Dan Perttu is worried about the future of art music.
Dan Perttu also owns 137 recordings of Mahler 9.
Thus the system is collapsing. The insiders are getting nervous. Don’t stand next to the proverbial tower that is classical music, because it will fall over and crush your proverbial head. Which would upset me and living composers everywhere. Quite unlike dead composers everywhere, who wouldn’t lament your crushed head as much as the crumbled tower.
“How,” you ask yourself, as you turn on your computer to write me, 00alm, a message full of praise, “can I keep the tower from falling, thereby protecting my head?”
YOU CAN JOIN THE REVOLUTION.
Last week, joining the revolution entailed a full scale boycott of all dead composers, together with the deification of yours truly and my elevation to the status of Supreme Ruler of Your Music World. I know what you’re thinking. “What more can I give?”
I’m going to be honest with you. The revolution kind of stinks right now.
Most of you don’t even know there’s a battle going on. It started last weekend, at the “controversial” Chamber Players concert, where professor of music Douglas Moore affirmed his status as the Eddie Van Halen of the cello. Please refer to his moving and beautiful performance of the Shostakovich Sonata for Cello and Piano, which Dan, in his zeal to half-jump on the revolution, forgot to review. (Shostakovich died in 1975. He may as well be alive by classical music standards. Good show, everyone. Merrymaking ensues.) BUT THE SOUL STILL BURNS. I was there on the field on Friday night, I was there on the field on Saturday afternoon. And where was my army? Here is a field report:
J.S. Bach Dead
Some reinvigoration of the ranks is in order, because right now we have a bunch of extremely talented folks playing the music of dead people to empty rooms. It’s different in New York, where extremely talented folks play the music of dead people to bigger rooms full of old women in fur coats. Please refer to last week’s rant.
Oh my gosh. It’s Francois Devienne! Here in my room! But wait. He’s been dead for 200 years! He must have something very important to say. This is the perfect opportunity for an interview:
Andrea: Mr. Devienne? Can I call you Francois?
Obscure French composer: No.
Andrea: Very well. So what did you think of the Quartet for Bassoon and Strings last weekend?
Dead man whose music is for some reason still alive: Boy, those chamber players are excellent.
Andrea: So is your English.
Relic: Why thank you!
Me: You’re welcome. Can I call you Francois?
Man who is interesting if you’re one of the bassoon elite: No.
Andrea: Right. You were saying?
Devienne: They are really very good. That cellist Moore is, without a doubt, the Eddie Van Halen of the cello.
Andrea: Rock on.
Devienne: Yeah man. Anyway, when a mediocre 18th century French composer dies, he learns a few things. For example, he learns that one’s own personal immortality is much less important than the health and soundness of the contemporary world’s artistic output, the cusp, the cutting edge. So please, I beg you, don’t play any of my music ever again. Have them play your music instead.
Andrea: My music?
Devienne: Certainly. After all, you aren’t dead.
Andrea: No, no I’m not. Great! Can I call you Francois?
If you don’t believe in ghosts, or if you do but don’t believe that Francois Devienne came to my room just now, you should come to every concert you possibly can and applaud like a monkey for every piece by a living composer. It will tell you on the left of the program. If it says something like (1756-1791) then you should chant “Down with the man.” If it says something like (b. 1978) then you should clap and yell and do the wave and write to your senator.
Back to Dan, Devienne, the Chamber Players and the future of the world. “One solution” to the problem of classical music’s impending death, says Dan, “might be to bomb the pop music industry, but I would prefer the more conciliatory approach of exposing children to art music so that they can appreciate it rather than fear it.”
Bombing the pop industry is a bad idea. I know Dan didn’t mean it to be taken seriously, but the sentiment isn’t all that foreign to much of the cultured, dead-composer-glorifying world. If that world is indulged and the heathen pop machine (which includes just about everything: rock, jazz, rap, folk, the Paul Winter Consort) is somehow destroyed, recorded music would probably cease to exist.
What record store, what record company could stay in business selling classical discs? How many performances of the Beethoven symphonies can a person own? Dear Classical World: Pop music is your friend. Without it you’ve got nothing to listen to. With it you have your fraction of an industry and your arch-enemy, the latter becoming useful when you have to start selling comic books to stay afloat. (Establishment Man fights Pop Man to the death! But look out for Period Instrument Man! He has a way of just showing up…)
And now for the usual “real” solution: exposing our young people to art music. Aesthetic training. For some reason, the same young people don’t need to be “exposed” to rock or rap or grunge or metal; they just gravitate toward the thing that moves them, the thing with which they can connect. Dead composers don’t address the world in which they live. Living composers do. But people can’t connect with music they can’t hear, can’t buy, don’t see. The music of the living travels in the established classical pattern of rear bin at the record store but occupies a sliver of its space, finds its only real outlet in the stuffy concert hall but only takes up one percent of the program. Entire generations of composers are being lost, being deprived of the audience that they could have if the path from pencil to public were rerouted according to the rules of good sense.
The fact remains that an individual alive today needs to be taught how to like around 300 years worth of music. “Exposure” means, on some level, indoctrination. Sonata reconciliation isn’t something that we need to listen for anymore. It’s nifty and if you study music you should figure it out at some point, along with all of the other techniques and preoccupations that help define each generation’s contribution to the canon. But for the public, the WHOLE public that we as musicians and composers and artists supposedly speak for, speak with, speak to, that language is dead. Change the concert programs accordingly. Translate from heiroglyphics into something decipherable.
Young people don’t “fear” art music. They fear growing up, sitting through a concert that they find excruciatingly boring, and then finding themselves unable to play verbal badminton over espresso with a more seasoned concertgoer. Much of the classical world’s viability is based upon the fear of looking like an uncultured ass. You can become a part of it and be forever doomed to say things like “aaahh.” Or you can help me set it on fire. Like a guitar.
It’s all part of the show, folks.
I kiss you for reading,