Ignoring The Obvious?
Classical presenters should take a clue from the recording industry.
Thursday, September 16, 1999
The most obvious clue to deciphering the question can be found in the precipitous drop in sales of classical recordings in recent years, a decline too steep to ignore. Simply said, the public taste for traditional classical music is changing, and apparently at an accelerated rate. Indeed, classical record companies today have largely given up on making new recordings of traditional concert fare in favor of new "classical" music.
During the last two centuries, classical presenters reflected their desire to attract more ticket buyers by sprinkling newer, often deliberately provocative, music into their programs. In the last half century, this idea took on the belief that if classical presenters were to survive the chronic loss (by retirement and death) of older subscribers they must include music that would appeal to younger ticket buyers, hence a renewed interest in newer music. Moreover, foundations which make monetary awards and grants are now specifically rewarding "new," "unusual" and "innovative" programming. Enlightened self-interests, even in the face of reactionary new-music phobia, therefore now have to consider incentives that go beyond merely hoping for the best from future generations.
Since symphony orchestras across the land all start with the same basic repertoire, we opted to sniff around those in our extended region for patterns and ratios of traditional classical programming vs. the "new," "unusual" and "innovative." And here''s what we found.
In the coming 1999-2000 season, the San Francisco Symphony has complemented its lineup of familiar works by Respighi, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Haydn, Schumann, Dvorak, Bach, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, et. al, with unfamiliar works by Barber, Bernstein, Ives, Nielsen, Dutilleux, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Hindemith, Copland, Varese, Dahl and Martinu and downright new works by Astor Piazzolla, Isa Krejci, Kaija Saariaho, Aaron Jay Kernis, Philip Glass, Michael Daugherty, Toru Takemitsu, John Adams, Jay Alan Yim, Trustan Keuris and Giancinto Scelsi.
With a much smaller season, the San Jose Symphony has complemented its selections of Franck, Chausson, Ravel, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Holst, Falla, Mozart, Mahler, Beethoven, Grieg, Dvorak and Verdi with pieces by Michael Abels, Christopher Rouse, Carlos Chavez, Silvestre Revueltas, Chen Yi, Chinary Ung and Benjamin Lees.
A smaller season still, the Santa Cruz County Symphony counters tried-and-true Ravel, Prokofiev, Schubert, Mozart, Copland, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Vivaldi, Mahler and Stravinsky with rarely exposed works by Amy Beach and Darius Milhaud, and new music by Lou Harrison and Anne Boyd.
By contrast, the Monterey Symphony''s 1999-2000 season is conspicuous for its avoidance of new music. The most familiar Beethoven, Saint-Sens, Copland, Mozart, Shostakovich, Brahms and Haydn will be paired off with pops concert fare by Ginastera, Barber, Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Bellini and miscellaneous French bonbons. A requiem by the obscure Beethoven contemporary Cherubini accounts for the unusual, and the only new piece is Arvo Prt''s sonorous, five-minute Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.
Some remain convinced that the achievements of traditional Western classical music will continue to win new converts on merit alone. And there can be little doubt that educated lovers of this music who choose Monterey County as their retirement destination will continue to replace those who no longer subscribe. But neither of these arguments diminishes the symphony''s responsibilty for future audience development. For it to be taken seriously as a leader in promoting classical music, the Monterey Symphony will sooner or later need to take account of the explosion of first-rate new classical music now in full flood.
Last Week''s Quiz What German lieder composer wrote, "I once sent him a song and asked him to mark a cross wherever he thought it was faulty. Brahms returned it untouched, saying ''I don''t want to make a cemetery of your composition''."?
Answer: Hugo Wolf.
This Week''s Quiz To whom was he referring when critic Harold Schonberg wrote, "There never was a sound like his; that heroic attack, that velvet suavity, that sheer, exultant joy in singing"?