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The Classical Blame Game

  I hate to harp on Greg Sandow and his  constant  complaints about how there is supposedly something very wrong about the world of classical  music and that unless our orchestras and other  classical institution change radically , they are doomed to  irrelevance and  lack of an audience, particularly one with lots of young people attending .  I like the guy and  of course he means well . However, he's barking up the wrong tree .

     I've come up with a name for this onslaught on  orchestras etc ;  it's "The classical blame game ".  If only  classical musicians would  play in a freer ,  more spontaneous way , more people would attend concerts .Supposedly . If only concerts weren't such stuffy  affairs, more people would come .If only musicians would stop wearing  tuxedos or  black ties at concerts, more people would come .  If only orchestras played more new music, audiences would increase .  If only classical musicians weren't so obsessed with accuracy of  performance rather than  spontaneous communication with audiences , more people would come .  Yadda yadda yadda . 

    Somehow, it's always the musician's fault , or  the fault of  orchestra managements  if they're having such a rough time  increasing  their audiences and  attracting more younger people to concerts .  But has Sandow ever  considere the fact  that  one of the main reasons  it's so difficult to  increase the audience for classical music  are other factors ?  For example, the myth that classical music is "stuffy,boring and elitist,"  which  too many people accept blindly ?  Or the fact that  so many people just aren't aware of how enjoyable classical music  could be if they just GAVE IT A CHANCE ? 

    Or that  too many people in America of whatever age  just haven't had any exposure to classical music ?   The problem is certainly not a lack of  excellence  in performances ; on the contrary , standards of performance  are  higher than ever .  There are so many outstanding conductors,  solo violinists, cellists  ,concert pianists etc , and  there are more  world class orchestras in America than ever before .  There is no lack of new music at concerts . 

    But how can  you expect to attract more people with  new music alone when they have never even heard the  great symphonies ,concertos and other works of Mozart,Beethoven, Schubert,Brahms,Tchaikovsky and other  great composers of the past ?  If your first exposure to classicla music at a concert is  a program of Elliott Carter,  Milton Babbitt  ,Charles Wuorinen or other  composers of  esoteric and complex modern music, you are going to be completely baffled by it . 

     New audiences need  a context, a frame of reference, before they  are ready to hear contemporary music, and that context is the great works of the past .   And newcomers ot concerts should not really be concerned with  what themusicians wear on stage ; these concerts are not  displays of fashion .  They should just concentrate on THE MUSIC . 

    Another problem Sandow has often mentioned is that newsomers  often tend to applaud between movements of a symphony or ocncertos, and are often hushed by  experienced concertgoers , and this sometimes intimidates them and  causes them to  decide they don't want to attend any more ocncerts, which is unfortunate .  I suppose it  wouldn't be a bad idea  if  applause before th eend of a work became more ocmmon , but many  performers  seem to get unnerved by  mid performance  applause  and it  upsets their concentration .  Why not just explain this to newcomers to concerts ? 

    So let's stop blaming the victims, namely the performers ,for their plight and  explore  other ways to  expand the audience for classicla music in America .  It won't be easy ,  but  we need to stop barking up the wrong tree .

Posted: May 06 2013, 10:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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