Tuesday, November 24, 2009

small, but vital audiences for contemporary classical music

This week, I'd like to respond to the following blog. I found the link for this blog when I was looking through Alex Ross's external links on his blog. This one was listed in the music business section, but I found it quite relevant not only to the future of classical music, but also specifically to our reading this week from "Music, healing the rift." Here's the link to the blog:


Greg Sandow, as I learned from his blog, is a music critic and a professor at Julliard. The title of the article I read on his blog is, "Left behind (3)." And, as he describes, the article can be described as: "Finishing my impulsive three-part series on how/why contemporary classical music -- as presented by mainstream classical music institutions -- isn't really part of current culture." I haven't had a chance to yet read the other 2 sections of this series, but he summarizes pretty clearly here what arenas he discussed before this third installment. 

Sandow compares the reception of contemporary visual art to that of contemporary music to demonstrate how much less receptive the general audience is still to new music vs. new art. For instance, he discusses how because contemporary classical music is still seen as "an oddball" branch of classical music, the general perception of what contemporary music embodies is somewhat out-dated. As he writes, "atonal music dominated prestigious composition in the 1950s, and still retains -- in the classical music world -- its dominant prestige, along with a sense of somehow still being new, even though since its dominance we've had waves of new styles, starting with minimalism in the 1970." This idea is not so far off from the thought question we had for chapter 7 in Hewett this week regarding modernist vs. neo-tonal music.

I found this imagery enlightening: the draw a museum like the MOMA can fetch for a general audience, with museum-goers lined about around the block to see a Jackson Pollack exhibition in comparison to a tiny audience for a contemporary music concert. As he writes, in the "excuses" section there are reasons for contemporary classical music to have less of an appeal then modern art, for instance, music takes time, it doesn't reflect the current times happening around it, etc. BUT, in his solutions section, his attention to the significance of "small, but vital audiences," in attendance at a classical contemporary music concert was refreshing for me and opened up some new thoughts about new classical music appeal. Perhaps classical music producers are far to concerned about appealing to a mass audience and thus over-sex the appeal of new music, or they program what people still think of as new music, or atonal as Sandow presents earlier. He argues that we need to present music to represents the current times and culture, and also to work with the perhaps small, but genuinely infatuated audience that does show up for a concert of new music. 

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