Here are comments I posted in response to a recent post on on Washington Post writer Anne Midgette’s excellent blog, The Classical Beat.

Interesting metaphor you present here, Anne.

Allow me to toss in the idea, however, that there’s a lot more going on in this dynamic than mere musical preferences, and that this has loads to do with culture and social status. In following your metaphorical lead, do forgive my being a bit of a blanket generalizer!

Your “red staters” of classical music probably consist of a high % of highly educated, culturally elite, inordinately wealthy patrons (and matrons) of the refined concert hall, but more often than not without musical training, and importantly, without a real stake in the future (i.e. continued relevancy) of the music. I bet we’ve all seen people who storm off with their minks in a huff any time new music is performed because “un-pretty sounds” don’t adhere to their vision of what respectable music should look and sound like. The historical record shows that Beethoven himself had very little use for these people, regardless of how important their role as funders might be. Even if this operates on an subconscious level, audiences like this might see classical music as a appendage of culture, as an experiential designer handbag. Thus, “being challenged” – artistically, intellectually, spiritually – is patently NOT part of the appeal. Generalizations, sure – I’m well aware there are many people who just love the “3 B’s” who don’t fit my straw matroning here – but in my past life working in marketing at Lincoln Center I responded to lots of letters from conservative audience members who needed to be coddled primarily due to their important roles as donors.

Meanwhile, your “blue staters” tend to be musically trained, more integrated within the musical community, and importantly, they understand that for any art to remain relevant, it MUST continue have something to say to the general culture at large.

Blue staters are invested in the past, present, and future of the music. The academicization (and elitist posturing) of new music occurring post-1945 obviously dealt a devastating blow to capturing the imaginations of audiences – and to the notion that modern classical music should have relevancy – and it’s become difficult to undo this damage. Part of the challenge is presentation and packaging, and I feel the future of classical music will reflect a more catholic approach to music-making, which at present moment the sterile concert hall experience is far too rigid to allow. However, venues like Le Poisson Rouge in NYC are presenting new classical music to young, hip audiences who are eager to feel included in the art of their time. (Catch the interchange with Jason Parker and I on this dynamic in jazz here.) And I imagine these venues won’t shy away from programming groups who play Beethoven (I see Hilary Hahn is about to perform Bach at LPR!) – but their concept more accurately reflects the true diversity of classical music, rather than the exclusive glorification of the Romantic Era which appeals to society types. If you don’t know him, check out what pianist Uri Caine is doing with canonical classical works – his Mozart, Bach, and Mahler discs are revelatory both in their stylistic accuracy and musical exploration!

Incidentally, it’s interesting that DC doesn’t have anything (yet) like a LPR: perhaps because DC tends to be an inordinately old-guard, “red-state” city, from a cultural and institutional perspective?

Anyway, great blog and fodder for discussion. I think that new media and the blogosphere makes “we happy few” who are passionate about art music all the more connected and strong!

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