About once a week, I sit in a meeting and hear somebody earnestly recount the following syllogism*:
“Classical music is much more enjoyable than people think it is. If they were to experience it, they’d enjoy it and choose to become regular consumers, therefore if we can make people experience it they will become regular consumers”
Inevitably, this line is used to justify dumping money into a half-assed accessibility initiative or selling out to another poorly executed and cynical crossover project. Given how frequently this approach is tried, shouldn’t I have been killed by a stampede of eager novice concert-goers some time ago?
Either the second premise is flawed, and classical music has identified the only instance in which people will enjoy something but never try to do it again, or the first premise is flawed and classical music is just as dull as people think it is.
But that can’t be right, can it? Read the ontological proof** and weep bitches. No stampede, ergo tricking people into going to concerts doesn’t work. Either:
- The pinnacle of the Western musical tradition is incredibly beautiful, but only to the elite minority sophisticated enough to appreciate it or
- Anybody could enjoy classical music if they heard good performances, but they’re all listening to bad ones
I find it hard to believe that (1) is true. I love classical music, and I certainly don’t think it’s evidence of superior aesthetic sensibilities on my part. I’m going to take a leaf out of Freud’s book and assume that I’m not freakishly weird and that while they might not like to admit it, other people also probably:
- Get bored about half way through most concerts, even when the performers are completely legendary
- Read the program notes during the second half, when the novelty of the music has worn off, only to find that they add nothing the experience
- Grudgingly have to admit that how moving a performance is has very little to do with how much you know about the repertoire
- Tell everybody afterwards that it was fantastic, even though you were secretly wishing it would end about two hours ago
I get sent about enough music to listen to new classical recordings all day and all night without ever listening to anything twice. Sometimes, while wading through the slush pile, I come across something heartbreakingly beautiful that I know nothing about. The last one was a short piece by Arvo Pärt. Before that, it was a new recording of the Bach B Minor Mass with Marc Minkowski. The one thing these recordings have in common is that they’re committed performances in which everybody has something to say musically. In other words, they’re good.
There are so many concerts taking place today, so many recordings being made, that the act of performing great works of art has become commonplace and ordinary. Orchestras and soloists alike phone in underrehearsed and over-precise interpretations. The biggest challenge for the classical music world today is restoring a sense of wonder at these extraordinary works of art. If we can build that, they will come, and that’s why I started this blog: to highlight extraordinary performances that don’t demand anything but time from the listener.
* Argument. This was the first chance I’ve encountered to use the word “syllogism” since it began taking up space in my head during high school. There just isn’t much call for philosophical terminology in music retail. If I passed it up now, I feared it would be sitting in the attic of my vocabulary for another fifteen years before the opportunity arose again.
** I’m sorry. That one was just gratuitous. I’ll stop now.