As Hilary Hahn said a few years back, if we don't get new classical
music coming into the repertoire then our concert halls will basically
turn into museums. We need a change in the way we look at classical
music and composers. Conductors, afraid that programming new works
will hurt ticket sales, are hesitant to put them on the program. And the
musical public seems to sit there and pretty much accept whatever they
are handed. This mule-staring contest needs to change. And I think that
thanks to people like Hahn that it has begun to change, albeit very slowly.
I know that in my own town there has been some attempt to gain a new
audience. Unfortunately that has been mostly limited to combining some form
of symphony concert with some popular artist or band — the group Milonga
here a case in point.
I don't have any objection to popularizing the classics. I do have an
objection to groups that are only vaguely classical being put
on the Billboard Classical Top 10. This is not to denigrate those
groups/musicians. It is simple a matter of categorizing — I don't like
wolves mixed in with my sheep. But the main trouble here is our symphony
orchestras seem to be accepting that kind of alternative more than the
logical one — an extension of music history to include contemporary
That is to say, living composers. Composers who can attend performances
of their work, get out in the lobby for a meet-and-greet, maybe sign
some autographs. And it wouldn't hurt to use social media a little
bit more, connect with people.
If this sounds like some crass commercialism, I can only point out that
during much of our music history composers actively used the social
angle. Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt — all "worked" the salon circuit to
make themselves better known and promote their music. But in the 20th
century that seemed to fade to quite a large extent. What we ended up
with were composers who seemed more like remote academics. There may
have been the occasional premier of course which was attended by the
composer. And there may have been the occasional up-scale cocktail
party — although one can project that in that instance of socializing
that they were basically preaching to the choir. And of course for most
composers the fact that their works are seldom programed to the extent
that Beethoven and Brahms are today doesn't help matters any. That just
makes them want to stay in the Ivory Tower.
There are a number of a new generation of artists such as Hahn who
are taking up this cause. But we as the public need to get involved
also. And also, one might say, to open our minds. The Schoenberg
Kammersymphonie No. 1? Granted that many may not put such on their
turntable but, hey, what say we give it a chance and hear a live performance
of it? And especially the new composers, the composers who are carrying
on the traditions into this new century. Thomas Ades? Why not, and
yeah it would be kind of interesting meeting him. And the composers
are going to have to return to the old traditions I think — back to
the salon era and getting both themselves and their work out there
at more than just the occasional performance.
We need to get a defibrillator on this thing.