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Classical music has thrived for centuries. But many say it is now facing its biggest challenges of all time, and risks becoming obsolete. Orchestras across the country face financial trouble, and there’s worry that younger generations are connecting less and less with composers like Brahms and Debussy. In response, many organizations are venturing into new musical and technological territory to attract loyal audiences…everything from intimate “living room” concerts organized on social media, to collaborations with pop and rock artists. A look at classical music’s place in society, and what’s in store for its future.
- Alex Ross Music critic, The New Yorker magazine.
- Orli Shaham Concert pianist.
- Fred Bronstein Dean, the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University; former president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
- Greg Sandow Music critic, composer, and consultant; member of the graduate studies faculty at Juilliard.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Even as some in the classical music world have predicted the demise of the art form, others say it's time to embrace an exciting new path. Creative solutions to the financial and social pressures facing classical music are plentiful. Joining me to talk about the future of classical music, Greg Sandow of Juilliard, Fred Bronstein of the Peabody Institute. Joining us from the studios of KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine. And from NPR studios in New York, concert pianist Orli Shaham.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for joining us.
MR. ALEX ROSSThanks for having us, Diane.
MR. GREG SANDOWOh, thank you so much and what a great topic.
MS. ORLI SHAHAMWhat an honor.
REHMGreat to have you all. Alex Ross, I'll start with you. Why do you think so many people are concerned about the future of classical music? Why should we be talking about this subject now?
ROSSWell it is an evergreen topic, the future of classical music, the death of classical music, the problems of classical music. It seems as though generation after generation now there's been this fundamental worry about the prospects of the art form. The late pianist, Charles Rosen, once observed that this conversation has been going on for so long, for centuries in fact, that he said the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.
ROSSThere's something about this art form where we feel that it's constantly in danger. And I think there are good reasons for that. I mean, it's an extraordinarily expense art form. So anytime there's an economic downturn, and this goes back to the Renaissance and the Baroque era, when there's any sort of financial crisis, these hugely expensive institutions tend to struggle. And, you know, a countless number of them have closed, have disappeared over the years. But others have sprung up to take their place. So it is this unending discussion.
ROSSBut of course there are particularly pressing reasons right now that this topic is coming up because as I see...
REHMAnd we're talking about money. And we're talking about audience numbers.
REHMAnd I presume you would include those as two of the major problems.
ROSSYes. I think I'm more worried right at this moment about the money rather than the audience. I do feel that just in the wake of 2008 and the great recession, there are some really significant questions that have arisen about, you know, how these big institutions are going to continue to survive financially, where the big donations are going to come from. And this is what has really driven, you know, the huge crisis at the Minnesota Orchestra, the disappearance of New York City Opera. The present tension at the Met, between management and unions over pay at that institution.
ROSSThese are the pressing issues right now. I'm a little more sanguine about the audience. I mean, you can talk about the declining audiences, aging audiences, but I do feel as though it tends to renew itself.
ROSSBut the institutions need to -- they can't be complacent. They need to work to retain and to foster those audiences. But this is a thousand-year-old tradition, and I do feel ultimately sanguine about the past few years.
REHMWho is the average classical concert-goer now?
ROSSWell, you know, it's quite diverse. I think, you know, people have this picture of a much older audience. That's generally true in a lot of places. But if you go to the New York Philharmonic, you will see a lot of younger people there, a lot of couples on dates. I feel they're sort of trying to impress each other by, you know, showing they're interested in classical music or something like that. But it is, I think, more diverse than the standard stereotype makes you think. But certainly it skews a lot older, which is the case for a lot of the performing arts these days.
ROSSPeople who are willing to sit down at any kind of live performance that starts at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., whether it's a dance theater, nonprofit theater, especially classical music, so many other things, that it tends to be quite a bit older.
REHMGreg Sandow, would you agree?
SANDOWWell, so many points come up here. Alex, you and I have known each other a long time. And I would love to sit down and have a private conversation with you about this idea that classical music has always seen itself in crisis. Now I'm going to do something I shouldn't do. I'm going to play the age card. 71 years old, I've been in this business as first a student, then a professional since the 1960s, and I never, ever, ever heard talk about the demise of classical music until the 1990s.
SANDOWAnd I can give you a raft of books you probably know about, history of individual orchestras; Richard Schickel's "History of Carnegie Hall"; Irving Kolodin's "History of the Metropolitan Opera"; and you will not find talk in them about the demise of classical music as a topic of conversation in the past. We have...
ROSSBut I disagree. I think you -- Greg, I think you did find it a lot in the late '60s. You had this, these...
SANDOWOh, yes. Oh, yes, Alex.
ROSS...these (word?) articles in TIME and Newsweek. There exists a primal apathy toward classical music in America and those kinds of lines.
REHMAll right. Go ahead, Greg.
SANDOWYes, but -- and you had a big crisis in American orchestras because they had expanded too fast earlier in the sixties and they now faced a financial crisis. But you know, Alex, I have read the consultants' reports that they commissioned about the crisis they were having there. And they were selling 100 percent of their tickets and they had no problem raising the amount of money they had raised in the past. It was not a systemic crisis. Of course, with the rise of a new culture, you began to have people say, prophetically, hey, in the future, maybe this old stuff is not going to fly.
SANDOWBut you didn't have the feel in a systemic crisis. You didn't have declining audience. You didn't have funding problems. Opera at that time was flying. And chamber music, my god, Columbia Artist Community Concerts were doing chamber music and solo recitals in small towns over America. Things were pretty good. It's not the systemic crisis that we see now, which -- I just want to say, though, quickly -- I think the mainstream institutions are in trouble. And when you see the audience numbers that are not necessarily made public. For example, Fred, I could tease you about this because you're an orchestra guy.
MR. FRED BRONSTEINWas. Was an orchestra guy.
SANDOWWas an orchestra guy, right. But you know that the League of American Orchestras won't reveal ticket sales numbers. I have seen them for the big orchestras.
SANDOWAnd anyway, the people who run these institutions are very concerned about the audience. New stuff is emerging and that is great. The field is renewing itself, especially from younger people. So I see a systemic crisis for the traditional ways and the big institutions. And then I see explosion of new things that I think will cause the field to be reborn.
REHMAnd Orli Shaham, let's bring you into this. You think we ought to be talking about classical music in a totally different way.
SHAHAMWell, I think, you know, as much as I appreciate Greg's very intelligent assessment of what the sixties and seventies did to classical music audiences, I think that's still the short-term perspective. I think the long-term perspective is, what did Bach do to get an audience? What did Mozart do, who was the first one to really start to get his own public audience and built it up? How did that look and how did that change over time? And in that bigger picture, the blip of the sixties and seventies and even eighties feels completely different.
SHAHAMI think the whole conversation is actually very concerned about whether or not our art form is -- it seems that the way people talk about it, people are worried about whether our art form is any good. And that seems to me a fundamentally wrong way of approaching the problem. The truth is...
REHMAt the same time, the question becomes, is classical music for everyone? Does everyone have a taste for it, Orli?
SHAHAMI think the whole -- the whole aspect of classical music that is so important, then we can get on to the name classical and whether that's a relevant way to talk about it or not. But it is specifically music that is not going to be for everyone at every time of their lives. But at the same time, it's music that has the potential to speak to everyone at some point in their lives. And we need to make sure that people know it's there. That it's there for them. This is not the kind of music you listen to for background or for dance. This is music that is by its very nature both thought-provoking and invites repeated listening.
SHAHAMIt's a little bit like "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMThank you. And to you, Fred Bronstein. What about the training of young musicians today? I can remember my own children performing at the Peabody Institute in competition after competition, wonderful pianists both. How do we prepare young people for the future?
BRONSTEINThat's a great question. And it's certainly something that we are asking ourselves at Peabody and I think a lot of schools are. I came from the professional music world where I was running several major orchestras. And I saw, over a period of about 18 years, the evolution and the change in the expectation of players as they come into these major orchestras, in terms of what they need to be prepared to do to be advocates for music, to be active in the community, to be teachers, to be great communicators. I think all of these things become central components of being successful artists in the future.
BRONSTEINAnd I think, in terms of the, you know, how we prepare artists, it's not enough anymore to be a great pianist or a great violinist. You've got to be able to be a communicator. You've got to be an advocate. You've got to be an educator.
REHMFred Bronstein, he's dean of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Md. Short break here. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking in this hour about classical music. Surely to those lovers of the forum, it is beautiful, it is thought provoking, it is rich, it enriches. We have four people with somewhat different perspectives on classical music. Here in the studio Greg Sandow. He's a veteran music critic, a composer and consultant. He's also a member of the graduate studies faculty at Julliard. Fred Bronstein is dean of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.
REHMJoining us by ISDN is Alex Ross. He's music critic for the New Yorker magazine. And our fourth guest is the lovely Orli Shaham, a concert pianist. And if you'd like to join us, call us 800-433-8850. Fred Bronstein, just before the break we were talking about the education of the young musicians.
BRONSTEINRight. And so, you know, as I said, I think teaching these young artists to be great communicators, advocates as well as great players becomes very, very important, educated people that can speak about a broad range of issues and connect with communities I think is so important. But, you know, one of the things we haven't yet really talked about is when we talk about the challenges of classical music is the whole role of education early on.
BRONSTEINAnd I think one of the challenges -- I'm actually somebody who's very optimistic about the future because I think it's been around a long time. People love it when they hear when they're exposed to it. And I think -- and it's also interesting to note that whenever there's a real crisis in our world -- I mean, think of 9/11. I mean, what is one of the -- one of the images that remains in my mind at least is the image of Yo Yo Ma at Ground Zero playing a solo cello. And I think -- so the power of classical music is with us.
BRONSTEINBut I would also say that one of the challenges is in the secondary schools, is in the music programs. And that I think that we don't take those programs seriously enough in this country. One of the really fascinating things for me is to see a third of our students now coming from Asia at the Peabody Institute. There is a voracious appetite across Asia, across China for classical western music. And I think it's very telling in that sense. So it is alive and well there. Folks are coming here
BRONSTEINBut I think we need to think about this issue of education because I think that's one of the -- you know, it has -- in terms of being part of a popular culture, it is -- you know, we think back to, you know, there was a day when, you know, there were classical artists on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I mean, many, many, many years ago. So there's some work to do, I think.
REHMAll right. And Orli, turning to you, what about new music and the role it plays in the current musical landscape?
SHAHAMWell, just before I get to that point I just want to add to Fred's point, I think the issue of education starts long before secondary education. The issue of education begins right from the beginning.
SHAHAMI've been running a program for preschoolers introducing them to music called Baby Got Bach. And I find, you know -- it's for ages 3 to 6 and the reason it's for that age group is because this is the age at which we have no biases and we are most open to learning new languages. Music is a language you have to be exposed to, as Fred was saying. You have to have that time with it, but the time where you can ingest it and have it become part of who you are for the rest of your life. It's long before school. It's at a very early age.
SHAHAMAnd that's why these students are coming from Asia because they've been exposed to this from the very earliest parts of their lives where it's accepted and it's prized and it's a natural second language to learn.
REHMI'd like to hear you talk about the composition Stumble to Grace.
SHAHAMThis is a wonderful project. The composer Steve Mackey wrote this concerto for me and I premiered and recorded it. And this is a perfect example of a composer taking the language of today, using the tools of traditional classical music.
REHMAnd tell us why this is so important.
SHAHAMSo you hear music here which even if you didn't immediately recognize it as such, sounds a lot like the background music to Peanuts comic strips, right, those 30-minute specials. And so it's something that's instantly recognizable from popular culture but it's been turned into yet the next level. It's taken that the way music always does and it adds to it other layers and becomes thought provoking. And it speaks to the younger audiences as well as the older audiences.
SHAHAMBut this is what music has to do. It has to be alive. It has to take what's coming out in the world around it, the way it has for generations since Bach, since Mozart, since before those guys. And then turn that into something which gives you pause, which invites a repeated listening and which makes you think in a different way.
REHMAnd Alex Ross, to you, is there a value to this kind of new music getting young concert goers into the halls to hear something that sounds a bit strange to them but nevertheless may draw them in?
ROSSOf course. I mean, the absence or infrequency of contemporary music on mainstream classical programs, in America especially, has been a fundamental problem for a very long time. And really from the very roots of classical music in this country it was always seen as a European import. And there was this undue obsession with the admittedly glorious past of the art form. And just constant sense of struggle for living composers generation after generation to get a hearing.
ROSSAnd so the image that has resulted is of an art form that is dead in a sense, that is sort of consumed by the past, that is aloof from the present. So this must change. I mean, if anything is going to kill off classical music, it is the unwillingness of so many institutions to really invest and to support and to promote contemporary music.
REHMBut Greg Sandow...
ROSSYou know, whatever age group, young, old, I think people will find more connection if they understand that this is still an art form that's absolutely living and evolving.
REHMIndeed. Greg Sandow, you're saying there's really a difference between the crisis in the industry and the art form itself.
SANDOWWell, I think that the art form, you know, as I think Orli and Alex are saying, it needs to come more to the present. I feel that classical music needs to become a totally contemporary art form. And Alex, I want to give a shout out to you for your book "The Rest is Noise." I think it's such a marvelous job repositioning classical music as 20th and 21st century art that people can fairly easily relate to.
SANDOWBut I think one of the things that happens when you do this is that you see that classical music is now just one music among many and maybe not something everybody is required to know or like. Not everybody likes hip hop, not everybody likes R&B. Not every Latino likes Salsa. White people just generally don't listen to Salsa at all. And so many different kinds of music, I will give you -- and classical musicians feel this too.
SANDOWWhen I was a consultant this past fall at DePauw University in Indiana where the curriculum is going to be revamped to produce, they hope, the 21st century classical musician, as I was conferring with students, one of the students, a tenor, told me what he wanted his graduation recital to look like. One-third classical music, one-third Broadway show tunes and then he wanted to perform an a cappella group and sing R&B arrangements because he was African American.
SANDOWAnd that, I think, is something that classical music has to embrace. All the other kinds of music and the interest that classical musicians have that...
BRONSTEINYou know, it's a really good point because I think one of the things that -- when we think back -- if you think back on the history of music, you know, it's really in the last 100 years that this delineation between what we call serious classical concert music and quote unquote "popular" music takes place. And there was a time when there was much more fusion there. And I think one of the things you're starting to see in recent years is composers start to fuse more of that again to incorporate popular elements of their music or jazz, whatever it is, into their style, to cross over, if you will.
BRONSTEINThat's not -- you know, I think that's a good thing. I think this notion of symphony orchestras doing concerts with movies and film -- we did that in St. Louis -- very important to do. One person's quote unquote "classical music experience" is different from another's. And I think anything that exposes folks to orchestras and brings people into this genre is useful and important. I think we do ourselves a disservice sometimes by delineating between things kind of in the intelligencia about classical music.
REHMAll right. Let's hear this clip from Das Rheingold.
REHMAnd Alex, I wonder if you would talk about this and how this music is quiet at the beginning, it builds and builds. It's from the Wagner Opera Das Rheingold. I mean, this is something that's been around for quite a while.
ROSSAs well -- I mean, this music brings to mind when -- for me when you think about classical music's relationship with popular culture and popular music. And, you know, I feel torn on this question. I mean, on the one hand, yes, we should find ways to have a conversation to find a place in this mainstream pop culture. And certainly if a young composer, you know, wants to put, you know, hip hop into his or her music and feels it organically then absolutely, that should happen.
ROSSBut at the same time, I mean, we should be wary of erasing all differences and just sort of, you know, joining that mass because there are fundamental differences in terms of how this art form works. And certainly at the beginning of Wagner's monumental ring cycle come to mind as this extraordinary phenomenon that it's music emerging from silence. And, you know, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony does the same thing. And there is this sense of enormous slowness. And this is a very gradual process.
ROSSI mean, Wagner is depicting really the creation of the universe, the emergence of matter and life from nothing. And sound is the metaphor for that process. And so you need a special kind of space for that really to be felt. And there's this great phenomenon at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, Wagner's opera house where a minute or so before the performance begins, the audience of its own accord voluntarily, without any signal from the house, falls silent. And it's this expectation. And they need to be silent themselves for that...
REHMAnd now you need to be silent for one second while...
REHM...I remind our listeners, this is "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, silence is such a fascinating topic in music. And Orli, I think some young classical music goers may be confused by, you know, when to clap, when to cheer, when to stand up and holler hoorah. What are the rules? Are they changing?
SHAHAMI have to tell you that it has been a lifelong dream of mine to do a performance the way figure skaters do an Olympic skate. And when I nail that passage I want applause for my triple axel right at the moment because that used to be the relationship of live music to a live audience. How did they know to encore movements when -- at premiers of Beethoven and Dvorak symphonies? It's because the audience was screaming in joy and saying, encore, encore, even though the piece wasn't even over.
SHAHAMAnd I think there's a kind of fear factor coming into the concert hall thinking, well, I might not know what to do. And I always tell people when they ask me that...
REHMOr might cough or something.
SHAHAM...if the composer has made you feel like applauding, trust me, the composer knows how to manipulate you. You should applaud.
SHAHAMIf the composer has made you feel like being silent, again trust that composer. This is their job is to manipulate your emotions.
REHMAnd Fred, you've got some thoughts on that.
BRONSTEINWell, you know, I totally agree with that. I think -- and you use the word rules, Diane, which I think is interesting because I think that's one of our challenges is that people perceive rules about classical music. And I think you can -- you know, I had this one...
REHMWell, the composers have to follow those rules.
BRONSTEINWell, you know, I think there's an -- I had this ongoing letter thing going back and forth with a former critic friend of mine in Dallas. And he used to criticize the audience for applauding between movements. And I used to write to him and say, you know, that's the sound of new people in the hall. They don't know that you're not supposed to do that and hooray for that because I think that, you know, how can you listen to the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto and not applaud at the end of it? It just...
REHMAnd what about tweeting...
SHAHAMWhich is what happened at the premier.
BRONSTEINWhich is what happened at the premier. It's exactly right. So again, fewer rules I think would be good.
REHMWhat about tweeting as you apparently did?
BRONSTEINWe did do that. We had an evening at the St. Louis Symphony where in one section of the hall folks were able to do that. Peter Oundjian was conducting the concert that evening and talked a little bit about it before the concert very eloquently. And also, you know, everybody -- no interruptions in the concert. People conversed during it. They responded to what they were hearing real time. And it was interesting. It was, you know, do you do that all the time? No but I think what's telling about it is that people are looking for a way in classical music to interact, to be involved, to be on the inside. And...
REHMYou agree with that, Greg Sandow.
SANDOWOh, so strongly but Fred, please go on. I love it.
BRONSTEINNo, no. I was just saying I think that, you know, that's one of the things that we hear all the time. They want to be close to the artist. They want to -- because they're amazed by what people can...
REHMBut how does the artist react to those kinds of interruptions, Orli?
SHAHAMYou know, I think there are moments where those interruptions are not appropriate. And any good artist on stage knows how to create that moment in such a way that they won't be interrupted. It's one thing when the cell phone goes off, that's sort of an incident that you can't prevent. But a person applauding in the wrong place, if you hold that silence right they won't applaud because they won't be moved to applaud.
REHMAll right. Short break and your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about classical music in so many forms. Here's a tweet from Shelly. And apparently there were many messages like this. "Please ask your guest to comment on the use of classical music in Looney Tunes. Cartoons provided a childhood introduction for so many." Fred Bronstein?
BRONSTEINSure. There's a wonderful show that we had done sometimes at the St. Louis Symphony and orchestras have done it, "Bugs Bunny on Broadway." And it -- if you think back to those cartoons, "The Rabbit of Seville," I mean, there were wonderful, wonderful cartoons that did, in sense -- in some sense parody classical music actually, but in a very charming way. And used it, you know.
BRONSTEINAnd it -- and I think it goes back -- it speaks to that question of it being more in the popular vernacular back in the earlier part of the 20th century. And, you know, whether you saw it on television -- I alluded to that earlier -- or, you know, Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, of course, which so many folks grew up on. I think that there's, you know, and that gets back to the education component to this, which if we're missing something, I think that's what we're missing.
BRONSTEINPutting instruments in the hands of kids. That kind of exposure in the schools, to the extent that it really gets people connected in a very visceral way with music.
REHMAnd, Greg Sandow, you were talking about Elmer Fudd.
SANDOWOh, he sings "Kill the Wabbit" to the tune of "Ride of the Valkyries." Classical music was really part of our wider culture back then. And so of course it showed up everywhere, affectionately parodied because it had its silly aspects. But the reason for the parody is because everybody really liked it.
SANDOWBecause it was there. I wanted to say something, Diane, if I might, about this business of applause.
SANDOWBecause not only did people use to applaud between movements, but up through the 19th century they applauded during the music.
SANDOWSo there is a wonderful letter Mozart wrote to his father on the occasion of his Paris Symphony, in which he just set out what he did to make the audience applaud during the music. How he had something he knew they would like, so he repeated it, brought it in at the end of the music. And, yes, as soon as they heard it they cheered. So what is this like? It sounds in a way like an assault on serious listening.
SANDOWI, some years ago, was working with the Pittsburg Symphony. And one of my projects was a concert series for a new audience, which I co-programmed with them and hosted. And at our first concert we did the first movement of Mozart's Paris Symphony. And I read Mozart's letter. And then I said to the audience, "You know what? We don't know what the passage was that Mozart had in mind. And they may have applauded other places. So you all go to town. You hear something that you like, clap." So what a lesson this was for me.
REHMSo there you are.
SANDOWNo. But it was not a free for all. The applause differed in quality greatly. And as soon as one thing was over -- happened and they clapped for it, when a new thing happened they stopped clapping so they could hear it.
SANDOWNever heard an audience so involved.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. We'll go to Brian, in San Antonio, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
BRIANThank you for taking my call. I just wanted to mention the idea that maybe classical musicians should concentrate on it being a compensated hobby versus a profession. There seems to be an expectation that if you're good at something in our society and you dedicate your life to it and practice eight hours a day that -- "Well, I deserve to make a living at it." Well, if the society won't support it, then you might not be able to make $80,000 a year at it. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth doing.
REHMAll right. Orli, do you want to comment?
SHAHAMYou know, I tell young musicians this all the time when they come up to me. If you can imagine yourself doing something else for a living that would be satisfying, do that and keep this as a hobby. And for the rest of us, you know, when you are an artist and you feel this is the only thing you could possibly do with your life that would give it the meaning, you do it anyway. You do it whether or not you can make a living at it. And there are better years and there are worse years. And that is totally secondary to the point that you are getting to do the thing that you feel is -- brings the most meaning to your life.
REHMLet's go now to Jason, in Narragansett Beach, R.I. Hi, you're on the air.
JASONHey, thanks, guys. Greg Sandow may recognize me as the fellow who bailed him out with the James Brown track at a conference at Boston University a few months back.
SANDOWOh, you did. And thank you so much. Wow. Nice to meet you again.
JASONWell, it's a great talk. Yeah, yeah, no. I'm there doing doctoral work on, you know, public musicology and how artists are reaching out into the public to get young people. One of your guests mentioned a way to interact. And I think this is such a great model. You know, I've given talks on Moller. And I -- the way that I describe Moller is that he was passionate, he was ambitious, he was a spiritual seeker. He wanted to maintain his independence.
JASONThese are all things that young people today are absolutely trying to become themselves. You can see how groups like Groupmuse in Boston are bringing chamber music into living rooms and it's becoming hugely successful. I saw a Beethoven string quartet played in a living room a few months ago, where people were like hooting and hollering and like dancing. It's just extraordinary when you actually bring something to people and see them respond to it.
REHMTalk about Groupmuse.
BRONSTEINYeah, I mean, I think -- well, the irony of that is, of course, that's what chamber music was created as.
BRONSTEINIn a very small, you know, small groups in a small, intimate setting. And I think the key to that is the closeness. The immediacy of it. The intimacy of it. I think -- when I was talking earlier about people wanting to interact, to be involved, to be able to reach out and touch the artist, I think that's one of the great joys of chamber music, actually. And the way that feels, both when you're playing it and also what the audience feels and perceives in it.
REHMAnd here's an email from Boston, from a college student who says of the Groupmuses, "At first I came to see friends, but after three or four shows I noticed I was becoming more and more engaged in the incredible music. At concert halls there's a certain etiquette -- my word, rules -- to follow that can be a turnoff, but at a Groupmuse event you're piled on the floor with friends cheering and whistling when the music picks up and chatting with the musicians afterwards."
BRONSTEINYeah, I mean, I think it's, you know, it's very telling. Again, I think it's that notion of people wanting to be part of something, to be in the inside of something, to be able to interact, to be close to it, and to be able to do it without being told what's right and what's wrong.
REHMAlex, have you ever attended a Groupmuse?
ROSSNo, I haven't. But it's -- there's widespread movement, I think, especially among the younger musicians all across the country, to find new venues for performance, to experiment with different styles, different times. Concerts are much later, more informal dress codes, abandoning the so-called rules that have become attached to classical music over the years. And it's all very healthy. We need space for these new generations to experiment and to see what works and what doesn't.
ROSSAnd we can all sort of sit here, you know, talking all day about the future of classical music and what should be done and what shouldn't be done, but, you know, ultimately, the musicians themselves are the future. They make the future. And it is their connection to the audience that will dictate what happens next.
REHMAll right. And let's hear a bit of Verdi.
SANDOWI hope everybody heard how that tenor snuck into the B flat pianissimo, memorizing the audience. That is Ivan Kozlovsky, who was leading tenor at the Bolshoi Opera during Stalin's reign. And I brought him here as an example of the freedom that classical performers once had. That is him as the Duke in Rigoletto, the first part of the duet with Gilda. He is seducing her. He sounds as seductive as can be.
SANDOWHe's breaking a lot of the rules, in terms of slowing down and speeding up when he feels like it, and just putting on a show with the most impeccable, wonderful vocal technique and blooming sound. I believe that if a lot of people like that sang at the Met there would be lines around the block, because he's an individual. There's nobody like him. And you don't think he's obeying rules.
REHMAnd Orli Shaham, do you have something to add?
SHAHAMI think the other side of this -- for the musicians who are out there listening -- you know, the most important thing, when you're talking to an audience, is to realize that these are educated, thoughtful people who came there to be moved, who came there to have an artistic experience. And they may not have your expertise at this, but you find a way to bring them into what you know. I think, you know, what Greg was saying, he's a unique individual. Anybody who loves this music passionately will find a way to communicate that love to others.
REHMAll right. To Brian, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Hi, you're on the air.
BRIANHi. I've got a question concerning the promotion of new music. Years ago I read that Frank Zappa was frustrated in performing his music in the United States because the musicians' unions required him to pay the same scale for practice as for performance. He went to Europe and performed there, but never in the United States. I'm wondering if that's still the case.
REHMAlex, can you comment?
ROSSI can't comment on that specific issue, but I think, you know, one challenge for new music is the cost of it. You know, the cost of paying the publisher, the extra effort that's needed for musicians to learn a completely new score. I think professional musicians tend to resist that. They would prefer to play something that they already know. And so there is a certain bias against new music for that reason.
ROSSBut it's nonetheless absolutely necessary for new music to come to the fore. And we need to respect what composers require. And we also need to respect the fact that professional musicians need to make a living. And I totally reject the idea that they should be considered a compensated hobbyists.
ROSSThis is a serious business. They work incredibly hard and they deserve to be paid. So there are many factors we need to balance, but we -- but it's so necessary for new music to become more a part of this culture.
REHMAnd this follows and email from Lillian, who says, "My husband is a classical percussionist and trained secondary music educator. He's now five years out of college. He's starting nursing school this fall because he's been unable to get a job as a classical musician. I'd like your guests to talk about music higher education. Students get loaded with debt at schools like Peabody, only to find out there are no jobs available." Fred?
BRONSTEINLook, you know, I think it is a real issue in terms of -- coming back to the reason to do this. You have to want to do it like nothing else. You have to not be able to envision yourself doing anything else. But it is a very tough road to hoe. I mean, you know, I think we would do anybody a disservice by saying this is not -- this is an easy field. It is a very challenging field.
REHMAnd very competitive.
BRONSTEINAnd very competitive. But I think one…
REHMVery few at the top.
BRONSTEINThat's right. Very few at the top, but I think one of the things that you do in -- certainly people that are engaged with music schools is, you know, we're looking for ways, we fund, we give scholarships. And all of the schools are doing that. And it's very, very important. Nonetheless, this is why I also say that it is so important to learn a wide range of skills and be prepared to do, you know, a multitude of things, in terms of your role as a professional musician. And you increase…
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have one last piece of music I'd like you to hear. This is actually video-game music. And going to hear some of that now.
REHMThis is from a popular video game, Final Fantasy, Fred.
BRONSTEINYeah, right. Well, you know, one of the interesting things about video-game music is that it actually is -- think back to film music, you know, early days of film music, where composers like Bernard Herrmann and up to the current John Williams. I mean, film music is a real art. And in a sense I think we're seeing the same kind of burgeoning art with video-game music, that serious composers writing music for games.
BRONSTEINOrchestras doing this in various shows as well now. But I think, again, it's that element of crossover. It's that element of taking something and making it accessible to people. And it's legitimate.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Greg Sandow?
SANDOWWell, totally. It's a new evolution of the symphonic sound. It's amazingly popular. At the University of Maryland there's something called the Gamer Symphony. Most popular music organization on campus. Eighty-piece symphonic ensemble, waiting list of 100 people who want to play in it. And a lot of people just love this music. And, Fred, I think you and I were talking -- if I dare say this in public -- about product lines that orchestras…
SANDOW…should develop to appeal to different people in the community. And video games have proved to be an amazing one. You know, you sell out the house with people who love the music.
REHMOrli, what do you think of that?
SHAHAMYou know, it goes to the -- what we were talking about before, that this is a different experience for everybody at different times of their lives. There are going to be people who will come in and get the thrill of a lifetime to hear this music played live. And if you get them into a concert hall, when they wouldn't have come in otherwise, that's great. Now, if you want to keep them, as audience members for the rest of their lives, you're going to have to make sure that they are aware that there's other music out there for them as well.
REHMAnd I think of all the "Star Wars" films and that original music written for them. Well, I hope we can end this program by saying that, as far as the four of you are concerned, classical music is alive and well. Greg, would you agree?
SANDOWAlive, well, and evolving in fabulous directions artistically.
BRONSTEINAlive, well, and artists coming along, being trained. You have to -- they're the ones that are going to keep it alive and need to lead and need to innovate and need to be not afraid of change.
REHMAlex? Five seconds.
ROSSI would agree. I think this art form will be around as long as any kind of civilization exists.
REHMAnd, Orli Shaham?
SHAHAMPowerful and necessary.
REHMOh, I'm so glad. What a positive way to end the program. Thank you all for joining us. And thanks to our listeners. I'm Diane Rehm.
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