven differ from his predecessors?
3. What is the Beethoven cult?
4. Which two aspects of the Beethoven cult does Cook discuss? What is their significance beyond Beethoven?
5. What components of music’s mystical qualities does the Beethoven cult celebrate? How?
6. How does such spiritualization affect the historic relationship between words and music?
7. What irony ensued?

Chapter 3

1. How have 21st-century realities inverted the basic assumptions of 19th-century musical culture?
2. By what process did modern music become “modern music”?
3. In Cook’s view, what are some signs of vitality in classical music? Which aspects are “beyond resuscitation”?

Chapter 4

1. What is the abiding paradox of musical notation?
2. Discuss the following statement: “[N]otations…transmit a whole way of thinking about music.” (59)
3. What does Cook see as the “basic paradox” of music?
4. How does Cook apply Dakwins’s “river of genes” image to music?

Chapter 5

1. How do our perceptions of “Nikosi Sikelel iAfrica” differ from our perceptions of the “Hammerklavier”?
2. What hierarchy ensues from the traditional understanding of classical music?
3. How does a reception-based approach alter our perception of music?

Chapter 6

1. Why is the concept of a definitive edition problematic?
2. Why can there be no certifiably “authentic” performance?
3. Conversely, how do “authentic” performances mirror our own time?
4. How did musicologists and theorists come to realize the necessity for engagement that had previously been the exclusive province of ethnomusicologists?

Chapter 7

1. What is a transparent system of beliefs? Examples?
2. What applications does critical theory find in music?
3. What is Cook’s antidote to Tomlinson’s extreme pessimism?


1. Comment on the following quote from Philip Brett: “[Music is] an enclave in our society—a sisterhood or brotherhood of lovers, music lovers, united by an unmediated form of communication that is only by imperfect analogy called a language, ‘the’ language of feeling.” (116)
2. In what regards does music have “unique powers as an agent of ideology”?

I closer look at a little bit of Bernstein...

I was reading some articles by Alex Ross and came across the piece "The Bernstein Files." Some of you may have read it, but if you haven't I really suggest you check it out. I had not realized the full extent to which Leonard Bernstein was monitored by the government. The article contains a lot of FBI files and sound clips from meetings with the president and other staff members that record and analyze the activities of Bernstein - it is eye opening!

Bernstein has always been a favorite conductor of mine and this article made me want to know more, so I picked up both Barry Seldes’s book, “Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician” and some old recordings by Bernstein. The best recording I found, and one I would highly recommend, was Bernstein conducting Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.” A chamber piece published by Ives in 1906, it consists of strings, a flute quartet and trumpet. The strings provide a background layer of sustained notes, while the trumpet calls out the “question.” The flutes provide an answer to the question, but the trumpet calls again, and each time the flutes try to answer they get more and more frenzied, until the trumpet calls one last time, this time answered by silence. “The Unanswered Question” in one of my favorite pieces because it is so profound, and this in now my favorite recording of it – I urge you to check it out!

Art and Tradition

One of the ideas I found interesting in the readings was the transformation in people's understanding of art and tradition. As we know, even today, there are a great number of people who, actively or passively, adhere to the idea that the masterworks are meant to be played in a certain way in a certain place for certain people. There is a religious quality to this attitude, and I believe, in light of the past readings (Chapters 2 and 3 in Highbrow Lowbrow), that the religious element is shown to be false and baseless. Regardless, people—in the arts and without, “in the know” or not—believe this idea to be a truth about culture, rather than a product of culture.

I would like to point the reader's attention to a blog by Matthew Hindson I came across that I believe exemplifies the various sides on this idea, to various degrees. Make sure to read the comments on the main post, not just the main post itself; there are some posts that are refuted by the readings, and others that share the spirit of the readings, but not the facts.

" A Night at the Opera in Times Square"

" A Night at the Opera in Times Square " from New York Times

When I went to Time Square in New York for the first time, it was like a dazzling gem. The neon signs would make any visitor to the city impressed.

In the place, a interesting event would happen with those L.E.D screens.

Monday night, 6:30 the Metropolitan Opera’s opening- night gala performance of Puccini’s screens in Time Square will be shown through the multiple screens in Time Square, and at Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza.

Also, the program includes The new things, with Karita Mattila, Marcelo Alvarez and George Garnidze, will be listened by James Levine, who is also BSO conductor.

Both admissions are free, first come – first served, but tickets must be brought for Lincoln Center.

It would be a good chance to connect common people to classical music with modern technical device.

Here is more thing. It is not about a blog, but very useful; If you go to the website, you can see most scores and print out for free.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

“Yeah, I don’t know, I love music becaaaaaaause…”

Breaking down the demographic

The following are my thoughts. If you think of anything else, please let me know!

People enjoy listening to music based on its

1) Virtuosity
2) Ability to make you relate to it
3) Ability to make you experience a ‘spiritual elevation’
4) Ability to remind us of things we hold dearly
5) Ability to learn through it

Or a combination of these elements

1) We respect a virtuoso for his / her ability to execute a complex activity with more proficiency than most

2) We can relate to music based on

a. the fact that some of us know how to make some of those sounds, too and we know just how thrilling that physical experience is

b. the fact that the music and/or lyrics of a piece express feelings that we too feel, but have

never been able to bring out to the surface
ii. never had a chance to share it with the masses
iii. (both i and ii)

3) We can experience a ‘spiritual elevation’ when the music and/or lyrics make us experience a feeling we cannot get from our daily routine

4) We can be reminded by music of

a. a time in our past that we hold dearly and want to relive

b. a philosophy of life that we want to make sure we still live by

c. (both a and b)

5) We can learn from music when it

a. presents musical possibilities that positively surprises us with

i. a fresh approach to an established concept
ii. a new concept

b. presents lyrics that share an experience we haven’t lived but find engaging

c. (both a and b) there anything better?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Culture god

“The writers of a time hint the mottoes of its gods. The word of the modern, say these voices, is the word Culture.” - Walt Whitman

In a post-modernist society, is “Culture” still our god?

As a musician I hear culture discussed at every turn - everything from how cultural heritage defines music to how music influences a society's cultural future. I often myself tout music as a communicative tool that transcends cultural boundaries.

As an experiment, I posted Whitman’s quote into my personal blog and facebook status with nothing more than the directive: “Discuss.”

One response addressed the current relativistic and nihilistic leanings of today’s society - that perhaps Self-absorption makes Culture a less relevant “god”.

If I extrapolate that to the concert hall - does this mean if I play a concert that makes the audience feel good about themselves I make the performance relevant (and therefore possibly more profitable)?

As I read through Levine this week I was struck by the need of society to be affirmed in its identity. For instance, music that appealed to the masses was valued earlier in the 19th century America, because Americans, newly established and free from being colonists, needed to know that their identity as democratic republicans was a good thing. Music had no worth if it didn’t appeal to everybody - if each individual wasn’t equally valued. Music that affirmed the republican identity was valued.

Later it seems that music facilitated a need to distinguish class structure. As modernism took root, this god of “Culture”, education, and knowledge became the tool to set one self apart, distinguish oneself among your peers. Class structure did not exist in America as it had in Europe, so knowledge and erudition defined the new class structure.

In today’s society has the “god” shifted from high “Culture” to that of “Self”? Take any of the examples mentioned, from the issue Ivan brought up about appearance triggering a response to Lindsey’s example of a positively bored audience forcing themselves to listen to something they didn’t seem to find enjoyable. The reason people relate to a concert or performance seems to do something with how it makes them feel about themselves.

What if music - instead of being a vessel for affirming that which society holds up as its modern-day “idols” instead became completely free from that? Take music out of the box. I agree with Billy that there is something to be communicated that does not matter about relevance to the culture - something that goes beyond cultural conditioning and has intrinsic worth. The onus then is on the performer - what must be communicated is not written on the page and not tied to cultural heritage and relevance.

"Even a Radiohead fan can appreciate Mozart"

Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize-winning music reviewer for the Boston Phoenix called this Boston Globe piece to my attention. Care to comment on it?

an ongoing conversation...

      The future of classical music is such a crucial and relevant question for society today, and especially for us as musicians. However, while it feels like an extremely current issue, the fascinating topics discussed in the prologue and chapter 2 of Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow, revealed that the question of classical music's role in society has been significant far longer than I anticipated. I had previously assumed that classical music fit into a niche of appealing to a "high-brow" audience from the very beginning, and thus, today it still holds that role and the struggle to appeal to a wider audience is one that every classical music organization deals with. This topic is on-going and philosophical - indeed, trying to approach or answering the question of the future of classical music can be an ongoing conversation. For now, I find it most effective in my post to respond to the study question for the prologue, because the topic of defining categories within the hierarchy of culture is a challenge, and somewhat never-ending. 

      Our current hierarchical system of cultural categories (highbrow, mid, low) seems fixed and immutable. What cultural work is done by a historian who maintains these categories?  What error might ensue?

      A historian who maintains these categories has been transfixed, by our society’s imposition of cultural categories. As Lawrence Levine argues in his Prologue, the labels of high, mid and low-brow have been assigned by vertical comparisons. As he argues, the question is, what is the point of comparing aspects of life in a scalar mode rather than horizontally, thus with clearer relationships from one aspect to another? The author’s main argument holds that in the 19th century, Shakespeare was considered a popular form of entertainment. He has found references of Shakespeare playing a role with all kinds of people in the 19th c., not just for the category of today’s high-brow audience.

 A historian who maintains these arguments today has to reach, perhaps not completely factually, to justify the cultural categories. For instance, Levine includes the quote from a scholar of American popular culture: “Shakespeare was tremendously popular but his plays were either produced as vehicles for a popular star or treated as blood-and-thunder spectacles…” (Levine 5).  As Levine discusses, this scholar’s need to justify why Shakespeare was popular for a wide audience in the 19th century, seems like a reach. Why can’t the scholar simply accept that Shakespeare was popular in the 19th century? Historians, such as this scholar, who maintain these categories, have to find ways to defend the categories in their work in this case, to uphold the modern concept of Shakespeare as high-brow. However, Levine is arguing that defending these categories can be inaccurate, based on historical evidence.

 Thus, the errors with maintaining these categories, is their subjective nature of comparison. One historian may consider a particular writer to be high-brow, while another may consider it to be mid-brow. What do these levels of “brow” even measure and what do these labels mean on a larger scale? What role does the work/artist play in our culture/society? These categories can limit the potential benefit/genius of a work of art or artist by shoving it aside to a low brow category; something revolutionary could be overlooked, because it is not considered worthy of a high-brow review.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Audiences - Past and Present

An observation I had from chapter two of "Highbrow Lowbrow" deals with the quality of audience that Lawrence Levine outlined as the common group of people generally at the classical performances. The level of musical knowledge of many seemed quite low - in one example cited by Levine, in a performance by the Metropolitan Opera in 1900, a selection of prominent acts from famous operas were performed, but most of the audience had no real knowledge of any of the operas, had no idea who the characters were supposed to be, and seemed to have gone to the concert in the first place due to the names of the famous soloists that were to be featured.

Often audiences were engaged in other activities while listening to the concerts. Theodore Thomas, who had an orchestra he traveled all over the country with, exposing people to popular classical music, often tolerated the almost constant chatting, drinking and overwhelming amount of choking smoke that filled the auditorium.

The audience had tremendous sway over what was played in the concerts as well. Henry Lee Higginson took charge of what is now the Boston Symphony and he did not cater to the audience's wishes and performed pieces such as Bruckner's Symphony #7 and Brahms' Third Symphony, both of which caused upheaval in the audience and many walked out before the concert was concluded. They would not tolerate new or unfamiliar pieces, and were not above walking out in the middle of a performance they weren't enjoying.

I would like to point out that although perhaps classical music is "unpopular" now, the audiences that still attend performances now are much more respectful. Most concert go-ers are generally aware of the basic layout of the music that is in store for the evening (one could argue this is due to the advancement in recording technology), these days talking or walking around during performances is strictly prohibited, as is smoking, and the audience has little say in what the concert program entails, yet they are willing to attend concerts, and sit through pieces they may not find particularly pleasing to the ear. I recently attended a concert with the premiere of the Elliot Carter's Horn Concerto and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. We all know that the Rite of Spring was not received well in its day, and caused riots and general upheaval, but for this horn concerto people behaved differently. I could tell people didn't really like it due to the somewhat inattentive gazes around me, but they didn't talk, or leave the auditorium - they waited patiently until the end, and they clapped politely for the orchestra and soloist, as any good audience should.

Classical Music: Going out of Style?

Keith’s previous post on the role of the classical musician in today’s society is something I have thought about quite a bit recently. The second chapter of Highbrow Lowbrow got me thinking about this even more. As a classical musician, I feel like I have a passion for a type of music that is going “out of style”. Other than fellow classical musicians, who else truly appreciates this art form, and is concerned about it’s future? Without “popular” status, why would society not question the need and importance of classical music?

When I go to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or any other performance in the classical genre, I feel as though the average age of the audience is quickly on the rise. Why is that? Who will fill these seats in Symphony Hall in the coming decades if the young audience is not there now? If there is no audience, how will classical music survive?

Non-musicians, when they think or are asked about classical music, often immediately think of “pops” music. The music played at a Pops concert is not the classical music I am passionate about. Non-musicians see a “symphony orchestra” on the stage and think it is “classical”. I tend to disagree. I feel like the integrity of classical music is weakened with these types of concerts. However, if Pops concerts are what will get a full audience, perhaps classical music needs these types of financial support to survive.

There is a serious need for classical music in today’s society, just like every other type of modern art. In order for classical music to survive, it needs to be appreciated by more than just the musicians that perform it. If our society is educated and exposed to this, classical music may have a significant future, but it is the job of every musician out there to make this happen.

Meeting the Met

In class last week I was asked to find out how many seats are in the Metropolitan Opera House. The answer to this question can vary depending upon the performance. There are approximately 3800 seats and 195 standing room spaces. 35 extra seats can also be added to the front of the house for ballets due to the reduction of the orchestra pit. This got me thinking about the capacities of halls which I have performed in. 

Boston's Symphony Hall: 2600
Kennedy Center (Concert Hall): 2454
Sanders Theatre: 1166

The Met is bigger in size than any of the places I have sung in as a soloist or as a chorus member at this point in my life. It is definitely a place that has been set apart from all of the others. It is considered quite the accomplishment to "make it to the Met" as a singer. When a singer has performed there, it becomes attached to his or her name. Sondra Kelly, for example, is a wonderful opera singer who has come to Longy to give informative lectures on the business, and to conduct master classes with the voice students. She is introduced to us in our syllabus, and in person, as "Metropolitan Opera Singer, Ms. Sondra Kelly." It marks a level of achievement and indicates a certain status. Following along with the reading from "Highbrow/Lowbrow", it separates the performer, a Met singer, from the audience, us lowly students. It establishes that hierarchical continuum on which we are constantly placing ourselves.  

The Met is certainly hailed as a sacred space that one must work up to performing in. It is a high status place for high status singing. The website itself includes phrases such as, "a vibrant home for the most creative and talented artists", and "always engaged many of the world’s most important artists". It is a house for the most creative and most important artists only. How did the Metropolitan Opera obtain this reputation and standard? Is it merely the size of the house? Why is it that house in particular that opera singers strive to perform in? Is an opera diva truly worthy of the term if she has not set foot on the Met stage? These are questions I don't have answers for. For me, it is a learned attitude at this point. The Met has always been discussed as something special and of great importance. It is a place I have never been and am not ready to perform in. 

The development of American Opera discussed in "Highbrow/Lowbrow" was quite interesting. It seems almost unthinkable in this day that opera was considered a part of pop culture, when today is is a musical outcast in typical society. The quote, "It is hard to exaggerate the ubiquity of operatic music in nineteenth century America" is quite striking. The change in popularity came partially because people decided operatic music was supposed to be profound and sophisticated. It was not meant to have folk songs interwoven into the score. Is this why attendance in concert halls today is often so sparse? Why aren't audience inclined to come to the opera? Would the Met be the Met if this element of the elite had never been a requirement? It is hard to say. It is definitely something I will be thinking about.

Here are the websites I used for facts included in this blog post:

Role Playing

One of the things that interested me in the second chapter of Highbrow Lowbrow was the idea of the changing function and role of a classical musician. Before sacralization, American musicians, it seemed, were entirely popular entertainers. However, with the sacralization of the classical musical world, the role changed from entertainer to artist and, in a sense, to a transcendental religious figure who became increasingly distant from the average person in matters of both musical taste and hierarchical affiliation.

Of course, a great similarity is seen in today's structuring of classical music in America. The classical musician still has—and perhaps even more so—an aloofness from the culture to the point of irrelevance, and the average musical consumer largely, I would venture, views the classical musician as someone detached from society, possibly in a negative way—there is still a tight association between “rich, intellectual snobs” and classical music.

What I suspect is starting to become an important difference between now and then, however, is how the musician views him/herself in today's society. Almost assuredly there isn't agreement as to what that role should be, but from some sources I have come across, I believe there is a certain longing on the part of the classical musician to once again be able to touch the lives of people in a much closer way than the sacralization of classical music has allowed. I would point the reader's attention to an entry in another blog that I came across recently (Read the entry dated March 10, 2009 6:48 PM):

I'm curious what the readers think on this subject. Personally, I have not yet decided for myself—this is, in fact, an issue I have struggled with for a good deal of time at this point. At times I find myself sympathetic with the views expressed in the provided link, and at other times, with the great separation from society that classical music currently finds the norm, I find myself almost feeling selfish for pursuing this path in life—frankly, as a composer, who wants or needs my music? Why should I spend time composing when there are other matters in the world which are quite arguably far more important than whether I choose to include an element of improvisation in my next electronic work, or whether or not I should use a more traditional pitch organization in my next piece?

Where does a classical musician fit in society? What should a classical musician do in society?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome, Colleagues!

Welcome, colleagues from Longy School Future of Classical Music '09!

As soon as you can, please make your way to Alex Ross's blog, Though he is still on summer hiatus, he keeps his ear close to the ground. He has a feed, and he provides a list of other music blogs as well. You will also enjoy Greg Sandow's blog, .

Looking forward to reading your posts and to seeing you Tuesday!