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So You Think Classical Music Hasn't Changed Much In Ages ?

   Commentators on classical music are always telling us that classical music has to "change" , and change drastically , in order to "survive" and to be "relevant ".  As   I've  pointed out here on a number of occaisions, composer/critic/ blogger  and  consultant  Greg Sandow  has been one of the most vocal  advocates of this  meme .  And he's far from alone in saying this .  But  is classical music really so  stodgy , hidebound and resistant to change , and  are  performances really the kind of dreary and boring affairs  these Chicken Littles would have us believe ?

   We are told, for example, that unless musicians in orchestras dress more casually instead of wearing tuxedos or black tie ,  and concerts become less "stuffy" and intimidating ,  the audience for classical music  will inevitably shrink , and  younger people will not  be persuaded to attend  and make classical music  apart of their life . 

    The repertoire has to change, too . We need more new music at concerts .  Orchestras can't just go on playing the same old warhorses by  Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and a few other famous composers .  Pop and Rock music are things that audiences can relate to .   Why can't classical music catch up and get with the times ? 

    The problem is that you can't judge classical music by the standards of popular music  ,Rock are what have you .  Pop and Rock are what  countless people are accustomed to . They're meant to be easy to listen to . They don't require  homework  to get to know .  They also haven't been in existence  anywhere near as long as Classical music .  To complain that  classical concentrates too much on musci of the past ignores the fact that  the masterowrks of Bach, Mpozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so many other composers have been popular for  a very long time and have stood the test of time,  and that there is a vast  reservoir of  works from the past which are not at all familiar to the  general public but which are very much worth hearing .

    And is there realy a lack of new classical music today ? Not at all .  There are many composers today who have been widely performed  in our time  and who are still writing   new works all the time .  John Adams,  John Corigliano , William Bolcom, Tan Dun,  Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon,  Peter Maxwell Davies,  Harrison Birtwistle Wolfgang Rihm,  Henri Dutilleaux,  Unsuk Chin  may not be household names , but they are promient and  highly respected ocmposers , and might achieve a lasting place in the classical music repertoire in the future .

    How is classical music different from what it was 50 or 60 years ago ?  In many ways .  The musi cof the great composers  of long ago was popular then and is still popular,  but the repertoire is still vastly different .  Many,many composers have come to prominence since that time, and  are now  performed regularly .  There are more women composers than ever before , and  when an orchestra plays a work by one, it isn't even news any more . 

    Many composers form the past who had been long neglected  have been brought back into the repertoire , such as Alexander von  Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt,  Carl Nielsen , Karol Szymanowski ,  Havergal Brian , to name only a handful .  German music no longer has  anything near a monopoly on  the repertoire , and you can hear composers from  such previously unlikely places as  Japan, South Korea, China,  Latin America and even tiny Estonia  on the Baltic sea . 

    Conducting used  be a profession   monopolized by white males,  mostly European .But  more and more women have begun to make international careers  in both concerts and  opera ,  and  conductors from Asia and latin America  are everywhere .  There ar emore orchestras and opera ocmpanies than ever before ,  and they have been sprouting up in such unlikely places as  Qatar , Malaysia ,  Singapore and elsewhere .

    Classical music  is  enjoying a boom in China, where  Mao Zedong  had  silenced it  and  stymied  the art form in his zeal for  total control of China .  Asian classical musicians  are now  an integral part of classical  scene . They are ubiquitous .

   In America,  the number of opera companies has multiplied exponentiallly from the past , when New York, San Francisco and Chicago were the only game in town .  The  HD broadcast of live performances from the Metropolitan opera into movie theaters around America and Europe  has revolutionized the way  people experience opera .  The internet  has enabled  people to  see and hear concerts an dopera performances from not only the  present day, but the past . 

     For all its problems, classical music has never been more vibrantly alive .  Remember these  facts the next time somebody  you meet and converse with sneers at it .  And  let him know about it ,please !



Posted: Jan 29 2013, 11:33 PM by the horn | with no comments
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