Sunday, June 17, 2007

Classic cuts part 2

In another forum, I posted a version of my previous post, "Cutting the Classics," and received a number of responses. One response indicated that the press cuts in classical music may be warranted because "classical music culture" can be "stuffy," "snobbish," and "exclusive," and there is often a tendency for the same old classical warhorses to dominate each concert, crowding out the contemporary.

While this may be true to a degree, there are promising signs including the many wonderful young classical musicians coming up (some who appear on the NPR weekly show "From the Top"). Other positive signs include the successful makeover of DC NPR radio station, WETA-FM, which had been a news and talk station for awhile, and was reformatted back to classical. Now it plays more than just the usual classical "warhorses," and it is drawing high ratings. The symphony orchestra at one of our local high schools, the McLean High School Symphony Orchestra, (with which I have stayed associated long after my daughters left school) plays a number of modern classical pieces along with its classical standards, and at times, has even played classical versions of Metallica, Cream, Queen, and Pearl Jam songs--it all works well. There are also the classical crossover projects of McCartney, Joel, Costello, and Sting-some successful, some less so.

My view is that newspapers often seem to get it wrong when it comes to music. Most newspapers and other popular media were slow to cover rock 'n roll as a viable form of music, and now, they seem primarily to cover rock, and ready to abandon a still vibrant form of music--classical.

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), there is an article about the decline of classical reviewers in newspapers by one of WSJ's classical critics, Greg Sandow (who in a previous article recommended that modern classical be called "alt classical" to get contemporary attention). Yesterday, he wrote the following:

...The last thing they should do, in my view, is blame the press. "Newspapers don't care about art or culture!" people cry. But I'd turn that around and ask if people in the classical-music business really understand the current state of our world. Because here's something else I learned back in the '90s when I talked to those opera-company publicists. One thing any publicist wants is advance coverage, preview articles about whatever's being publicized. Once, the opera publicists said, they'd get these automatically. But that had stopped. "You're doing 'La Traviata'?" an editor might say. "You did it three years ago. What's the story now?"

For orchestras, this could hit even harder. "You're playing Brahms? You played Brahms last week!" Classical music can look predictable to the outside world, and (to be honest) not very interesting. Same old, same old. Great classical masterworks, played by acclaimed classical musicians.

So the classical-music world needs to look at two things: what it offers and how it talks about what it offers. Why are we playing Brahms? What does Brahms give us that Mozart, Feist, or Bruce Springsteen can't? And how, exactly, is this week's Brahms performance different from last week's?...

While Greg Sandow gives the press a too-easy "pass," he also raises some good points aimed at the "classical-music establishment." As Sonny and Cher almost said, De-bate goes on...

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