Jonny Greenwood with composer Krzysztof Penderecki (Photo by Polish National Audiovisual Institute)
This week my Facebook feed was barraged with angstful hand-wringing over comments by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who told the BBC he finds classical concerts “off-putting.” Greenwood wasn’t dissing classical music—he performs it, after all—but he felt like classical concerts should model their formats after indie rock shows.
A host of blog responses popped up with suggestions on how to “improve” classical concerts: encouraging people to clap between movements, getting rid of formal attire, tuning back stage, and so on and so forth—nothing original, nothing useful, and all of it completely missing the point.
Look, classical concerts are off-putting—to some people. Any type of concert is going to be unappealing to somebody. But off-putting-ness is a feature, not a defect. That’s why teenagers perennially hate their parents’ music and vice versa. If your concert doesn’t put off someone, you’re doing it wrong. Yet for some reason, in the classical world we try to be all things to everyone. That, in my opinion, is the only real thing wrong with classical concerts. (more…)
Slate’s Mark Vanhoenacker published a statistics-laden (and admittedly sympathetic) “requiem” on the death of classical music last week. True, if you look at classical music through the lens of pop music, you might be forgiven for seeing a ER patient gasping for breath on a Beyonce-embossed hospital bed. But it’s been a long time since classical and pop music have competed for the same prizes, and that’s the problem with his argument: Vanhoenacker fundamentally misunderstands what classical music is about in the 21st century. Classical isn’t the same cultural beast as pop—not anymore anyway. It might not ever be again, and that doesn’t matter in the least for its survival. (more…)
For decades now, classical music proponents have tried to make their organizations more accessible in order to attract audiences. This has always been a misguided and ineffective technique, and in fact I think it’s part of the reason we’ve seen shrinking interest in classical music even as other “high art” forms gain status and popularity.
The failure of classical music versus other art forms really hit home for me recently when I read this article: a young, cultured non-musician goes to hear an orchestral premiere of a composer he knows in another context and grapples to try to understand the music. He feels he “should” get it, but his lack of experience with classical music prevents him from enjoying the performance. If making music accessible were relevant this wouldn’t have happened (more…)