More stuff about dead white guys: The classical discussion

I have to say that I wasn’t always a fan of contemporary classical music. Even though I hate referring to contemporary music as “contemporary classical“, it still seems like Mozart is such a gigantic breed apart from John Adams.

When I was a young kid, I used to love hearing WQXR in NY when I lived in Queens, and they used to broadcast live concerts on the weekends: the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. On the Philadelphia Orchestra broadcast one night, they had programmed David Del Tredici’s Final Alice for most of that evening’s concert (It had opened with a short piece by Hindemith, but my memory fails me on what that piece was), and what I was hearing was completely unreal! Very strange, dissonant music that wasn’t like anything I heard on the station at the time. I had to turn off the concert (I think I changed the station rather than turning off the radio), which was a first for me, as I usually gave everything a chance when I was hearing it for the first time. This was just too crazy for my taste, even crazier than Ravel, Bartok, or Hindemith (Btw, I’d just heard his Symphonic Metamorpheses on themes by Carl Maria Von Weber not too long before that on another broadcast concert, and got through that with no issues).

I continued to enjoy my beloved classics by Liszt, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Chopin for many more generations, but along the way I was also getting into Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Charles Ives, Edgard Varese, Schoenberg (His Violin Concerto was an acquired taste for me, but its blow was softened through Hilary Hahn’s recording), and anything else that you’d count as post-classical classical music. After a while, there’s no doubt that there is such an obvious relevance to evolution in music as there was many years earlier when we went from Bach to Mozart to Brahms to Debussy. I’d like to say that as soon as I recognized that change, my outlook changed along with it, but it wasn’t quite that simple! I think that my taste changed slowly. Me being a fan of other genres of music, however, I didn’t always have time to listen to every relevant piece of music, but I didn’t necessarily worry about when that would happen. As it was, much of my appeal for classical music came from Bugs Bunny, Charlie Brown (Schroeder was the biggest champion for Beethoven I had ever come to know), and Walt Disney’s Fantasia, so it came randomly from unlikely sources. I studied piano at 11, but I was into classical music a couple of years before that.

There’s much talk about classical music and what could be done about keeping people interested in the concerts, what to do about the programming, what to do about ticket sales, how to get more people interested in the genre, etc. I’d like to think that everybody’s a slow learner like I am and that eventually they’re all going to come around and rock out to John Corigliano and Jennifer Higdon as if they were always classic warhorses. I honestly don’t know.

There are some ideas being thrown around. Somebody on the forum had this nice suggestion:

I’m thinking of something more adventurous, something akin to the sort of thing that appears to be working here in NYC and elsewhere called the Wordless Music series ( The philosophy behind these events is as follows:

“Wordless Music is devoted to the idea that the sound worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music — in genres such as indie rock and electronica — share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest. To illustrate the continuity between these worlds, the series pairs rock and electronic musicians in an intimate concert setting with more traditionally understood classical music performers. The goal: to bring audiences together, and to introduce listeners from both worlds to composers that they might otherwise not encounter, for a completely new concert experience. In so doing, Wordless Music seeks to demonstrate that the various boundaries and genre distinctions segregating music today — popular and classical; uptown and downtown; high art and low — are artificial constructions in need of dismantling.”

I really like that! We’ve been seeing bigger names doing this as well in recent years. I just wish it would guarantee a bigger turnout in every concert hall.

Compostional music is also very time-consuming. So much can get done in the 75 minutes it takes to listen to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. It’d be great if there could be people that would make the time if they don’t have it on hand.

I do also notice that a lot of young people come to certain concerts, but they are almost always music students. Do you have to be a music student to appreciate the music? I wasn’t. And these guys don’t seem to have to be gauded into appreciating new classical music.

There was an article that just came out where the writer questions the direction of contemporary classical (Titled “Why does contemporary classical music spurn melody?”), and while it is a great article and uses great reference points from Alex Ross and Edo de Waart, I already disagreed with the title of the article, because I know that there’s a lot of new music that has lots of melody. I hear melody in virtually all music, even avant-garde. I even hear melody in Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music! But it had interesting points about score music and that while people aren’t bothered by it, they’re not likely to buy the soundtrack or hum the cue music the next day.

I really can’t think of any way to bring more people to the concerts unless there’s some kind of marketing ploy that could be devised. Free drinks, 1/2 price tickets, more meet and greets. Those are little things. Maybe there should be free tests. Free concerts for a week. Get people to come and hear whatever you can program in a 2-hour concert for free, like a test audience for a movie.

For now, I know that you’re preaching to the choir here. I love the concerts!


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