Saturday, July 02, 2005


The Texas Music Educators Association has turned down a request from a male student who wishes to perform as a soprano in a state competition, the Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram (6.17.05) reports. (I hope the Star follows up on this story.)

A survey about classical-music critics released in May by the National Arts Journalism Program revealed what most of us have already suspected and may be yet another reason why classical music in America is in the shape it’s in. The survey, which was co-sponsored by the Music Critics Association of North America, took place between May and August of 2004, and 181 North American critics participated in it. The results tell us that:

· A majority of the critics are white males in their early fifties.

· More critics work as freelancers than not; 49 percent identify themselves as freelancers, and 47 percent hold full-time staff positions; more than 90 percent of critics feel that “it is [their] job to educate the public about classical music and why it matters.” (If "to educate" means Music Appreciation 101, which is so often the case, this is troubling. The heart of music criticism is a competent analytical review of a performance and/or the work itself. Beyond that, critics merely reflect their taste.)

· The topics they most enjoy writing about are orchestral music, standard repertoire opera, and chamber music; their least-favorite topics are pops and outdoor concerts, crossover music, and jazz. (Rather narrow interests I’d say.)

· Only 20 percent of reviews focus on works by living composers. One section of the survey found the critics relatively unfamiliar with many contemporary composers—too much so to rank their opinion of the composers’ work. (Doesn’t surprise me at all.)

· Opinions of contemporary music vary; more than half the critics surveyed felt that composers were not “breaking genuinely new ground these days,” although four out of five felt that “we can be proud of the new classical works that we have created in Canada and the U.S. over the past 25 years.”

· Younger critics—those 46 and younger—are more likely to be open to contemporary composers.

· The critics’ top five favorite historical composers are Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms; their top five contemporary composers are John Adams, Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki, Ned Rorem, and John Corigliano. (I wonder if they picked these from a list? )

In a recent blog Midori reflects that historically, Western music is a recent phenomenon in Japan and that she-well let her say it: “…I grew up thinking (and feeling) that music was Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, even Stravinsky, Bartok, and Prokofiev. …All other genres of music were exotic and mysterious including jazz and Traditional Japanese music. For me, a Schubert lieder was much more "normal" and "understandable" than the infamous Japanese song "Sakura, Sakura." (AJBlogs) 06/22/05. (They make better cars too.)

SUBWAY MUZAK-A METAMORPHOSIS OR, ANOTHER WAY TO MARKET CDS? - Buffalo NY teens have been hanging around subway stations raising hell and authorities finally hit on a solution: pipe classical music into the stations. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is airing the three B’s to hasten youths toward their destinations. Sad to note, it works. A senior at Bennett High School says, "It's irritating. We want it to go away, It's old people music. It makes you want to get away from it." If you can imagine the Brandenburg #2 in a subway - well, it would likely make me want to get away from it too-and I’m “old people” kid!

They took their cue from other cities. Toronto began filling subway stations with melodies in the mid-1990s after a string of fatal assaults involving gangs of youths. And the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority fills targeted stations with Boston Pops-style light classical tunes to battle youth crime, and the Montreal Metro system employs opera inside troubled subway stops. The New York Port Authority uses operatic strains to roust troublemakers and the homeless from its properties, and in Vallejo, Calif., classical music flows from speakers along downtown streets to deter drug dealers and other villains.

But, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra reps applaud the NFTA saying, "We want as many people as possible exposed to classical music, so we are pleased to hear about this program. It's a plus for commuters." …We are preparing an assortment of our CDs to send to the NFTA . . . We get sales and great reviews from all around the world. It would be wonderful for them to help increase our CD sales locally." (These are heartbreaking signals in our society.)

GOOD NEWS (almost)-FOR A CHANGE – Detroit may be getting a classical radio station for the first time in eight years, the Detroit News reports. The Detroit public schools and Detroit Public Television shook hands, and the television station will take over the schools' WRCJ 90.9 FM and broadcast classical music during the day and jazz at night. The station will operate at the Detroit School of the Arts and serve as a training facility for students. There has been no classical station in the city since WQRS 105.1 FM switched to rock in 1997.

Last week, ASCAP named the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as winner of its annual Adventurous Programming Award for orchestras with annual budgets in the $5-$13 million range. They give this award to orchestras that prominently feature music composed within the last 25 years.

Conductor Christopher Seaman said, "Playing new music isn't always good for the box office," says RPO Music Director "At the same time, we know people will like the music once they hear it. It's just a challenge to get them in the concert hall to hear it in the first place. But it's important to keep playing contemporary music because it makes the concert experience seem more vital."
(Bravo, Chris!)

The RPO TRIED to keep Rochester's concert life vital during the 2004-05 season by performing more than a dozen works by contemporary composers including David Diamond, the fine Rochester composer who died June 13.

The San Francisco Symphony, under Michael Tilson Thomas has made adventurous programming its bread and butter, and they won first place for orchestras with budgets exceeding $13 million. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, led by Jeffrey Kahane, won first place for orchestras with budgets less than $5 million.

(It’s refreshing to read that someone on that level is doing something positive to assist contemporary programming and performance, instead of carping about how bad everything is.)


Blogger A.C. Douglas said...

You wrote:

[M]ore than 90 percent of critics feel that “it is [their] job to educate the public about classical music and why it matters.” (This is very troubling - a perversion of what music criticism should be all about.)

Leaving out the "why it matters" bit (which is just silly), what, pray tell, is "troubling" and "a perversion of what classical music criticism should be all about" about that statement of job responsibility of a classical music critic?

A fundamental element of all first-rate arts criticism of any art whatsoever is to educate a larger public about that art in general, as well as about the particular work(s) covered in each particular critical review. To the extent a critical review doesn't accomplish that, to that same extent is that review a failure.

Enjoy reading your blog.



12:15 PM  
Blogger paul said...

Surveys themselves are troubling because the query is often unclear or directed. The results, too, are often unclear.

I've altered the blog to better define what I thought the survey may have meant and why it was "troubling."

3:19 PM  

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