Karl Miller and others raise the question of what concert-goers REALLY
WANT. Do they REALLY WANT to hear only endless repetitions of the top
40 Vivaldi-Mozart-Beethoven-Brahms-Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff chestnuts?
I think it was Aaron Copeland who long ago commented that American
performance culture had developed, from the 19th century on, as a sort
of musical museum, dedicated to RE-creation of a standard, venerated,
European repertoire. This outlook presumably originated from the absence
of a native musical tradition in the New World. It may seem strange
that such an attitude could survive for 150 years, but then again we
are still burdened with the Electoral College, among other vestiges.
But there are at least faint signs of change.
Is the concert-going public still unwilling to listen to the unusual,
or even the contemporary? Steve Schwartz commented: "So we get this gap
between serious music and the audience that continues to grow. It has
gotten to the point where not only do people not listen to Wuorinen or
Boulez, they don't listen to Nielsen."
In my own mediium-size urban environment (Seattle), I don't think this
stricture applies any longer. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra plays
a moderate amount of the mid-20th century, tonal modernism, such as
Shostakovich and and William Schuman, and some easy-listening contemporary
stuff, like Golijov: as far as I could tell, these pieces are invariably
greeted with enthusiasm. The SSO even premieres mildly challenging works
from time to time, for example by David Stock or Samuel Jones. I was
unimpressed myself by some of these works, but the audience responded
enthusiastically to them too. In short, my impression is that the SSO
audience would be thrilled to hear Nielsen, or some Higdon, although
maybe not Wuorinen.
On the other hand, the local commercial "classical" FM station
specializes in boredom; it only rarely broadcasts anything as daring
as Debussy, and absolutely forbids any music more radical or recent than
that. I gather this is true of most commercial stations, which are thus
far more reactionary than the programmers of symphony orchestras. What
is the explanation of this difference? Could it be that radio is the
source of our seemingly retrograde musical culture? If it is not the
source, but rather a reflection, then what is it reflecting? The
concert-going public is already, it seems to me, far ahead of the audience
that commercial radio thinks it must pander to.
Department of Gnome Sciences
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