Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Way Forward

Alex Ross has, to my mind, a very important review in the current New Yorker (online here). Ross took a road trip to check out the music making in the provinces and found that it was not just respectable, but adventurous and well-received. This is important because the future of classical music has to be as a form of live, not recorded, music-making, and that means music made locally. The fact that the American musical provinces are both more lively and less, well, provincial, is a natural development of a successful musical training system and, I believe, deep changes in immigration patterns in the US. In the past, a core of support for the top-tier orchestras in large urban centers was due in no small part to immigrants from Europe preserving links to their own cultural heritage and a concentration of intellectuals in those centers. The principal European immigrations are now long past and those immigrants have become well integrated in America writ large, and the concentration of intellectual life has been much reduced over time, and perhaps accelerated, as newer industries have tended to establish themselves in centers of their own.

Music made locally will also include music composed locally, and the practice of playing new, American repertoire has got to be done as an integrative process, into the classical canon, not against it. And this will perhaps come about as a parallel to the integrative processes in the population at large.

From my viewpoint, over here in Old Europe, I can recognize the need for European musicians and audiences to integrate their repertoires chronologically, while at the same time recognizing that my own musical impulses fit poorly into that chronology in comparison with a Wolfgang Rihm, a Thomas Ades, or a Magnus Lindberg. American musicians and audiences have an opportunity to take a very different branch forward and out of the same trunk tradition.


Stefan Kac said...

Not surprising at all; this is what colleges are doing these days. It's just kind of assumed that everyone is there to become an orchestral musician. Personally, I'd like to see some of the schools show a little bit more openness, or at least go the route of some of the conservatories and offer separate degree programs in orchestral playing and general performance. I'd also like to see us collectively stop obsessing with the orchestra when it comes to the "future of classical music" thing. What would he have found had he gone to independent chamber music performances in those three cities?

Daniel Wolf said...

Stefan --

You're absolutely right that the bias in favor of bigger ensembles has got to be dealt with. In particular, I think we have to let audiences be aware that music making is often at its best in environments without an authority figure standing in front of a large group, waving his or her arms.

Alex Ross said...

Thanks for the notes, Daniel and Stefan. I agree that we obsess too much about the orchestra; it's a long-standng American habit. But I'd like to point out that I did write about the American chamber-music scene a few years back, via an article in which I followed the St. Lawrence Quartet from date to date. True, they weren't native to the various locales, but I got a sense of what the American chamber scene was like. My next projects are to write about new-music ensembles and opera companies.