We’ve tried change. Mostly, it doesn’t work.

Gareth Davies, principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra, has been reflecting on the constant demands for change in classical concerts. In a typically thoughtful blog, he dismisses most change initiatives as tinsel.

There seems very little invention and much more repackaging. I remember when I was a student in the 90’s, the fashion was to ditch the concert attire and for men to wear… ground breaking (drum roll please) brightly coloured waistcoats. I don’t think a waistcoat has ever knowingly encouraged anyone to go anywhere. Similarly, standing up instead of sitting down made a brief game changing appearance. That’s the players not the audience unless you count the proms. Don’t get me started on fancy lighting. Why on earth anyone thinks that  the holy grail of audiences for classical music – young people – who have been brought up on YouTube, video games, 3D films, iPhones and on demand content, are going to be impressed by subtly changing mood lighting during a symphony which never asked for it in the first place, is beyond me. 

bbc proms plastic trumpets

As I watched the BBC news this week where Katie Derham talked about the new Proms season, the montage they used was exclusively clips of the headline grabbing acts involving DJs, jazz, urban and the like. Let me make this clear, I think it’s a good thing that the Proms embraces other forms of music, but as a percentage of the goodies on offer, it’s tiny. It’s frustrating then that these are the only bits a viewer that morning would have seen on TV.

 

 

Read the full blog here.

 

 

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  • Apropos “standing up,” I really cannot stand to go to an ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra) concert. They always stand (all 20 or so of them) and I cannot concentrate on their music. I always feel like they are getting ready to walk off to someplace or other. I find it most disconcerting.

  • The piece of Davies is common sense and well worded. A voice from music practice instead from the theory desks.

  • Davies from the comfort of his orchestra desk presents us
    with a bogus placebo type article under guise of thought out observation . Better he
    should stick to playing .

    • It’s not a desk, it’s a music stand, where he can sense the audience far better than those academics. He explained his views in detail, and yet all you do is attack him personally without a word about why, in your opinion, is he wrong.

      Don’t you see how ridiculous your comment sounds like?

      • Alexander, you may not be aware of Milka as a perennial commenter on Norman’s articles. To date, I’ve seen this brave but anonymous soul bad mouth Israeli musicians, Russian musicians, all competitions anywhere, the objective superiority of top-grade Cremonese instruments, and (as here) the possibly more in-depth knowledge of those in the music industry as compared to ill-mannered, ill-grammered, ill-tempered and ill-informed anonymous commenters.

  • Well said Gareth. I would have loved to read your blog, but why is it a “trendy” black page with white writing? This is the pot calling the kettle black. I suggest you are trying to be “ground-breaking” and “fancy”, but actually it is illegible. Arghhh!!

  • Slowly people are admitting that when it comes to orchestras, updating the package doesn’t change its contents. The average orchestral repertoire lies somewhere around 1870, and the symphony orchestra has not added a significant body of literature to its mainstream repertoire in 80 years. For all practical purposes, it’s a dead art form, and with all the problems that implies.

    The question becomes why the symphony orchestra has created such a historical vacuum around itself. One reason might be that its performance practices and literature are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. For the last century, its glories dominated our consciousness and sucked the air out of both the past and present. This created a barren landscape in which nothing else could grow.

    Another problem is that orchestras, with their large-scale, industrial age proportions, consume so many resources that everything around them is starved. They evolved in an industrial age when life was cheap. Children worked for a nickel a day, and musicians fared hardly better. Huge ensembles were not a financial problem. Now that musicians are better paid, the costs of orchestras consume every available resource, and are increasingly out of proportion to what they contribute to our cultural lives – especially as their repertoire and larger social meanings become more and more dated.

    Orchestras also hog human resources. They take the majority of the best musicians and use them to ends that are not particularly creative. In fact, the hierarchies, regimentation, and routine of orchestras generally dull the sensibilities of musicians. Orchestras not only consume human potential, they destroy it. We thus dissipate the talents of many of those who would be most capable of moving our cultural lives forward.

    Another reason we have difficulty moving beyond orchestras is that they are still exploited as assertions of power by the elite. The orchestra’s authoritarianism, regimentation, and steep hierarchies create social models that appeal to those with power. Orchestras are also still used as symbols of national power and thus strongly supported even though they are anachronistic.

    The ultimate responsibility for these failings probably lies with composers. They have not been able to invent forms that might have a closer connection to the modern world. This is reinforced by the systems of funding and promotion that surround orchestras. Orchestral compositions obtain more royalties than other forms of music. And orchestral compositions are still used to establish reputations, even though the vast majority of the works are impractical and quickly forgotten because they are otherwise irrelevant musically, socially, and culturally. There are few composers willing to challenge these structural problems that often block truly original musical thought.

    By studying the anti-cultural forces that perpetuate the domination of orchestras, we might be able to see a clear path forward to more meaningful forms of expression that are truly our own, and which have a more natural place in the modern world.

    • Apologies for the multiple postings. There was a delay of three days before they appeared. I don’t think this is due to the moderator, but rather something about my browser.

  • He’s right, to the extent that the music should be the most important thing. But presentation in orchestral performance can certainly matter, just as it does in opera.

    You won’t convince me that the Peter Sellars staging of the St. Matthew Passion doesn’t greatly enhance the impact of the work. And lighting, to the extent it can encourage the audience to focus on the music, can also be very useful.

    But I’ll give him the bright-colored waistcoats would be silly.

  • Slowly people are admitting that when it comes to orchestras, updating the package doesn’t change its contents. The average orchestral repertoire lies somewhere around 1870, and the symphony orchestra has not added a significant body of literature to its mainstream repertoire in 80 years. For all practical purposes, it’s a dead art form, and with all the problems that implies. The question becomes why the symphony orchestra has created such a historical vacuum around itself.

    One reason might be that its performance practices and literature are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. For the last century, its glories dominated our consciousness and sucked the air out of both the past and present. This created a barren landscape in which nothing else could grow.

    Another problem is that orchestras, with their large-scale, industrial age proportions, consume so many resources that everything around them is starved. They evolved in an industrial age when life was cheap. Children worked for a nickel a day, and musicians fared hardly better. Huge ensembles were not a financial problem. Now that musicians are better paid, the costs of orchestras consume every available resource, and are increasingly out of proportion to what they contribute to our cultural lives – especially as their repertoire and larger social meanings become more and more dated.

    Orchestras also hog human resources. They take the majority of the best musicians and use them to ends that are not particularly creative. In fact, the hierarchies, regimentation, and routine of orchestras generally dull the sensibilities of musicians. Orchestras not only consume human potential, they destroy it. We thus dissipate the talents of many of those who would be most capable of moving our cultural lives forward.

    Another reason we have difficulty moving beyond orchestras is that they are still exploited as assertions of power by the elite. The orchestra’s authoritarianism, regimentation, and steep hierarchies create social models that appeal to those with power. Orchestras are also still used as symbols of national power and thus strongly supported even though they are anachronistic.

    The ultimate responsibility for these failings probably lies with composers. They have not been able to invent forms that might have a closer connection to the modern world. This is reinforced by the systems of funding and promotion that surround orchestras. Orchestral compositions obtain more royalties than other forms of music. And orchestral compositions are still used to establish reputations, even though the vast majority of the works are impractical and quickly forgotten because they are otherwise irrelevant musically, socially, and culturally. There are few composers willing to challenge these structural problems that often block truly original musical thought.

    By studying the anti-cultural forces that perpetuate the domination of orchestras, we might be able to see a clear path forward to more meaningful forms of expression that are truly our own, and which have a more natural place in the modern world.

    • Reading this posted twice doesn’t help me.
      Save to observe that composers are quite capable of ‘updating’ and ‘being relevant’. They’re the ones writing music that huge numbers of people listen to; it just doesn’t happen to be ‘classical’.

  • I agree with Gareth about that “standing” thing. I can never go to an ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra) concert. The 20 (?) of them stand around on the stage. It gets me nervous. I feel like they are about to leave the stage at any minute. Get chairs, sit down, and play!

  • Ultimately, the job is to communicate the music. Apparently some feel there is only one received way of doing so. That seems to be self-defeating as audiences age, and shrink, with the inevitable conclusion being extinction…

    But Mr. Davies appears to be right in that attempts to seduce the young pop/celebrity crowd by some of these cosmetic efforts are pointless. (Are you listening, BBC, CBC and all others who have abandoned principles in order to attract people who will never come, given that they have found the alternative outlets for their preferences? Meanwhile those who have loved you doing your job properly are leaving in droves…)

    As everyone who has commented sensibly on this or related issues on this blog and elsewhere over the past few years knows beyond doubt, the lack of exposure is the clue. That means including real music in education programmes, right from the get-go, and outreach projects aimed at schools. Bringing an orchestra into a pub will win a hearty round of applause — punters will enjoy the difference once in a blue moon — but there is as yet no evidence of them going from there to the concert hall to subscribe, or even attend on a trial basis. Perhaps if pub-bound orchestras went armed with comps for forthcoming concerts, at least the latter might be achieved.

    To increase attendance among those generations who were brought up completely ignorant of any serious music, except on a commercial, there may have to be some outreaches, such as clarifying the absence of dress “codes,” possibly reductions in prices, and a repudiation of the sense that there are rules inside that hall which make the experience forbidding to the adult novice.

    Otherwise, keep on keeping on, with the elect, the elite, who can afford the concerts, behave knowledgeably, dress well — are high heels required, BTW? — and keep the sense that music belongs to those who know all about it, not to those yobs who might wander in to the cheapest seats in their work clothes and react in wonder, with inappropriate enthusiasms and genuine delight. And enjoy it while it lasts.

    • “…possibly reductions in prices”

      The LSO recently presented its annual free concert in Trafalgar Square. It would be interesting to discover how many members of the audience were new.

      I suspect that many members of the audience were probably concert goers already. That’s the problem with these projects, they make concerts cheaper but I suspect that they attract the same audience.

      I don’t have any solid evidence for this and I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.

    • “……….. the lack of exposure is the clue.” When media are increasingly dominated by populist and superficial stuff, exposure is shrinking. But not everywhere. In Belgium, for instance, when there is a new opera production in the country, it is an item on prime time news, with a short interview with the director, a look into the preparations, and a short intro to the piece, after which the usual list of painful catastrophes continues… but it was mentioned and treated as something of importance. The downside of democracy is that many people understand it as an invitation to condemn value judgements, especially cultural value judgements. So, in the end, only the base, rude, and primitive remains.

  • To conceive that the “classical” music ever was, is, or will be anything to anybody else than an elite is to effectively stripe the art form from any meaningful value.

    By definition, if something is truly sophisticated and valuable it will be understood and valued by a small sector of the population.

    What we have now around the world is the product of the overproduction of classical musicians: those who don’t change careers, try to push what they do into the population at large in the name of “art” with the real agenda to create opportunities that ensure their existence in the labor market.

    Many industries – particularly healthcare – have embraced aging populations rather than resenting them. Audiences that are old should actually be seen as something POSITIVE!! Its beyond retarde to think that old audiences means that the art will disappear, but as a Meme it has permeated in the entire community. Guess what people, all the “young” people WILL AGE! If classical music becomes a rave, a cheap movie night or “that annoying thing I was pushed to when I was a kid”, we will lack consumers of it when they hit retirement age and have not only the time to truly appreciate the art, but also the money.

    • True. But – young musicians who DO pursue a career in classical music, don’t do that for the money, but because it is their raison d’etre. Nowadays such career demands enormous sacrifices so nobody in his right mind would do classical music just to secure a place in the market. It is the other way around: the ‘market’ exists because so many people pursue a musical career and (still large) audiences want to experience the results.

      And indeed audiences are older nowadyas because there simply are more older people around.

      As for elitism: it was Debussy who advocated, in a private letter, a ‘secret society of music’ instead of the public concert format, because he was often irritated about the superficial and bourgeois atmosphere at public concerts. He thought the best classical music should be restricted to the initiated, and be protected against ‘over-exposure’. Those were the times… before the emergence of the record industry, radio and internet.

  • Slowly people are admitting that when it comes to orchestras, updating the package doesn’t change its contents. The average orchestral repertoire lies somewhere around 1870, and the symphony orchestra has not added a significant body of literature to its mainstream repertoire in 80 years. For all practical purposes, it’s a dead art form, and with all the problems that implies. Two questions arise. 1) Why has the symphony orchestra created such a historical vacuum around itself? 2) Why should orchestras be funded even though they are anachronisms that do not offer classical music a viable future?

    Some of the answers are obvious. We should fund orchestras as a part of our historical legacy. Their performance practices and literature are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. This also points to why the symphony orchestra is surrounded by a historical vacuum. The glories of the symphony orchestra so dominated our consciousness over the last century that it sucked the air out of both the past and future of music. A barren landscape thus began to surround orchestras in which nothing else could grow.

    Orchestras also destroy our musical environment because they are so expensive. They evolved in an industrial age when life was cheap. Now that musicians are better paid, the costs of orchestras consume every available resource, and are increasingly out of proportion to what they contribute to our cultural lives – especially as their repertoire and larger social meanings become more and more dated.

    Orchestras also hog human resources. They take many of the best musicians and use them to ends that are not particularly creative. And worse, the hierarchies, regimentation, and routine of orchestras often dull the sensibilities of musicians. Orchestras not only consume human potential, they often destroy it. We thus dissipate the talents of many of those who would be most capable of moving our cultural lives forward.

    Orchestras are also deeply embedded in the music industry which makes it difficult for performers and composers to circumvent them. Orchestral compositions obtain more royalties than other forms of music. Orchestral compositions are still used to establish reputations, even though the vast majority are quickly forgotten. There are few composers willing to challenge these structural problems that often block truly original musical thought and the creation of more contemporary forms.

    Orchestras are also excessively embedded in our educational systems. Orchestra musicians dominate pedagogical practices to the extent that students receive one-sided and imbalanced musical training. Schools train young orchestra musicians for jobs that do not exist, and with little ability to develop more modern musical understandings.

    We also have difficulty moving beyond orchestras because they are symbols of power and national prestige, which motivates the state and financial elite perpetuate them.

    So we are facing the paradox of supporting a precious cultural legacy whose dominance is also a destructive force on our musical future. It is only through studying and resolving this paradox that we will be able to move forward. If the Europeans do not solve this problem, their public funding systems will be put in jeopardy, and the USA will not be able to develop a public funding system at all.

  • Slowly people are admitting that when it comes to orchestras, updating the package doesn’t change its contents. The average orchestral repertoire lies somewhere around 1870, and the symphony orchestra has not added a significant body of literature to its mainstream repertoire in 80 years. For all practical purposes, it’s a dead art form, and with all the problems that implies. Two questions arise. 1) Why has the symphony orchestra created such a historical vacuum around itself? 2) Why should orchestras be funded even though they are anachronisms that do not offer classical music a viable future?

    Some of the answers are obvious. We should fund orchestras as a part of our historical legacy. Their performance practices and literature are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. This also points to why the symphony orchestra is surrounded by a historical vacuum. The glories of the symphony orchestra so dominated our consciousness over the last century that it sucked the air out of both the past and future of music. A barren landscape thus began to surround orchestras in which nothing else could grow.

    Orchestras also destroy our musical environment because they are so expensive. They evolved in an industrial age when life was cheap. Now that musicians are better paid, the costs of orchestras consume every available resource, and are increasingly out of proportion to what they contribute to our cultural lives – especially as their repertoire and larger social meanings become more and more dated.

    Orchestras also hog human resources. They take many of the best musicians and use them to ends that are not particularly creative. And worse, the hierarchies, regimentation, and routine of orchestras often dull the sensibilities of musicians. Orchestras not only consume human potential, they often destroy it. We thus dissipate the talents of many of those who would be most capable of moving our cultural lives forward.

    Orchestras are also deeply embedded in the music industry which makes it difficult for performers and composers to circumvent them. Orchestral compositions obtain more royalties than other forms of music. Orchestral compositions are still used to establish reputations, even though the vast majority are quickly forgotten. There are few composers willing to challenge these structural problems that often block truly original musical thought and the creation of more contemporary forms.

    Orchestras are also excessively embedded in our educational systems. Orchestra musicians dominate pedagogical practices to the extent that students receive one-sided and imbalanced musical training. Schools train young orchestra musicians for jobs that do not exist, and with little ability to develop more modern musical understandings.

    We also have difficulty moving beyond orchestras because they are symbols of power and national prestige, which motivates the state and financial elite perpetuate them.

    So we are facing the paradox of supporting a precious cultural legacy whose dominance is also a destructive force on our musical future. It is only through studying and resolving this paradox that we will be able to move forward. If the Europeans do not solve this problem, their public funding systems will be put in jeopardy, and the USA will not be able to develop a public funding system at all.

    • Two other factors I should mention. 1) Orchestra jobs are generally the only ones in which performers can expect a decent living, so musicians continue to focus on them. 2) The orchestra’s musicians then inevitably create a kind of cartel within musical communities and dominate them with their backward looking practices from the century before last.

      • Spot on observations Mr. Osborne …It is amusing to read the now typical Borstlap response .
        Reminds one of a just caught fish flapping around in extremis .Orchestral music is not dead
        it is, Mr. Borstlap, that the same old same old is played so much that it has become moribund .It is much like going to a great museum and staring at the same
        one painting year in and year out and missing everything else .You make my point
        when you refer to classical “regular”repertoire. It is the” classical “musicians that have
        almost killed off the art .

        • Interesting that you should use the painting analogy. Presumably, according to your reasoning, painting is also a ‘dead’ art form because major art galleries are full of old works which, for some peculiar reason, still seem to be capable of attracting admirers year after year.

          The ‘dead’ description is a meaningless rhetorical device which is used to shore up an argument in the absence of anything better. So long as people are listening to orchestral music, it is not dead.

          Like Gerhard, I don’t always agree with Mr Borstlap but, on this occasion, I think his comment is spot on.

          • You fail to see the logic of the comparison. Contemporary paintings are very popular, they are auctioned for sums in the tens of millions, and are a central part of society. Contemporary, classical orchestra compositions rarely have this kind of status and central position in society. Film, dance, and theater also entirely contemporary in the repertoire, but not classical music. These are problems that should be considered, not merely denied.

          • William Osborne: “…they are auctioned for sums in the tens of millions”

            You have the answer, right there.

          • You seem to have a problem with understanding the written word, also the
            difference between the abstract and the concrete in art .

        • I wish Milka would stop pressing ‘Return’ all the time. It breaks up her sentences with big gaps. A mess to read. So much blogging, yet she’s using a computer keyboard like a typewriter. Also full-stops have a space after them, not before. Sorry about that, someone had to say it. Bad typing isn’t characterful. It’s bad typing and it’s very rare on Slipped Disc.

        • It may be helpful to point-out that in the ‘great museums’ there is more than one painting, and that millions of people, who cannot all be conservative reactionaries, return to these collections to take-in a manyfold of paintings all the time.

    • This, including the short following comment, is a beautiful specimen of the type of thinking which tries to undermine classical music as an art form from inside Western society: it’s the enemy among us. It perfectly shows what postwar modernism, combined with misunderstanding, has done to damage “one of the greatest achievements of the human mind.” One does not know where to begin to unravel all these misconceptions, so only one should be mentioned: the idea that the regular orchestral repertoire is dead because of being old. There is no other art form which older works are so alive as the classical, regular music repertoire. The great works of the repertoire have something to say to us, transcending limitations of time and space.

      • Yes, the great works of the past have eternal meanings, but they are no longer the music of our time, any more than Gothic cathedrals reflect our architectural views, or spiritual and social values.

        You seem to be unaware that American postmodernism has two larger stylistic divisions. One embraces the marketplace and elevates popular culture to the art music of our time. The other is referred to as neo-conservative postmodernism. It proposes a return to traditional musical practices that range from neo-Romanticism to eclectic historicism. The latter category fits your own aesthetic philosophies. Based on these widely accepted definitions, you are a postmodern neo-Romantic, or a postmodern eclectic neo-conservative. Forgive me if I don’t bother discussing this. Ironically, the authoritarian ethos of neo-Romanticism leads you to absolutist beliefs that make discussion superfluous. Perhaps others will want to discuss these topics with you.

        For a little more info see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservative_postmodernism

        See also: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488354?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

          • Of course music has meaning, but not a linguistic one. See Roger Scrutons’ “Aesthtecis of Music” (OUP 1997/99) where the issue is extensively discussed.

        • Mr Osborne seems to know mr Borstlap’s aesthetic philosophies very well. Would he have read Mr Borstlap’s book? Probably not, because then he would have noticed that ‘postmodernism’ has a very different meaning for Mr B, and he could have felt the need to restrain himself to express such bold statements in public.

          Just for the record: the way in which artists, including composers, have worked up till 20C modernism, was in the first place a practical one: using the means which were available at the time and in the case of the highly gifted, giving them a personal touch. Nothing more, nothing less, leaving us works like the late Beethoven quartets which embrace very individual, new ways of expression with ‘old’ techniques like fugue. Or Mahler symphonies which combine early 19C music with extreme dissonance. Or Tchaikovsky’s music which combines 18C classicism (filtered through his understanding of it) with extreme, romantic ‘mood’-painting. Or Ravel’s and Stravinsky’s classicism (often called ‘neo-classicism’ which is obviously an incorrect label). Or Shostakovich’s very personal use of Mahler-styles, forced by the authorities and in the same time, escaping them. All these facts offer us the distinction between the material level (the means, technique, styles, ‘language’) and the psychological level (the way the artist used these means). In the 19th century gradually an ideology of ‘progressiveness’ developed in the arts, stimulated by science, and politicizing the field. In the end, this went off the rails in the last century, producing texts like Mr Osborne reproduced many times here, possibly anxious that it would be overlooked, a text which we hold with pincers in the way archeologists delve-up some specimen of some lost culture of which it would be very interesting to understand where the heck that kind of thinking comes from. Let’s be grateful to him that he formulates so well the heart of the problem of the Contemporary Orchestra: it’s this kind of thinking, spread by ignorance, the egalitarian view upon society, the leftish-PC-culture, in short: the voice of ignorance which has become louder and louder, sometimes even taking the character of totalitarianism.

          All these labels like postmodernism, conservatism, avantgardism don’t mean very much in music. They merely provide prejudice.

          The symphony orchestra functions as an important cultural asset in Western civilization, and as a medium with a long history, it requires a certain set of stylistic, aesthetic and expressive norms, as anything of value in life. It has an aesthetic context, which is not ‘conservative’ or ‘old’ but just the way it has developed and been refined. People bored with ‘overdeveloped things’ should look for other cultural activities… and stop complaining about orchestras which they don’t understand. The problem of lack of effective new repertoire (the fruit of modernism and ignorance) is, in these days, being solved by composers who understand the nature of the medium and can write for it, like David Matthews, Nicolas Bacri, Richard Dubugnon, Karol Beffa (with brilliant concertos for violin and for piano). They are not conservative at all, but form a new ‘avantgarde’ (to make the notion understandable to people who still think in the old categories.)

          • PS: What today is often perceived as ‘new’, looking back into history, was merely the personal way of handling existing material. That is even the case with such impressive works like Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre’ which contains many existing folk tunes from Lithuania (often not even transposed but literally copied), and orchestral writing derived from Rimsky and Ravel, forced into fantastically wild imaginations. Also Schoenberg’s ‘groundbreaking’ Pierrot Lunaire is, in fact, merely a Schumann recital taking-off into personal nervous breakdown, and beautifully so. The ‘new’ as considered ‘progressive’ is a 20C misreading and projection of ideology. Only from that perspective it can seem that what was ‘new’ hundred years ago is now ‘old’ and THUS no longer of value.

  • Last weekend, I heard the Chicago Symphony perform Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, under E-P Salonen. The house was full and enthusiastic, with lots of younger people; all generations were well represented. It was pleasing to see this sort of generational continuity at a single event.

    My experience, here and elsewhere, is that the “holy grail” of the young audience is best attained by playing more modern and contemporary music. Or at least, not just the same old stuff over and over again.

      • True enough, but I could point to numerous other examples involving pieces of more recent provenance. I only cited Turangalila because it was my most recent concert experience.

    • Seems like a good example. But ‘the old stuff’ is not ‘old’ at all, it may sound ‘old’ if it is played in a stuffy way. The Messiaen as mentioned here, is accessibly modern, because of the colours (comparable to the colours of the composer’s shirts), but there are better 20C works… this one is a rather vulgar one. If Messiaen’s ‘Chronochromie’ was played, reactions would have been different.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JedBQq8qGFE (Messiaen’s volière)

      A very lively rendition of an ‘old’ warhorse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btzp4aKHnK4 (So, it can be done.)

  • I don’t understand out how some of the top US orchestras can pay salaries in excess of six figures if they can’t put fannies in the seats. If these orchestras are dependent on corporate funding and personal donations that makes it even worse.

  • I more and more recognize, that the standard repertoire is only the very tip of the iceberg of good music. There is so much more – also regarding the music from the past – that is totally on par with the great masterworks and often, these works are even more creative.

    There is so much incredible music that is rarely or often even never performed that just waits to be discovered!

  • Mr. Osborne does come up now and again with some salient thoughts and then drifts
    off to some strange landscape as he does in the May 25 reply to Mr. Borstlap such as music having “eternal meanings “. One hopes it was just to accommodate Mr.
    Borstlap. Music , excluding music for dance and church even that, has no meaning except how we are “conditioned ” to receive -interpret the sounds. It is the most abstract of arts and is pure sound until some idiot comes by as in the Beethoven 5 and announces
    to the world it is “fate ” knocking on the door .To this day it is not played as directed by
    the composer … Mr. Borstlap and friends mean well but are caught in a time warp harking back to something that exists only in the imagination of wishful thinking .

    • Much ink has been shed over the question whether (classical, serious) music is referring to something outside the work in question, or is a work complete and finished in itself, abstract and only referring to itself. The idea that all ‘explanations’ of musical works are mere projections and culturally-conditioned reflexes, that do not form a part of the work, is understandable, but has never been conclusively established, let alone ‘proven’, because it entirely goes against the overall, general, listening and performance experience. The discussion continues, and so do the conceptual confusions: what do we mean by ‘meaning’, ‘content’, ‘expression’, ‘abstract’?

      Fact is, that for the listener, there does indeed exist something like an emotional, musical experience, whereby a musical work seems to ‘speak’ to each listener individually. There is something like wordless communication, and music is one of its forms. For the time being, best seems to conclude that a musical work represents an emotional experience whereby the concrete references are ‘deleted’ so that the essence of the experience remains, which is then offered in stylized, aestheticized form. So, yes, a musical work is BOTH an abstract, objective self-referential thing, and in the same time communicates human emotional experience. Communication has always been the aim and function of serious music from Gregorian chant onwards, including Bach’s most ‘abstract’ fugues. Music is not ‘about’ something else, it is a distillation of experience in musical form that can be shared by people musical enough to understand it.

      Only in the last century a new form of ‘music’ arose which did away with the psychological/communicative dimension. This was a truly new art form, sonic art, and thus even more new than its inventors realized.

    • In response to Milka. I’m must catching up with this, as I avoid the futility of such discussions in this forum. I use the term “musical meanings” in the sense of musicologist Christopher Small’s term “musicking.” He suggests we view music not merely as an object, but also in the larger context in which it exists. This includes everything from program notes, to the legends and history surrounding works, to the reputations and personalities of those who perform it, to the evolutionary nature of the instruments used, the social setting of the performances, the means of distributions, concert rituals and attire, etc. Seen in this larger context of “process” music has many social meanings.

      Interestingly, the original topic was about the future of orchestras and the way they have painted themselves into a corner. The topic was then turned to one person’s absolutist views about what might be termed the “true and inviolable nature of music.” That sort of tunnel vision is also, ironically, part of the context that can give musical expression social meanings, and is quite common in classical music. Absolute truths with be held forth, all part of the history of the artist-prophet’s transcendental knowledge that characterized both Romanticism and Modernism. (If I comment any further on these ideas, it will probably be under the threads Norman might post about the LOA conference.)

      • Who would that person be who talks about the “true and inviolable nature of music”? Would that be Heinrich Schenker or someone who knows something we don’t?

  • Just when one begins to rejoice that Mr. Borstlap has come to see the light of
    day in understanding the “art ” of music he has a relapse and we are referred to the
    nonsense of Roger Scruton,… Mr. Borstlap , what we call music is sound , plain
    sound ,it communicates nothing except itself as sound ….whatever meaning the
    sound supposedly possesses comes from the listener not the sound …Mr. Borstlap
    can bang away at a gong all day and it will have no meaning until some
    one exclaims …”it sounds like …..etc. etc .” for others it might be just a headache and
    they might call out to stop the “noise”. The opening notes to the Beethoven 5th . are just
    that, notes …the notes are not designated to mean or listed in theory books as “fate notes “, just notes suggesting a certain sound .If some group were to play the work
    without all the BS attached to the work how different it would” sound .” For example
    in watching the likes of Dudamel conduct this work which is frightening,you know
    it is” fate banging at the door” concept and has nothing to do with the music except in
    bringing us a message via show bizz .That it survives continuous onslaught by like
    minded conductors only shows that in its concept and its masterful construction of sounds as a creative entity it can withstand whatever interpretation the dim wits
    bring to it .

    • So sorry that you can’t read… but apart from that, the 19C kleinbürgerliche, naive projections upon Beet V are silly indeed because too literal. But that work does communicate something, albeit not mr Fate announcing himself for a fateful chat. But it communicates something like the essence of the experience of something really nasty that has somehow to be overcome, moulded into a tight and exciting rhethoric. This is how it feels, when something nasty is happening to you. That is the magic of music – the listener recognizes the experience. The entire classical music performance culture is built upon this experience. Really, it is not projection.

      Your concern is to be admired, but your comments upon Scruton are embarrassing demonstrations of ignorance…. you should just try to read his ‘Modern Culture’, which could help you to become less of an outsider and make your comments more to the point and thus, more enjoyable and interesting to others.

  • Apart from the pot shots at me you miss and prove my point again and again .
    I have in front of me page 1 of sym.#5 . the usual notations- Allegro con brio ,3 flats,
    2/4 time, ff , fermata etc. No where on the pages that follow does one notice instructions
    “nasty ” to be overcome ….its your interpretation, and that is how you will play it out as
    a conductor . The magic of music is that every Tom ,Dick or Harry has a say in it and
    how convincingly they present the “say” makes them the celebrity of the day .
    Your reference to 19C needs updating …the fate motive was used in world war 2
    and every conductor of the time beat the hell out of the work using it as a fate and
    triumph symphony.Maybe you are too young to remember V for victory……….
    What you take for embarrassing ignorance might reflect on your inability to recognize
    hokum however it is presented .One cannot on reading anything by Scruton come away without thinking the ramblings of an old man whose time has come and gone who is in search of a past that never was .That he would appeal to you is understandable .

    • Oh com’on…. just sit down & think. The exaggeration and sentimentalization of a legend which has formed around a musical work is something different from the work itself. In case mr B has indeed said, at some point, about the first bars of his #5, that it was …. (don’t dare to write it down), it may still be true – but that is not relevant. The only thing that counts, is the experience of the music itself, as a whole, as an abstract play of sounds, can give to the listener. We should listen to music as unconcerned as possible by legends. But the whole piece is sharing life experience: for instance, the transition to the finale of the same work gives the experience of expectation and doubt, after which the beginning of the last mvt is joyful jubilation and energy. People who cannot hear, or rather feel anything of this, are to be pitied. And surely the composer has intended these effects upon the listener. Later-on the entire oeuvre of Wagner, and Mahler, was geared onto exactly this kind of effects, sometimes degenerating into emotional over-indulgence, hence the reactions in the 20C.

      By the way, I remember having avoided listening to #5 as much as possible for many, many years, until some time ago I stumbled into it somewhere, and was surprised what a great work it really is, listening to it ‘innocently’. Over-performing some pieces does not do justice to the music. Here is a sample of an enthousiastic, un-legendary performance by an orchestra which is not top notch, but they play brilliantly. The music sounds as if it has recently be discovered, as if it were new:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btzp4aKHnK4

  • One can’t quite get past the feeling Mr. Poschner is auditioning for a movie role as a conductor .
    The sound is too raucous to tell much except that it is driven to a most painful degree.
    Mr. Poschner is not so much about making music as he is about gesturing in a grand way through the famous Beethoven Fifth.One senses he gets in the way of the work in trying to make a musical statement.

    • The ‘raucous’ sound is the orchestra reaching its technical limitations, which is typical of Beethoven, like his piano sonatas which overreach the pianistic possibilities (playing those sonatas as if it were very easy, is missing the point of the music). And then, music is to be listened to, and not watching how the conductor looks. Some conductors are showy (Bernstein), some others exact and to the point (Van Zweden). Some go into meditation (Karajan), others go crazy (Gergiev). Don’t look but listen to the results… Fartwungler got epileptic fits in front of the orchestra but I don’t think people complained about that because he got fabulous results.

  • You are correct about watching vs.listening , but in this case the first thing we
    see is the conductor readying himself to “pounce” on the work . The raucous playing
    is not the orchestra reaching its sound limit as much as responding to the initial facial
    and physical gestures of the conductor who seems not able to get a good sound
    out of his forces , he is all about ffff and not much else .One can storm the heavens
    without leaving chaos in its wake .I am not familiar with Fartwungler and his fabulous
    results .

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