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So Classical Music Is "In Decline " Again . Ho Hum .

  If you go to facebook discussions , classical music forums, articles on the internet  and other  websites where classical music is discussed  and

argued about ,  something which I as a classical musician naturally do every day ,  you can't help notice  people who are  either  performers,

critics ,  scholars , teachers and   others who are merely knowledgable listeners  who are always longing  for the "good old days"

of classical music , centuries or merely decades ago , when  everything was so much better than the  present day ; I just encountered

several  in the past few days  . 

   If you believe these individuals ,  everything was so much better in the world of classical music long ago ;  most music was new , rather than

today's supposed concentration on music from the past, and a tiny fraction of it at that , when  conductors  were so much better than

those of today , ditto orchestras ,  violinists , cellists and other instrumental soloists , when   orchestras supposedly had "distinctive  sounnds"

rather than the way they supposedly "all sound alike" today , when  standards of opera singing were so much higher ,  and when   musicians   

didn't all perform the same music the same way and performers had   "real personality " and individuality ", as opposed to   the "cookie  

cutter" musicians of  today who are all so"  timid and pednatically literal ".  
    But in fact, there is no lack of new music today , and the classical repertoire is actually more DIVERSE than ever before .

   Longing for the "golden age" is  nothing new and can be found in all fields of human endeavor .  The ancient Romans  had a term for  

someone who is always  knocking the present  and longing for the "good old days ".  The    Laudator Temporis Acti",  or   one who  praises

bygone days .   Classical music has been full of these "laudators "  for  as long as I can remember reading  about it  ; books,  

magazine articles ,  etc , and now  the internet .  And I've been a classical music freak for nearly 50   years since I was a teenager !

   I recently read an interesting article by an English musicologist  which someone posted  on facebook the other day , claiming   that 

we   "don't perform classical music the right way " , based on  research ,  historical recordings ,  writings etc .  

   According to this  scholar ,  classical concerts have become  rigid and formalized ;  audiences were much more  relaxed  and casual at  

concerts , and  musicians  didn't care about  techincal perfection  and  avoided the pedantic literalism of interpretation which has become t

the norm today .  Cincerts were fun  and festive !   Musicians took risks and   took  interpretive liberties   which are frowned upon today .  

   I've read numerous articles like  in recent years . There may be some truth to it, but    based on my decades of listeing experience to  both 

recordings and live   performances, and  countless   reviews by critics in newspapers, magazines  and now the internet ,  as well  as  books,

maintain that reports of   the supposed  "pedantic literalism "  and "lack of individuality in interpretation " have been   greatly exaggerated . 

   Why ?   Because I've read countless   reviews of live performances and  recordings in my day in which   critics   mercilessly

lambasted   msuicians for all the liberties they took with the music . !

    Something just doesn't add up here .  There's a huge paradox, and a double standard .   If   musicians today are so "pedantically literal ",  

why have I read so many  negative reviews   in which the critics  accused them of  all manner of interpetive excesses , mannerisms  

and other  quirks which  they PRAISE in old recordings by legendary musicians of the past ?  

    The  legendary  piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowowitz, (1903-1989 ) for example, is extolled for his  interpetive flair, imagination ,  panache

and individuality . But one of today's most prominent  piano virtuosos,  Lang Lang of China ,  who      is perhaps

 the  most renowned    of today's classical pianists , is always  being sneered at for his alleged  "lack of seriousness and depth ,

superficial  technical display at the expense of   interpretive profundity  and   shameless  exhibitionism "  . Talk about a  double

standard .  Horowitz can do anything with the music he wants and critics rave  , but  Lang Lang  shows his own flair and   

individuality , and the critics   blast him  and refuse to acknowledge him as a serious musical  artist .   There are many,many

other examples of critics applying this double standard  with other musicians of the present day .

   Horowitz is held up as a paragon   of pianists  , yet   Lang Lang is cynically  used as an excuse to  make sweeping generalizations about  

how  standards of    musicianship have supposedly declined   from the idealized past .  

    There have been similar  brickbats   handed out to to the brillianitly gifted Venuzuelan-born conductor   Fustavo Dudmel,  now in his

early 30s like  Lang Lang , and who in the past decade or so has  risen quickly  into the foremost ranks of   today'  conductors 

and is now music director of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic .  Dudamel is the most famous product of  Venuzuela's

now famous "El Sistema", which has  given so many poor youngsters in that  country  a chance to learn musical instuments and  

play in numerous youth orchestras .  

   Dudamel is  enormously gifted, charismatic ,  and   bursting with enthusiasm  . But he's no mere  flashy   podium glamor boy .

He's the genuine article ; a conductor  who has the  potential to become one of the greatest  conductors in a field where  conductors

often do not reach   until long past youth , and   elderly maestros who are still active are not at all uncommon .  

    But there has been plenty of   critical flack  , not necessarily nasty , but  dismissing him   as   possibly haven risen  to  

prominence before reaching maturity as a musician .  

    To be a prominet classical musician today often means being damned if you do and damned if you don't .   It's a no

win situation ,   because of   those annoying Laudators Temporis Acti , or however  the Latin plural  goes .   I don't think

I got the plural right, but you get my point .  

    But you can be sure that  decades from now, when  today's leading classical musicians  are either dead or   too elderly to  

perform any more,   people will be longing for the good old days of  Lang Lang and   Gustavo Dudamel, and their contemporaries 

of the present day . The more things change, the more they stay the same .

Posted: Feb 25 2015, 10:43 PM by the horn | with no comments
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