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CLASSICAL  May 2006

CLASSICAL May 2006

Subject:

Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong

From:

Edson Tadeu Ortolan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 28 May 2006 10:24:00 -0300

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text/plain

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   THE NEW YORK TIMES
   Check the Numbers: Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong
   http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/28/arts/music/28kozi.html?pagewanted=3D3&_=r=3D1&th&emc=3Dth
   
   By ALLAN KOZINN
   Published: May 28, 2006

   EVERYONE has heard the requiems sung for classical music or
   at least the reports of its failing health: that its audience
   is graying, record sales have shriveled and the cost of live
   performance is rising as ticket sales decline.  Music education
   has virtually disappeared from public schools.  Classical
   programming has (all but) disappeared from television and radio.
   And 17 orchestras have closed in the last 20 years.
   
   All this has of late become the subject of countless blogs, news
   reports, books and symposiums, with classical music partisans
   furrowing their brows and debating what went wrong, what can
   still go wrong and whether it's too late to save this once-exalted
   industry.  Moaning about the state of classical music has itself
   become an industry.  But as pervasive as the conventional wisdom
   is, much of it is based on sketchy data incorrectly interpreted.
   Were things better in the old days Has American culture given
   up on classical music?
   
   The numbers tell a very different story: for all the hand-wringing,
   there is immensely more classical music on offer now, both in
   concerts and on recordings than there was in what nostalgists
   think of as the golden era of classics in America.
   
   In the record business, for example, it can be depressing to
   compare the purely classical output of the major labels now with
   what the industry cranked out from 1950 to 1975.  But focusing
   on the majors is beside the point: the real action has moved to
   dozens of adventurous smaller companies, ranging from musician-run
   labels like Bridge, Oxingale and Cantaloupe to ambitious mass
   marketers like the midprice, repertory-spanning Naxos.
   
   Similarly, someone shopping anywhere but in huge chains like
   Tower or Virgin might conclude that classical discs are no longer
   sold.  In reality the business model has changed.  Internet
   deep-catalog shops like arkivmusic.com offer virtually any CD
   in print, something no physical store can do today.  The Internet
   has become a primary resource for classical music: the music
   itself as well as information about it.
   
   On Apple's iTunes, which sold a billion tracks in its first three
   years, classical music reportedly accounts for 12 percent of
   sales, four times its share of the CD market.  Both Sony-BMG and
   Universal say that as their download sales have increased, CD
   sales have remained steady, suggesting that downloaders are a
   new market, not simply the same consumers switching formats.
   
   In their first six weeks on iTunes, the New York Philharmonic's
   download-only Mozart concert sold 2,000 complete copies and about
   1,000 individual tracks, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's two
   Minimalist concerts, combined, sold 900 copies and about 400
   individual tracks. Those numbers, though small by pop standards,
   exceed what might be expected from sales of orchestral music on
   standard CD's.
   
   Other orchestras are catching on: the Milwaukee Symphony and
   Philharmonia Baroque in San Francisco offer downloads on their
   own Web sites.  And the major labels are planning to sell downloads
   of archival recordings that will not be reissued on CD.
   
   In concert halls, season subscriptions have plummeted in favor
   of last-minute ticket sales.  That doesn't mean the business is
   tanking, however, just that audiences have shifted their habits.
   As two-income families have grown busier, potential ticket buyers
   are less inclined to commit to performances months in advance
   (or as ticket prices climb, to accept predetermined concert
   packages).  But as much as orchestras and concert presenters
   would prefer to sell their tickets before the season starts, the
   seats are hardly empty.
   
   Neither are the stages.  The American Symphony Orchestra League
   puts the number of orchestras in the United States at 1,800 (350
   of them professional).  The 1,800 ensembles give about 36,000
   concerts a year, 30 percent more than in 1994.  And in the most
   recent season for which the league has published figures, 2003-4,
   orchestras reported an 8 percent increase in operating revenues
   against a 7 percent increase in expenses, with deficits dropping
   to 1.1 percent from 2.7 percent of their annual budgets from the
   previous season.
   
   Meanwhile corners of the field generally ignored in discussions
   of classical music's mortality - most notably, early music and
   new music - are true growth industries.  When Lincoln Center
   presented a 10-concert celebration of the composer Osvaldo Golijov
   this season, there wasn't a spare ticket to be found.  The Miller
   Theater's Gyorgy Ligeti series packed them in as well.  And
   though the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Minimalist Jukebox festival
   sold slightly fewer tickets than its regular programming, it
   drew a younger crowd: 25 percent of the audience was said to be
   under 45 (compared with 15 percent normally), and 10 percent was
   25 to 34 (compared with 2 percent).
   
   By relying heavily on contemporary programs and concerts of
   Renaissance and Baroque works, Miller has achieved an 84 percent
   increase in ticket sales since 2002, and this season's box office
   receipts have exceeded last season's by $100,000.
   
   Zankel Hall, the newly built, high-tech, adventurously programmed
   addition to Carnegie Hall, has produced a steady increase in
   sold-out houses, from 57 percent of its concerts in 2003-4 (its
   first season) to 63 percent in the first third of the current
   season.  At Carnegie's main hall and its smaller Weill Recital
   Hall, ticket sales have been fairly steady since 1982, with
   565,000 tickets sold in a slow year and 635,000 in an exceptional
   one (most recently 2003).
   
   The classical music world has even found a silver lining in
   the reports about its imminent death.  Fund-raising letters now
   allude to classical music's parlous state as a way of shaking
   larger donations from supporters.  And when EMI needed a marketing
   hook for Placido Domingo's "Tristan und Isolde," it jumped on
   predictions that it would be the last studio recording of an
   opera.
   
   Finally, concert halls are sprouting like mushrooms.  New symphony
   halls are about to open in Miami, Nashville and Costa Mesa,
   Calif.  (not far from the newly opened Disney Hall in Los Angeles),
   and Toronto is opening a new opera house in September.  Clearly,
   someone sees a future for this music.
   
   
   UNDERLYING many of the jeremiads is what might be called golden
   ageism: the belief, bordering on an article of faith, that
   everything was better, both artistically and commercially, in
   the relatively recent past.
   
   To a degree, the golden ageists have a point.  From the 1920's
   through the 70's, classical music was plentiful on the radio and
   on nascent television.  Variety shows like "The Bell Telephone
   Hour" and "The Ed Sullivan Show" presented both top names and
   newcomers, and networks offered symphony concerts, opera and
   seductive introductory shows like Leonard Bernstein's "Young
   People's Concerts" in prime time.
   
   There was a vogue for films built around classical music and
   musicians as well: "100 Men and a Girl," with Leopold Stokowski
   (1937), and "They Shall Have Music," with Jascha Heifetz (1939);
   "Humoresque," with Isaac Stern on its soundtrack (1946);
   biographical films like "Rhapsody in Blue" (1945); and extravaganzas
   like "Fantasia" (1940).
   
   All this made classical music's reigning stars - from Toscanini
   to Bernstein, from Heifetz to Stern, from Horowitz to Van Cliburn
   - household names in a way that only Luciano Pavarotti, Placido
   Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma are now.
   
   But the disappearance of this exposure is hardly a lethal wound.
   Though classical radio stations have become scarce in most cities,
   the Internet offers a global radio dial.  The Internet radio
   audience is said to be small at the moment, but people who want
   it will find it.  When the BBC offered a Beethoven symphony cycle
   as a free download last year, 1.4 million people took up the
   offer.  And if classical music is now scarce on television, with
   even PBS cutting back, DVD labels are pouring out everything
   from long-forgotten TV performances to newly produced symphonic,
   chamber and recital discs.
   
   The golden age of concertgoing, meanwhile, is at least partly
   a matter of idealized memory.  Organizations did not collect
   demographic information then, but musicians and critics who
   attended concerts during those years remember the audience as
   always middle-aged (and concert videos bear out those memories).
   And despite the music's greater visibility in daily life, it was
   a niche market even then.  The pianist Gary Graffman said recently
   that when he began attending New York Philharmonic concerts at
   Carnegie Hall in the 1940's and 50's empty seats were plentiful.
   And among the great soloists, he added, only Heifetz, Rubinstein
   and Horowitz could expect to sell out Carnegie Hall.
   
   At the time Carnegie was undisputedly the city's premier hall,
   with Town Hall, Hunter College and the Metropolitan Museum of
   Art as the principal chamber music and recital halls.  Carnegie
   Recital Hall (now Weill) and the Frick Collection offered chamber
   concerts as well, and McMillin (now Miller) Theater at Columbia
   University was a hot spot for new music.  When Lincoln Center
   was planned in the late 1950's, Carnegie Hall narrowly escaped
   the wrecker's ball.  It was thought, however briefly, that two
   large halls were an extravagance New York didn't need and couldn't
   sustain.
   
   Consider how things have changed since Philharmonic (now Avery
   Fisher) Hall opened in 1962.  Carnegie, until then a rental hall,
   began doing its own presentations, and it now offers about 200
   concerts a year.  Lincoln Center - with its two opera houses,
   Avery Fisher Hall for orchestras and star-turn recitals and Alice
   Tully Hall (opened in 1969) for chamber music - quickly undertook
   its own presentations as well: some 400 annually now, extending
   to halls and churches beyond its campus.
   
   The 92nd Street Y revived its long-dormant concert series in
   1974, and Merkin Concert Hall went up in 1978.  Carnegie added
   Zankel Hall in 2003, and Lincoln Center opened the Rose Theater
   and the Allen Room - intended mostly for jazz but sometimes used
   for new-music concerts - in 2004.
   
   Meanwhile the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection
   remained committed to classical concerts.  Small- to medium-size
   halls at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise, Scandinavia
   House and the Austrian Cultural Forum have opened since the late
   1980's.  And the Morgan Library and Museum opened a new chamber
   musichall this month.
   
   That's in Manhattan.  Just across the rivers, the same period
   brought a revival of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the construction
   of the Tilles Center on Long Island and the New Jersey Performing
   Arts Center in Newark and the advent of small but successful
   enterprises like Bargemusic.
   
   In the deficit column?  Town Hall and Hunter College have largely
   abandoned classical music, although each offers a handful of
   concerts.  But apart from the old Metropolitan Opera House,
   demolished when the Met moved to Lincoln Center, no halls have
   closed in New York since Lincoln Center opened.
   
   The concert world has expanded in other ways too.  Through the
   1950's the music season ran less than 30 weeks.  But in 1964 the
   New York Philharmonic negotiated a 52-week contract with its
   players.  Other orchestras quickly followed suit, and the season
   grew longer.  The Mostly Mozart Festival cropped up in 1966 and
   spawned similar series around the country.  And in 1967 the Ford
   Foundation began giving orchestras grants for even greater
   expansion, in most cases, more concerts each week.
   
   The nightly offerings in classical music are immensely more
   plentiful and varied now than during the supposed golden age.
   The wonder isn't that audiences fluc tuate from night to night
   or that empty seats can be spotted.  It's that so much comp
   etition can be sustained in a field usually portrayed as moribund.
   
   One way to keep the gloomy reports in perspective is to understand
   that the rumored death of classical music has been with us for
   a very long time.
   
   The Metropolitan Opera was in almost constant financial peril
   between 1929 and 1944, and there were dicey moments in the 70's.
   The orchestra world's 1960's expansion caused anxiety as well.
   In an essay in The New York Times on Sept.  3, 1967, "Do We Have
   Too Much Music in America?," John O.  Crosby, the founder of the
   Santa Fe Opera, worried that the audience was insufficient to
   support the blossoming 52-week orchestra contracts.
   
   Those worries were soon born out.  In "Dip in Concert Audiences
   Troubles Impresarios" (Dec.  21, 1968), The Times reported that
   classical music ticket sales had dropped as much as 40 percent.
   The reasons included everything from the distractions of television
   and recordings to street crime, parking difficulties and high
   ticket prices, meaning a $15 top at the Met and "as much as
   $8.80" for "other prestige events." Young people reading these
   reports would have had little reason to expect the classical
   music world to exist in 2006.  But now that those same people
   have begun "graying," are they joining it?  Demographic information
   over the couple of decades institutions have been collecting it
   suggests that they are.  For whatever reasons - changes in taste,
   a desire to expand their musical experiences, a lack of interest
   in current pop - middle-aged listeners continue to join the
   audience.  And the generational shift is coloring both programming
   and performance.
   
   Listeners now in their 50's - the core classical audience - were
   the baby boomers who grew up in the 1960's and 70's.  For those
   already interested in classical music during their student years,
   Shostakovich, Ives and Mahler were musical obsessions, and the
   early-music boom was a campus phenomenon.  All that music,
   marginal in the 70's, joined the mainstream as those listeners
   became performers and ticket buyers.
   
   Classically inclined boomers were also new-music agnostics, at
   home with the rigorous atonality of the previous generation but
   also open to a trippy avant-garde scene that ran from Cage to
   the Minimalists.  That has had a telling effect too: witness the
   standing ovations Elliott Carter's music now gets at symphony
   concerts and the rock-star popularity of John Adams and Philip
   Glass.
   
   At the same time this generation's fascination with pop has
   influenced its composers (and younger ones), who draw on the
   energy of rock.  They have also left behind their elders' bias
   against amplification and sound processing, which they use not
   simply to increase the volume but also to expand their palettes
   of timbre.  A fascination with world music, which also has roots
   in the 1960's, has stretched those palettes further.
   
   All this is changing the classical repertory, and to judge from
   the comparatively young audiences to be seen at concerts by
   daring groups like the Kronos Quartet and Alarm Will Sound, it
   is more likely to rejuvenate classical music than kill it.
   
   Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" observation about relationships and
   sharks - that both must either move forward or die - also works
   for culture.  In classical music, lots of people really just
   want the dead shark.  They pine for the days when Bernstein,
   Reiner, Szell and Toscanini stood on the podium, with Heifetz
   fiddling, Horowitz at the piano and Callas and Tebaldi locked
   in a perpetual diva war.  Most of all they want their repertory
   dials set between 1785 and 1920.
   
   You can send those people your condolences.
   
   For the rest of us, the shark is still moving.  We're getting
   our revivals of Machaut and Rameau along with vigorous
   reconsiderations of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler and a
   varied gallery of contemporary composers.  We may be hearing
   much of this in small, high-tech halls instead of cavernous
   temples of the arts or finding it online instead of in shops or
   on the radio.  But it's all there, constantly renewing itself.
   You just have to grab onto the dorsal fin.

"Edson Tadeu Ortolan" <[log in to unmask]>

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