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The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Hide behind the light of diamonds 

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Spot on. Following up on his previous post, Kyle Gann puts up responses from two composers. The second particularly hits the nail on the head: "Every generation believes civilization will die with it. It's a mystery to me exactly what the classical music establishment gets from its members-only doomsday scenario." You can do a quick scan around and find plenty of people bemoaning the parlous state of concert music these days: what baffles me, as too Gann's correspondent, is that all the bemoaning is done by people who claim to love and support the music. The standards of composition and performance have clearly not lessened, nor has access to the music. I've said it before, but I've been at concerts where Ligeti's Chamber Concerto has received a standing ovation (from an audience 500-strong) between movements. Is that evidence of a problem? To me, there only seems to be a 'problem' if your terms of reference don't include non-orchestral music or living composers, say. Or if you would rather judge musical success in terms of units shifted than the pleasure it gives to people (yes, I have heard this from people who are professional advocates of music!). Or if you want to spend your life searching for some (non-existent) key to what the Great Composer was thinking when he applied pen to paper (because, y'know, this small coterie of dead old white guys were constantly thinking of something profound, and specific, to be passed from generation to generation like sacred knowledge). Or if you think that this search, this propogation of tired old clichés substitutes for the visceral joy of just hearing something. What it sadly looks like is precisely what people from the 'outside', as it were, expect to see: classical music is run by fogies who care more about the desperate preservation of values and ideologies that are long out of date and irrelevant/meaningless, at the expense of all else. That whole attitude of 'you have to understand it before you can appreciate it'; or even just 'appreciation' above 'enjoyment'. It's not difficult to find people who say that they don't like concert music because they feel inadequate in some way, and this response has come from somewhere - most likely the concert music community themselves who insist upon the sort of exclusive language and mythologies that Gann and his correspondents have rightly highlighted. It's hugely frustrating, when actually all you have to do is sit and listen. The rest is up to you, honest. I promise, it's as simple as that.

But you all know this, readers, because you're all smart people who love music, so excuse the soapbox posturing. ;-)


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