RUINATION THROUGH POPULARIZATION
posted by James Reel
In The New Republic, Philip Kennicott has an interesting meditation--no more than that, for he offers no remediation plan--on the sad state of American orchestras and their audiences (or lack thereof). So many hands have already been wrung over this issue that you may not care to pursue Kennicott's piece, but it is a good, clear-eyed view of what's happening today, and who's to blame--largely, he says, the orchestral managerial class fumbling their response to demographic and economic trends, embracing ruinous and unfocused efforts at outreach. Here's a key paragraph:
"Many in the managerial class, especially those who first trained as musicians, care deeply about the rich, variegated, and complex history of classical music, but can find no practical way to offer that history to like-minded patrons. Instead they work with a caricature of the audience, dividing it into two classes, one made up of younger, adventurous listeners willing to try anything, and the other composed of older, problematic ones, who want only Beethoven’s Fifth night after night. But the serious listener, who is adventurous and critical, open and discriminating, does not fit into either of these categories. Among the most worrisome signs for the orchestra is how little concern there is for listeners who care deeply about the infinite variety of orchestra music—Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Lutosławski—but have little use for syncretic hybrids. As always, there is an economic explanation for the marginalization of the serious listener: interesting repertoire takes more time to rehearse, it is difficult to market, it cannot be repeated with the frequency of more popular fare. And serious listeners are resistant to the basic ideological sleight-of-hand behind so much programming: they do not believe that trivial music is worth the same investment as the core repertory, and so they vote with their feet and stay home. This gets them marked as fickle supporters of the civic institution."
You'll find the entire essay here.