We really shouldn't look at classical music as "a kind of spa treatment for tired souls," writes Alex Ross
When I was introduced to Australian composer Christopher Gordon a bit more than a year ago, we ended up having a rueful laugh over how the bulk of new music doesn't travel beyond national boundaries, but audiences' aversion to new music transcends languages and cultures.
At a party on Saturday night, I ended up having several conversations with our guests about music and how so many people our age and younger are almost afraid of checking out art music of any kind, because they think they have to know a lot before they can set foot inside a concert venue.
This is a complex issue that stirs up a lot of debate among presenters, performers and promoters alike.
Alex Ross -- always a reliable source of nicely considered argument -- laid out his own theory in Sunday's Guardian. He has written along similar lines before. In case you don't have time to read the whole article here, here is Ross's concluding paragraph, which says it all:
What must fall away is the notion of classical music as a reliable conduit for consoling beauty – a kind of spa treatment for tired souls. Such an attitude undercuts not only 20th-century composers but also the classics it purports to cherish. Imagine Beethoven's rage if he had been told that one day his music would be piped into railway stations to calm commuters and drive away delinquents. Listeners who become accustomed to Berg and Ligeti will find new dimensions in Mozart and Beethoven. So, too, will performers. For too long, we have placed the classical masters in a gilded cage. It is time to let them out.
Since Ann Southam's death on Thursday, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what her musical legacy will be -- and whether there really will be one once the people who knew her and loved her compositions are gone. It's not that Southam didn't have some great ideas and connect with great interpreters; it's that there may not ever have been a significant-enough audience for her music to ensure that it left a mark on these times.
As Ross mentions in his article, many listeners today are still not sure what to make of Benjamin Britten, whose music was pretty accessible, by 20th century standards.
Since Benjamin Britten's name comes up in Ross's article, I thought it might be fun to show what the Fuse Muse Ensemble did with his Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello. The music is still new-ish, audiences still don't necessarily "get" it, yet there are many ways in which it could be -- and is -- presented. Here are excerpts from the "Serenata" and "Bordone" movements: