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The Sound of Muzik
July 21, 2010 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Classical Music’s New Golden Age
posted by Gyan (63 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gary Giddins once said something to the effect of, there are two stories any journalist can write at any time: jazz is dying, or jazz is making a comeback. You can always find support for either/both positions.

Wonder if the same is true of classical?
posted by jbickers at 7:46 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based on the title, I was hoping this would be about some great new composers. I've been thinking of asking an AskMe question about who has come along since the '70s (when Britten, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky died) who's worth listening to. I can't think of any really interesting ones aside from some well-known minimalists (Arvo Part, etc.) and Michael Torke.

So I was sorry to see this:
The movement has also demolished one tiresome credo of classical-music critics: that the way to revitalize the concert tradition is to program contemporary music. It is surely the case that the concert repertoire, derived from a narrow slice of the musical universe, is in desperate need of new music. But the critics are wrong in defining “new music” exclusively as contemporary. The public could not be more unequivocal: it finds little emotional significance in most contemporary classical music, especially that produced in academic enclaves.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I haven't had a chance to read the whole article, I'll bookmark it for now - thanks for the link.

The public could not be more unequivocal: it finds little emotional significance in most contemporary classical music, especially that produced in academic enclaves.

I'm not sure that's entirely true or fair to contemporary composers, however I'm like you Jaltcoh - I don't really know of any (beyond Eric Whitacre, and does he even count?).

I think one reason the audience responds to the classics of the genre, besides them being time-tested masterpieces, is that going to a classical concert carries a lot of weighty tradition with it. We all go to see the classics performed in a classic way because that's the way it's always been. Modern classical music performances may be at the peak of their game, but there is a large element of recursiveness to the whole thing.
posted by Think_Long at 8:03 AM on July 21, 2010


I skimmed the article and don't have much to say about it. However, Jaltcoh that's a good question to ask. If you don't use an AskMe question feel free to MeMail me.
posted by ob at 8:09 AM on July 21, 2010


More people listen to classical music today, and more money gets spent on producing and disseminating it, than ever before.

Citation needed. I don't have any data, but I doubt this is true.
posted by nosila at 8:18 AM on July 21, 2010


I, too, was expecting some ludicrously parochial trumpeting of trash 21st century composers as rivaling the artistry of the 18th and 19th centuries. Or, better, discovering that there are some really marvelous contemporary composers I hadn't heard of.

But the point being made seems merely to be that we're at the golden age of accessibility and performance, and not the music itself. Which I don't think is too terribly contentious.

It really saddens me how quickly classical music went from the astonishing beauty of Brahms to the atonal-yet-still-creative-and-aesthetically-pleasing music of Stravinsky to the garbage that soon followed.

I will, say, though, that there are a couple of soundtrack composers around today who produce some beautiful stuff. (Tiersen, Mansell, etc.)
posted by resiny at 8:21 AM on July 21, 2010


I'm not really up on many soundtrack artist, but I will say the Joe Hisashi can score the fuck out of a movie. Maybe it's only because of the association with the films that hold a really important place in my mind, but the Spirited Away and Mononoke soundtracks are infinitely listenable.
posted by Think_Long at 8:24 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jaltcoh that's a good question to ask. If you don't use an AskMe question feel free to MeMail me.

Thanks. I'm sure I'll ask it eventually. Right now I have to save up my questions since I might need them.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:26 AM on July 21, 2010


Citation needed. I don't have any data, but I doubt this is true.

It could be due to "there are a lot more people in the world now than in the 1850s".
posted by smackfu at 8:29 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I attended the Bang on a Can Marathon in at the World Financial Center in New York this year and heard the works of quite a few contemporary composers. Maybe the problem, if there is one, is that non-traditional, contemporary music works best in non-traditional, contemporary spaces -- new music is happening, it's just not always programmed for concert halls.
posted by swift at 8:32 AM on July 21, 2010


From the article:

Works that we now regard as formally perfect were dismembered: only a single movement of a work’s full three or four might ever be performed, with the remaining movements regarded as inessential.

I consider this a feature, not a bug. Nothing bores me more about any great and time-tested work of art than too much reverence.

But the greatest difference between the musical past and present is what we might call musical teleology: the belief that music progresses over time. That belief had consequences that many contemporary listeners and musicians would find shocking. Throughout much of Western history, older works held little interest for average listeners—they wanted the most up-to-date styles in singing and harmony.

Saints preserve us from innovation and progression, and an audience eager to hear it. Of course, there are two ways to read this. On the one hand, you've got some young genius hacking off all the sloppy detritus of a moribund piece by some past master and actually finding something fresh, focused, relevant. On the other, you've got Kenny G adding his execrable noodlings to a Miles Davis recording.

Bottom line, I appreciate some reverence for the old stuff as it does help us " ... trace how variously human beings have expressed longing, desire, triumph, and sorrow over the centuries." But taken too far (as it so often is) you end up with a concert hall full (or not) of bored and restless sophistos pretending to be engaged, but nevertheless coughing and clearing their throats through all the quiet bits.

I'll take the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor over that any day.
posted by philip-random at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


More people listen to classical music today, and more money gets spent on producing and disseminating it, than ever before.

Citation needed. I don't have any data, but I doubt this is true.


I agree, and in particular, it's impossible to know how many people are "listening" to classical music in a certain time period. Even if you had comprehensive figures on worldwide record sales and concert performances over centuries (which is implausible), that still wouldn't be the whole story. Who knows how often people used to gather around at home to do an amateur performance of a violin sonata for fun in 1850 as opposed to 2010? And record sales just tell you what records were sold, not what listening has actually occurred. I've probably listened a hundred times to Rostropovich and Karajan's performance of Dvorak's cello concerto that I burned from a library CD; meanwhile, I bought a set of the complete Beethoven sonatas that I've barely listened to at all (I bought it on a whim because it looked like a great bargain, but I was underwhelmed by the performance or audio quality so I never find myself wanting to listen to it).
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2010


Great article. This quote from it:

And the universal loathing directed by today’s audiences at the hapless recipient of a mid-performance cell-phone call would have struck eighteenth-century audiences as provincial, given the widespread use of concerts and opera as pleasant backdrops for lively conversation.

reminds me of a paragraph from an Alex Ross article re classical music in China:

In general, listeners behaved more informally than I was used to: some older people, following the looser etiquette of Peking opera, talked among themselves, pointed at the stage, or read newspapers. The hubbub was distracting at times—ushers largely failed to prevent the taking of pictures and videos—but it was refreshing in comparison with the self-conscious solemnity that encroaches on Western concert halls. The music wasn’t taken for granted; Berlioz still had shock value.

Alex Ross is a good person to read if you're looking for contemporary classical recommendations, btw.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I attended the Bang on a Can Marathon in at the World Financial Center in New York this year and heard the works of quite a few contemporary composers.

Yup, BOAC would be one of the first things I would cite to show that there is an active world, vital contemporary music world out there.
posted by ob at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2010


I was sloggging through this thing sorta half-heartedly until I got to the Dudamel section. For an article on how living and awesome classical music is right now this really sounds like it was written by an out of touch white person.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2010


"It really saddens me how quickly classical music went from the astonishing beauty of Brahms to the atonal-yet-still-creative-and-aesthetically-pleasing music of Stravinsky to the garbage that soon followed. "

I was recently at a performance of Stockhausen's "Kontakte," during which half of an audience of otherwise polite, intelligent, and civil people sighed audibly and stomped out of the hall. For some reason, with regard to new music, advertising one's willful ignorance is still socially acceptable.

Every vibration you hear is a thought your ear has. None of it is "garbage," and there's no need to speak pejoratively.
posted by sleevener at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I just realized that my reaction to a lot of modern classical music is pretty similar to that of a lot of modern architecture... Intellectually I understand and appreciate that someone's doing new things, but I don't find it pleasant to listen to.
posted by usonian at 9:27 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


One data point in favor of this position: all of the canonical works of classical music are available to you for free to download and listen to on relatively cheap portable devices anywhere.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:46 AM on July 21, 2010


I can't think of any really interesting ones aside from some well-known minimalists (Arvo Part, etc.) and Michael Torke.

and

Intellectually I understand and appreciate that someone's doing new things, but I don't find it pleasant to listen to.

A couple of quick recommendations, then, from an old answer I gave in AskMe a while ago (about "heartwrenching" classical music, but still applicable here):

Gavin Bryars' Sinking of the Titanic is gorgeous and heartrending: a simple musical motif revisited and revisited, but each time slightly differently, and with greater distance and distortion. You “hear” the ship sink, doomed musicians on board continuing to play, impossibly, as it disappears deeper and deeper into the dark and unforgiving ocean. Musical excerpt (and fanmade video) here.

Also Bryars: Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a classical composition based on a snippet of audio from a documentary Bryars did audio for -- a ruined tramp singing a bit of a half-remembered hymn. Bryars loops it, introducing and removing different string themes. It's off-putting at first, but haunting and unforgettable. Bryars succumbs to a star turn at the end, throwing Tom Waits in the mix, and I love Tom Waits but have mixed feelings about it.

And Basinski's Disintegration Loops are -- well, here's a bit of a review of the albums from Pitchfork, also linked to in the YouTube link:
William Basinski's Disintegration Loops are a step toward that understanding-- the music itself is not so much composed as it is this force of nature, this inevitable decay of all things, from memory to physical matter, made manifest in music.
(...)
In essence, Basinski is improvising using nothing so much as the passage of time as his instrument, and the result is the most amazing piece of process music I've ever heard, an encompassing soundworld as lulling as it is apocalyptic. A piece may begin bold, a striking, slow-motion slur of ecstatic drone, and in the first minute, you will notice no change. But as the tape winds on over the capstans, fragments are lost or dulled, and the music becomes a ghost of itself, tiny gasps of full-bodied chords groaning to life amid pits of near-silence. Some decay more quickly and violently than others, surviving barely 15 minutes before being subsumed by silence and warping, while the longest endures for well over an hour, fading into a far-off, barely perceptible glow.
If you want fascinating, awesome modern music that slots under "classical," these are two of your go-to guys. Basinski is still debatable -- and I'd argue that some post-rock, especially G!YBE, is as sophisticated and intelligent as a lot of the modern composers -- but really, there's amazing work being done right now that's still well within the realm of the accessible.
posted by Shepherd at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


More people listen to classical music today, and more money gets spent on producing and disseminating it, than ever before.

Citation needed. I don't have any data, but I doubt this is true.


I can send you my lengthy, recently-completed paper on (partly) this subject, but the short answer is: no, no it's not true. There are more recordings, and more interesting recordings perhaps, than ever before, but the audience is smaller than ever (except for a very modest increase in home listeners. But classical music is primarily about live audiences, so those numbers matter the most.).

I mean, all you have to do is look at the summary of the NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts from 2008, which includes bullet-point statements like:
Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline.

Audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before. In 1982, jazz concerts drew the youngest adult audience (median age 29). In the 2008 survey, the median age of jazz concert-goers was 46 – a 17-year increase. Since 1982, young adult (18-24) attendance rates for jazz and classical music have declined the most, compared with other art forms.
Further, though I don't have time to write about it here, listening and concert attendance trends are the opposite of what the author asserts in the article: non-traditional concert presentations with eclectic repertoire offerings are gaining the most listeners. That information and so much more can be found in this wonderful anthology of essays of the best recent research into changes in American culture regarding nonprofit arts, Engaging Art, ed. Steven Tepper and Bill Ivey.

I would go on, but the article really isn't worth the time. I did want to respond to this:

But the point being made seems merely to be that we're at the golden age of accessibility and performance, and not the music itself. Which I don't think is too terribly contentious.

It really saddens me how quickly classical music went from the astonishing beauty of Brahms to the atonal-yet-still-creative-and-aesthetically-pleasing music of Stravinsky to the garbage that soon followed.


No offense, but the ignorance in that comment is astonishing, and offensive to those of us working very hard at the creative forefront of concert music. The second half of the 20th century produced some of the most amazing works ever created for orchestra--and other concert ensembles--and I am continually stunned and appalled at the ignorance displayed by otherwise smart, culturally engaged individuals on this point.

The point in the article is terribly contentious, as a professional musician I would argue that right now is one of the most creatively exciting times in concert music--JUST NOT FOR THE STODGY, STUCK IN THE 19TH CENTURY ORCHESTRAS. You don't hear orchestras play the good newer stuff because they simply don't play it much. GAH, I'll stop now.

Rather than defend 70 or 80 years' worth of outstanding creative work generally, I ask resiny and anyone else who has that opinion to tell me which specific composers or works produced after the beginning of the 20th century that you think are among the "garbage that followed" Stravinsky? And why, specifically, those works are garbage? (and no, "I don't like it" doesn't count. I don't care about your taste.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:54 AM on July 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Also, as a final thought, the biggest flaw in the article is the presumption that "classical music" ought to be primarily an historical art form, dedicated to preserving the Great Works of Western Civilization, which is an anachronistic framing. Upon reflection, as a specialist, full-time conductor of orchestras and all sorts of other ensembles, I call this article bullshit.

(Sorry, I'm a little upset apparently. Time to step away from the keyboard.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:00 AM on July 21, 2010


Some places to start for contemporary classical music:
eighth blackbird
International Contemporary Ensemble
Beta Collide
American Composers Orchestra
JACK Quartet
The Atlanta School (Higdon, Golijov, Theofanidis, Ganfolfi, T. Schoenberg)


Also Bang on a Can and The Rest is Noise (as mentioned above).
posted by cushie at 11:13 AM on July 21, 2010


sleevener,

I don't doubt that there is a great deal of technical ingenuity and virtuosity in much modern composition.

But a technically excellent, ugly-sounding piece--as I think Kontakte is--is of no more use to me than a solution to a math problem which is elegantly written out and completely wrong.
posted by resiny at 11:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Art of the States is also a great source for contemporary American music.
posted by Iridic at 11:28 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've skimmed the article and saved it to Instapaper for a serious reading, but the sidebar about early music was the best bit for me. Music history nerds arguing about authenticity is kind of both awesome and on some levels beside the point (and I say this as someone who both has had season tickets to her local early music society, complete with lectures, and travelled specifically to see the Mediaeval Baebes).

Yeah, our historical understanding of early instrumentation is going to change over time. That's what history does. At the same time, one of the coolest things I've seen so far this year musically has been Ronn McFarlane's work with new lute composition. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but I adored most of what I heard. I think that's a good summation of my exposure to modern classical music; I come in thinking I'll hate it and leave pleasantly surprised.
posted by immlass at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2010


"For an article on how living and awesome classical music is right now this really sounds like it was written by an out of touch white person." I have no idea what this means.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:59 AM on July 21, 2010


There are more recordings, and more interesting recordings perhaps, than ever before, but the audience is smaller than ever (except for a very modest increase in home listeners. But classical music is primarily about live audiences, so those numbers matter the most.).

This seems to me like an outdated way of looking at things.

I love classical music and try to get it live as often as possible, but easily 95% of enjoyment of classical music is listening to recordings. It seems possible that with the easy availability of recordings, the absolute number of people listening to classical music is increasing, even if the percentage of its market share is dropping.

In any case, the article seemed to be saying that the "golden age" was from the perspective of the listener, not necessarily that of the performers. It may be hard to make a living playing classical music, but it's unquestionable that if you like to listen to classical music, the breadth and quality of recordings available is vastly greater now than ever before.

I think you could make that case for the availability of live performances too. Boise, Idaho didn't even have an orchestra the year of the debacle in Paris described by Berlioz. In 2010, I can guarantee you'd never hear such an out-of-tune, bungled performance by the Boise Philharmonic (nor by an equivalent ensemble in Paris), whether it be a Berlioz cantata or a brand new work by a contemporary composer.

Also, as a final thought, the biggest flaw in the article is the presumption that "classical music" ought to be primarily an historical art form, dedicated to preserving the Great Works of Western Civilization

I object to the idea that performing and listening to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. should be framed as some sort of act of historical preservation. Whether you want to delve into the classical music of the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st century, there's enough breadth and depth there to make for a lifetime of novelty and discovery for performers and listeners alike.
posted by straight at 12:01 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


easily 95% of my enjoyment, I meant to say.
posted by straight at 12:05 PM on July 21, 2010


Ok so, all this crap aside, anyone read the Berlioz book? Cuz it sounds like the Motley Crue: The Dirt of the 18th Century.
posted by spicynuts at 12:58 PM on July 21, 2010


But classical music is primarily about live audiences

Huh?

I'm with straight on this. It might not be popular to point this out, but CDs of classical music provide a lot more overall enjoyment than concerts. I have enjoyed going to classical concerts, but they tend to be very staid, predictable affairs that meticulously replicate the audio experience of listening to a CD without allowing you to do the repeated listening that's so essential to appreciating classical music.

Classical concerts are a fine thing, but they don't intensify the musical experience the way jazz and rock concerts do.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:00 PM on July 21, 2010


Thomas Ades is an interesting newer composer. He has a lot of different styles and formats, so don't judge on one piece.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:07 PM on July 21, 2010


I read this article the other day, and was very puzzled by it. I've been a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra subscriber for 3 years, and one of the reasons I love them so much is that Marin Alsop programs a lot of 20th and 21st century music. The people I talk with at concerts (who, presumably, are there to hear this kind of thing and are biased) like it, too. Marin is generally considered to be hugely popular here in Baltimore and to be doing an awesome job.

I think this is a "let me take my biases and write a pseudo-intellectual article supporting them" kind of piece. Baltimore is weird, but I don't think we're that weird.
posted by QIbHom at 1:12 PM on July 21, 2010


resiny, whatever you love to listen to, or don't, is fine with me. But if you say that art music after Stravinsky is garbage, people around you are going to notice that you're advertising your ignorance. For some reason, classical music listeners still think this is okay, but imagine someone saying "All visual art after Kandinsky is a waste of my time" or "Physics really hasn't pleased me since Niels Bohr."
posted by sleevener at 1:13 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if you say that art music after Stravinsky is garbage, people around you are going to notice that you're advertising your ignorance

Seems to me this is advertising an OPINION not ignorance. There is no scientifically proven objective measure of quality in art. And Physics has really pissed me off since Neils Bohr.
posted by spicynuts at 1:16 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


The opinion in this case is not much more nuanced than "your favorite band sucks." And believe me, post-Bohr physics has been a huge disappointment to me too.
posted by sleevener at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2010


The main article was pretty depressing, because it convinced me that in fact classical music is dead - it's become more or less a formal subject, devoid of any life or creativity.

> But a technically excellent, ugly-sounding piece--as I think Kontakte is

I've been listening to Kontakte for 30 years now, and I like it as much now as I did the first time I heard it.

What about it is "ugly"? Is it that you simply don't like electronic sounds? It's certainly a varied piece - there are quiet sections and louder sections - there isn't any part of it that I know of that's just plain "noise", for example, it's actually pretty quiet.

> Seems to me this is advertising an OPINION not ignorance.

There's a certain point where an "OPINION" becomes ignorance. If your "OPINION" is that literally none of the "classical" works written in the last hundred years have the slightest value, then your "OPINION" is ignorant.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:34 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I'm not done with it yet, but it's surprisingly more informed than most classical music articles I've read.
posted by archagon at 2:03 PM on July 21, 2010


The second half of the 20th century produced some of the most amazing works ever created for orchestra--and other concert ensembles--and I am continually stunned and appalled at the ignorance displayed by otherwise smart, culturally engaged individuals on this point.


Dissolve the people and elect a new one?
posted by Faze at 2:30 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I intensely disliked that article. Not only is she cavalierly dismissing the entirety of contemporary music (and I'll bet you she can't even name many living composers), most of the article is just a long-winded statement of the obvious and often-repeated fact that there's an awful lot of music available from all eras these days. And I deducted extra points for the attitude visible here:
But under pressure from an increasingly militant musicians’ union and with an infusion of funding from the Ford Foundation in 1966, many orchestras started paying their players annual, or close to annual, salaries. ... The low pay of a typical late-nineteenth-century musician made possible the huge orchestral forces that Bruckner and Mahler summoned as a matter of course. Today’s composers usually write for much smaller ensembles, having been priced out of the symphonic form by unionized wages.
Yeah, fuckin' unions—they've ruined baseball too!

> I have no idea what this means.

I suspect it's referring to the bit about "Dudamel’s charisma and hip Latino ethos."

> I think this is a "let me take my biases and write a pseudo-intellectual article supporting them" kind of piece.

Bingo.
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on July 21, 2010


> Ok so, all this crap aside, anyone read the Berlioz book?

Yes, it's fantastic. Berlioz's Memoirs are one of the books I routinely recommend to people wanting lively writing about music and musicians. His Evenings with the Orchestra is equally good.
posted by languagehat at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was hoping this would be about some great new composers. I've been thinking of asking an AskMe question about who has come along since the '70s

After listening to a BBC history of The Armed Man, I tracked down The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Kurt Jergins written for the Millennium celebrations in Leeds. It's really beautiful, but then I am partial to Requiems and other religious musical forms.

Another contemporary composer, Christopher Marshall has his own take on this same musical theme.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:34 PM on July 21, 2010


In any case, the article seemed to be saying that the "golden age" was from the perspective of the listener, not necessarily that of the performers.

Yes, I should clarify that my statement that classical music is much more about the performance than the recording is from the performers' perspective. I do not know a single concert artist who privileges recording above live performance. (And I'm one who loves to record, but my work is about live concert events first.)

I'd be happy to put together a list of interesting living composers along with specific recommended works if there is interest in such a thing.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:11 PM on July 21, 2010


If your "OPINION" is that literally none of the "classical" works written in the last hundred years have the slightest value, then your "OPINION" is ignorant.

Yes, I agree if we are talking about 'value'. There are plenty of things (including post-Bohr Physics) which have undeniable value but which are not to my taste. I think it's perfectly non-ignorant to say 'I don't enjoy any of the classical music created in the last 100 years'. To say, "none of it has any value whatsoever'. Generally, since this is the internet, I take the phrase 'X is garbage' to mean the former and not the latter.
posted by spicynuts at 4:35 PM on July 21, 2010


Classical concerts are a fine thing, but they don't intensify the musical experience the way jazz and rock concerts do.

I must disagree! If you are close enough to see the musicians moving (not way up the back squinting at a distant mass of black suits and sawing bows), the musical difference is intensified at least as much as at the average rock concert. Jazz is hard to compare because of the improvisational aspect, but on the other hand much avant-garde music involves improvisation and this is much better watched live than heard on CD. Even if there is no improvisation, extended techniques and other fancy business is often much more involving when watched live.

F'rex: John Zorn's "Cobra," which is extremely improv-heavy (it's actually a game) is pretty boring on CD, but a truly magical experience from a front-row seat. Hosokawa's "Sen" series involves a lot of extended techniques that, regrettably, closely resemble a morass of indistinct puffing and tooting and squawking on recordings, but again, when viewed live are revealed as a masterfully planned three-way dance-fight between performer, instrument, and technique. But the great thing is, once you've seen it live, you can hear all this in the recorded versions too.
posted by No-sword at 6:09 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am late to the appreciation of "classical" music and can only speak as an amateur listener, but I would echo the criticism of the article that overlooks the vibrant new music.

If you are lucky enough to be in listening range of KUSC in Los Angeles, there is a Saturday night show from 10 - 12 that used to be called "Modern Masterpieces" and I think has a new name, but same concept; that focuses on music of the last 40 years, but much of it within the last 10.

The LA Phil plays new works at over 50% of their concerts (I'm guessing) - I don't attend that often and I have heard new stuff from Part, Andriessen, and of course Adams who is there composer in residence.

So FWIW some new composers I would recommend: Richard Danielpour, Joan Tower, and Leonardo Balada (for the cello concerto fans his 2nd "New Orleans" is very enjoyable); and then those modern composers that I think have established themselves in the canon of art music: John Adams, Phillip Glass, George Crumb, Steve Reich.

BTW, LooseFilter never pimps his site, but I am a constant lurking fan so allow me to recommend it. And if you had the time to put together a list of composers that would be interesting.
posted by Edward L at 6:18 PM on July 21, 2010


and I will add my name to the live is better camp. Anecdata: heard Salonen direct the LA Phil in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring last year, and in the concert hall you could feel how assaulting the music is and you could begin to understand what a first listener to it must have felt 100 years ago and why they would have shouted out in rage (it must have been so alien) and it was moving the way recordings, however great they are, had not been.
posted by Edward L at 6:32 PM on July 21, 2010


Yes, but you won't get to experience it again.

Also, most classical compositions, much as I love them, are not the Rite of Spring.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:41 PM on July 21, 2010


Yes, but you won't get to experience it again.

Exactly!
posted by No-sword at 7:45 PM on July 21, 2010


I get what you're saying Jaltcoh and I was wrong to frame it as a better than comment. I can enjoy my recordings over and over, anytime, and really get a true appreciation of a piece of music. But in the same way that rock or jazz would suffer if it was a recording only genre, there is something special about hearing classical music live as well.

And the professionals seem to me to be saying, that the way to truly make this a golden age of classical music is to get music out in front of people and it doesn't have to be the staid, predictable concert hall experience that you alluded to, but should be new, and challenging, and all over the place.
posted by Edward L at 8:46 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd be happy to put together a list of interesting living composers along with specific recommended works if there is interest in such a thing.

Yes, there is. I always enjoy reading such things from people who actually know what they're talking about.

I can relate to the "time to step away from the keyboard" sentiment, by the way. I try to avoid talking about music on MetaFilter. It seems hypocritical, since I so enjoy reading the contributions from experts on other subjects...but I don't always have the temperament for it. Somebody showed me this comic, which made me laugh and I try to keep it in mind.
posted by cribcage at 10:13 PM on July 21, 2010


The people who are commenting that this article is worthless seem to be mainly reacting to the fact that is says some disparaging things about contemporary classical compositions. The article is really about the history of classical music, and as such is fascinating, regardless of whether you agree with its supposition that the overall popularity of classical music is increasing (although it makes a good case for it) or whether you believe modern classical music has any value.

I think the negative comments regarding contemporary classical are justified in that like many of the other arts, it has flirted with complete abstraction to the point of meaninglessness. There certainly is good modern stuff, but I concur that it is inferior to many older and more established works. It was ever thus as the article points out, but because novelty for novelty's sake became the order of the day to a degree never seen before, that historical pattern can probably not be used now to say, oh you'll love it later.

I'll thank you not to call my opinions worthless, however. All that does ultimately is lead to "philistines versus elitists", with neither side being right. There was an excellent fpp a while ago about how the Beatles saved music that made much the same points about modern music, that avant garde experimentalism had gone so far that a pop group had to teach the world about melody again (of course they then went on to record "Revolution No. 9!).
posted by blue shadows at 12:15 AM on July 22, 2010


It really saddens me how quickly classical music went from the astonishing beauty of Brahms to the atonal-yet-still-creative-and-aesthetically-pleasing music of Stravinsky to the garbage that soon followed.

If you're going to suggest Shostakovich is garbage, I am going to have to cut you.
posted by rodgerd at 12:37 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd be happy to put together a list of interesting living composers along with specific recommended works if there is interest in such a thing.


A map might be more useful than a straight list, if you have the inclination -- I like Branca and Bryars, for instance, but I can totally see how somebody could love Bryars and find Branca abrasive and frightening.

I'd love it, for one.
posted by Shepherd at 3:25 AM on July 22, 2010


If you're going to suggest Shostakovich is garbage, I am going to have to cut you.

And Krzysztof Penderecki, too.

I think the negative comments regarding contemporary classical are justified in that like many of the other arts, it has flirted with complete abstraction to the point of meaninglessness.

This is the kind of observation that can only really be made in retrospect. Sure, there's always someone who, at the moment that something's way-too-hip, calls it for the bullshit it is. But it's only over time that we, collectively, come to accept the dismissal. And, for what it's worth, this collective dismissal more often than not gets revised over time anyway as various historians (capital "H" and otherwise) duke it out.

The Beatles Revolution 9 is an interesting piece to mention as it was:

A. HATED at the time of its release
B. celebrated at the time of its release as brilliantly avant-garde
C. dismissed over time as the work of a drugged out "artist" (John Lennon) who really should have just stuck to pop songs
D. celebrated over time as a brilliantly provocative and audacious work of collage art from an artist who was absolutely at the peak of his influence, and as such, it introduced a vast audience to the notion that, love it or hate it, music was first and foremost organized sound; and any attempt to define how it should be organized were/are arbitrary at best.
E. HATED HATED HATED for being the worst thing the Beatles ever did ...
F. And so on.

My two-bits: Revolution 9 and any number of other notable abstract artworks of the hip-1960s are important/essential/GOOD precisely because, at the time they were very much relevant to the cultural turmoil that was happening, and, in retrospect, they've come to represent a certain high-water mark for that time. That is, hate the art or love it, that's how crazy shit got back then, and thank God we've got the evidence.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on July 22, 2010


Rather than defend 70 or 80 years' worth of outstanding creative work generally, I ask resiny and anyone else who has that opinion to tell me which specific composers or works produced after the beginning of the 20th century that you think are among the "garbage that followed" Stravinsky? And why, specifically, those works are garbage? (and no, "I don't like it" doesn't count. I don't care about your taste.)

Why doesn't "I don't like it" count? You noted that concert attendance has fallen dramatically and the concert-going audience is getting older and older. Ultimately most people will go to a concert because they want to hear something they like, not because the works being performed are considered important or creative by academics, enthusiasts, musicians, or other composers. Very few people are going to drop $75 a ticket to hear something they find grating. You can deride them as philistines or ignorant or refusing to let themselves be challenged or whatever you want, but it won't get them to pay significant money to hear something they don't like.

No offense, but the ignorance in that comment is astonishing, and offensive to those of us working very hard at the creative forefront of concert music. The second half of the 20th century produced some of the most amazing works ever created for orchestra--and other concert ensembles--and I am continually stunned and appalled at the ignorance displayed by otherwise smart, culturally engaged individuals on this point.

I think you may be a bit too close to the issue. Art is very subjective, and so it might be hard for you to step back and consider the music from the standpoint of the wider population rather than the standpoint of someone apparently deeply involved with the creation of new music, but you should try to understand that you are deeply, deeply biased by (I'm guessing) years of exposure to modern music. It should not be surprising that you find modern works enjoyable and others, who have grown up being exposed to the classical canon and modern popular music, would not.

Anyway, to answer your specific question, I'll give you the works of Arnold Schoenberg. Heck, serialism and twelve tone technique generally. That kind of thing gets held up in music history classes as the sort of innovative, creative work that marks the transition to modern music, so you can imagine how someone could quite quickly decide that if that is emblematic of modern music, then good lord the rest of it must be even worse.
posted by jedicus at 9:34 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


(And yeah, technically Schoenberg and Stravinsky were contemporaries, but the point stands)
posted by jedicus at 9:37 AM on July 22, 2010


It should not be surprising that you find modern works enjoyable and others, who have grown up being exposed to the classical canon and modern popular music, would not.

Well, the difficulty here is that I'm reacting negatively to ignorance (and dismissal from ignorance) rather than substantive criticism. Case in point, you followed that with:

Anyway, to answer your specific question, I'll give you the works of Arnold Schoenberg. Heck, serialism and twelve tone technique generally. That kind of thing gets held up in music history classes as the sort of innovative, creative work that marks the transition to modern music, so you can imagine how someone could quite quickly decide that if that is emblematic of modern music, then good lord the rest of it must be even worse.

Well, Schoenberg was born in 1874 and died in 1951, so I don't think his work can be held up in any way as contemporary or recent--and it is modern only in that it could be considered Modernist, though he never would have thought of himself that way. If you have taken a music history class in the past 20 years that has held Schoenberg up as THE IDEAL of modern music, you took a pretty shitty music history class. (Which is entirely possible, I've suffered through a few shitty ones as a student myself.)

The reality is that within the concert music world, we are at least two full creative generations away from Schoenberg, the origin of serialized atonality, and the like, with a third rapidly coming to maturity. The first major generation after Schoenberg both embraced and rejected his ideas (and those like them): very very broadly speaking, the post-WWII European generation mainly embraced and ran with many of those concepts but many American composers rejected them wholeheartedly and began pioneering very different ways to create music.

The second generation after Schoenberg is where the music became--to most people's ears--much more listenable again, and in that generation are our venerated living giants, who are mostly in their 60s and 70s now. There is yet a third generation of composers after those, who grew up in a mostly tonal, poly-stylistic world and are creating music of astonishing diversity; some is neo-Romantically tonal; some is consonant but post-tonal; some includes electronics; etc.

The above sketch is of course very thumbnail and woefully inadequate, but the reason I level the charge of ignorance is because detractors' views of concert music presented in this thread is the one I most often encounter, and it is a view that is almost a century out-of-date. It is not about taste, I promise, it is about giant gaps in people's knowledge and experience of concert music AFTER 1950 or so. If you have ever listened to the music of Corigliano or Adams or Turnage or Gorecki or Part or Takemitsu or etc. you simply would not make the charge of "atonal noise" or whatever verbiage the charge usually takes. It is not taste I am arguing against, it is actual lack of knowledge.

The real difficulty is the deep fealty to the "classical canon" and that the canon stops around 1910 or so. To my ears, what people are dismissing when they dismiss "contemporary classical music" is often ONE HUNDRED YEARS of wildly varying creative work.

Case in point (and not to pick on blue shadows or anyone else personally):

it has flirted with complete abstraction to the point of meaninglessness. There certainly is good modern stuff, but I concur that it is inferior to many older and more established works.

Well, no. You cannot call the works of nearly any living American composer "complete abstraction to the point of meaninglessness" unless you have no idea what works you are dismissing. Please tell me how John Adams's magnificent recent symphony Naive & Sentimental Music (1999), which has an entire first movement based around a tonal melody that never stops for the whole 17 minutes, is musical abstraction to the point of meaninglessness? Or how John Corigliano's delightful recent song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2003), for soprano and orchestra (or wind ensemble), is anything other than a collection of seven songs? Songs with melodies and stuff? The answer is likely that you didn't know about those pieces, or you wouldn't have leveled the charge you did--but those are major works from composers of considerable international stature.

I also submit that much of the music composed since 1950 does in fact stand up to Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky, Beethoven, whomever. (Not Bach, though. Nobody hits that bar, not really. Brahms came awfully close, for my money.) But that's a much longer answer, and we'd really have to sit down with scores so that I could explain to you specifically why I think so.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2010


Also, Edward L, thanks for the shout-out! More new stuff coming to the site soon, I promise. I'll work on the list today and try to have it posted in this thread by tonight. Shepherd, a map would be amazing--maybe we can start with a list and those so inclined can add to and fill out, and it can evolve into a map? That would certainly be a great resource.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:14 AM on July 22, 2010


I don't personally "get" the Schoenberg hate. I understand he's breaking with a lot of what came before and in a way that non-academic ears can easily discern.

But so what?

It works for my non-educated ears. That is, it sonically maps out textures I've not experienced before and, as such, excites my curiosity. This speaks to much of my regard for so-called modern classical music which, when you think of it, is a sloppy term of phrase (classic meaning "of an other age", to me at least). A muso-friend of mine likes to term it "contemporary symphonic", but even that's various kinds of wrong as it's often not exactly symphonic or even remotely contemporary (Schoenberg being dead for almost 60 years now). So do we just call it Serious Music then? How is that not even worse, insinuating that everything else isn't. Serious, that is.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2010


You know (apologies for three comments in a row), reflecting on your last comment a little more, jedicus, perhaps that's where the problem starts: Schoenberg could very well be personified as the gateway to musical modernity, the problem is that most people don't realize how differently the music inspired by reactions to his work (for and against) actually sounds very different from Schoenberg's sounds. His approach to actual craft, the kinds of sounds he created, didn't really literally survive much out of the 1950s. The influence of his ideas has been more far-reaching, but of his actual sounds much less so (listeners like a tonal reference, what are ya gonna do? For my taste, I agree--but that's merely my taste).

I think that maybe modern concert music just doesn't sound like people think it will sound, and I feel like I'm the guy in the room saying "look, I know his father is a total asshole, but the kids are seriously very nice. You should meet them!"
posted by LooseFilter at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2010


I don't personally "get" the Schoenberg hate.

My sense has been that the removal of a tonal reference point was a quantum leap that made much of the sound unintelligible to many listeners. It disorients them cognitively, which is a very unpleasant experience. Music seems to me such a difficult balancing act if one wants to create music of any sophistication and depth, because it is inherently an abstract, temporally-bound medium. Since music is literally abstract because of the nature of sound, a clear implied grammar and architecture are critical, much more so than many other media--a brilliant prof I had always said "perception of form is key to a meaningful musical experience." I think that's why nearly all popular and folk music falls into strophic forms (songs, marches, etc.) because the first thing you can recognize when you hear a song is that it is, in fact, a song, and so a certain structure is expected.

When those markers are absent, it takes a much more active listening stance to discern structure, and many people just don't like that in their musical experiences. Some people--like you, I'd imagine--love it, and relish the discovery. But most do not. Schoenberg systematically dismantled the most basic organizational principle of music in the west--a single pitch that is the home reference for and affects the behavior of all the others--and in so doing made the listening experience just too disorienting for many listeners, in his time and today, apparently. That's my take on it, anyway.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:31 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I didn't mean that all more recent classical music is abstract. I do enjoy modern works, although I have to admit my knowledge of them is less than extensive, but I'm certainly open to learning more. I do stand by my opinion that even if there is interesting contemporary classical (which I agree there is), it doesn't compare to the great masterworks and most of it never will. For example, I do get some enjoyment out of Philip Glass, but listening to him feels a little too much like an exercize.
posted by blue shadows at 10:47 AM on July 22, 2010


Since the article in the FPP was published, Greg Sandow has critiqued it in a number of blog posts, and recently Heather MacDonald responded.

In sequence,

Greg Sandow:
Cockeyed optimist
Off in the clouds
Still in the clouds
The poor dead horse
One last thought...

Heather MacDonald:
The Unsustainable Declinism of Greg Sandow
posted by Gyan at 3:24 AM on August 17, 2010


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