Sunday, July 26, 2015

Broadening the Concert-Music Repertoire: Good for Audiences, Good for America

As a guest blogger on the Cross-Eyed Pianist, Simon Brackenborough argues that programming composers like Arnold Bax, half-lost to history but still with passionate advocates, will invigorate concert music and attract new audiences:
It’s not about whether enough people will like Bax. But by confidently confronting the question of why he produces both obsessive fans and sniffy detractors, you have exactly the opportunity to engage people that the Proms should have seized with both hands. Disagreement, after all, is a sign that an art form matters: a repertoire of limited risk is a repertoire of limited relevance. The industry will be in a healthier place when concert-goers are less sure that they will enjoy the experience, but are willing to pay to find out.
I'm not sure we should promote concerts with the slogan, You May Not Enjoy This: Pay to Find Out, but I do agree that there is great value in putting "masterworks"--pieces we hear all the time, season in and season out--next to their historical contemporaries so that we can find new enjoyment in debating the canon: how and why certain music makes it into our virtual musical museum, and whether we should be changing things up in there.

Within the field of American music, digging through the vaults is particularly important and exciting, as we have such a nascent concert-music canon. We have a chance to form a real, living history in the concert hall, to have a say in what we want to hear, and what we want to remember. 

We also have the chance to do some pro-sports-level shit-talking, a good ol' American tradition in its own right. Did Ives really write the only two Great American Symphonies, and did George Templeton Strong really write the most beautiful slow movement in American history, as Joseph Horowitz says? Do you think he's completely off base, or did he steal your thunder by bringing it up before you? I think George Rochberg's Symphony No. 2 is the most important 12-tone piece ever written and performed in the United States; who'll care enough to prove me wrong? And how does Amy Beach's "Gaelic" Symphony stack up?  

In his post, Brackenborough (who also runs the blog Corymbus) compares classical music with being stuck in dead-end job, "comfortable routine that just about pays the bills, but whose narrow scope and dull repetition prevents any hope of reaching something greater." I don't know if we'll get something greater by getting more music out there, but it could certainly end up making things more fun.