Sunday, September 16, 2012

We like classical music, just not in the concert hall

Although I loved the music I heard that evening, I was struck at the time by how matter-of-factly my guide dismissed my observation that [classical music] concerts might not be easy to figure out for a first-timer. And he took it for granted that I would find the impressive edifice and music itself a satisfactory recompense for my troubles. And he might have been right, I suppose, had I at least been allowed to authentically enjoy the performance going on inside that hall as I might spontaneously appreciate any other cultural pursuit like a movie or a dance or a hip-hop concert -- if I could clap when clapping felt needed, laugh when it was funny, shout when I couldn't contain the joy building up inside myself. What would that have been like?

But this was classical music. And there are a great many "clap here, not there" cloak-and-dagger protocols to abide by. I found myself a bit preoccupied -- as I believe are many classical concert goers -- by the imposing restrictions of ritual behavior on offer. ...

Joseph Horowitz in his wonderful new book, Moral Fire, describes audiences "screaming" and "standing on chairs" during classical concerts in the 1890s. The New York Times records an audience that "wept and shouted, strung banners across the orchestra pit over the heads of the audience and flapped unrestrainedly" when listening to their favorite opera singer at the Met in the 1920s. ...

Indeed, even the venerable Beethoven, I am quite certain, would be dismayed to find his music performed the way it is today. Not to applaud between his movements? Unthinkable! Not to call out during the performance and react to the music he'd written? Preposterous! ...

Here are the two most shattering facts about classical music today: First, Americans are writing, playing, recording and listening to more orchestra music today than they ever have before in history -- mostly in the form of film music and video game soundtracks. So we know they like the general sound.

They just don't like listening to it with us, at concert halls. And that is the second fact.
--Richard Dare, CEO and Managing Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, on breaking free of the "necrocracy" of "packaged greatness"