In the never ending head-scratching about what happened to the classical music audience comes this nice entry at the Huffington-Post blog: Glenn Kurtz Who Cares About Classical Music, Part 3. Basically, Kurtz tells us the reason that there ain’t an audience out there is because not only DOESN’T classical music speak to many listeners today (so much for timelessness) but also because it literally isn’t of this time, period.
Seems like an obvious statement but when you think about it, there’s a lot to be said for that, especially when he makes comparisons to literature and how a lot of pre-modern texts aren’t cherished much outside the realm of academia. Also, you could add that say Charlie Chaplin or DW Griffith aren’t the towering figures of cinema today that they once were because so much has happened since then (which doesn’t take away from the original power of their work or their influence).
What I wonder about is why modern classical music doesn’t seem to speak to a larger audience either. One easy answer is that like a lot of post-bop jazz, it ain’t easy on the ear so it takes a lot of work for the average listener to get into it. But then again, many of the great European composers that we hail as the masters were revolutionary for their own time. New Yorker writer Alex Ross once bemoaned that Steve Reich can still command packed houses at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere but if he walks down the street, most folks wouldn’t stop and recognize him. Which is partly to say that on the occasion of Beverly Sills’ recent death, we don’t have many (or enough) classical figures today who breach outside of the classical world into the pop realm aside from say Yo-Yo Ma or the Three Tenors (or dreck like Il Divo). I’m sure I’ve said it before somewhere here but part of what’s needed is another Leonard Bernstein who can easily dip his toes in the classical or pop world and still maintain respectability. With regard to that, see a fine L.A. Times article covering other performers who did this well.